You may have already heard the rumors of electric landscaping becoming the future standard for commercial mowing companies, but most likely this is as new to you as it was to us just a few years ago. Currently, the residential DIY marketplace is being inundated with electric options from simple battery-powered hedge trimmers to full-scale battery-powered lawn mowers. It’s only been in recent years that landscaping companies have had a viable option for fully battery-powered lawn care fleets. As technology advances each month, more and more lawn services are offering clients electric, quieter landscaping options.
In this article, we will cover the most common reasons behind this electric shift along with the biggest drawbacks and reasoning behind what’s keeping over 99% of lawn care providers running on gas today. Wrapping it up we’ll divulge our forecast for the all-electric future.
Why make the switch to electric equipment?
- Equipment maintenance cost reduction
The average gas-fueled commercial-grade mower tends to last for upwards of 3,000 working hours yet this could be greatly extended with excellent care for higher-end, well-built machines. Alternatively, when not well maintained a lower-end commercial mower might only last 1,000 working hours before needing a full engine replacement. Meanwhile, one of the current industry leaders in electric mowers and equipment, Mean Green Mowers, claims that their commercial-grade machines can last 6,000 to 9,000 hours. The total life of the mower is only one of the variables to consider when speaking in terms of equipment maintenance.
The other factors include the actual care of the equipment. Gas-powered machines require regular maintenance and often need a plethora of different parts replaced throughout their lifetime. From simple corroborator cleaning to belt replacements, the cost to maintain a gas-powered machine is estimated to be twice that of its electric alternative. This still factors the costs of batteries and blade sharpening yet without the gas-powered engine’s many moving parts and potential breakpoints, electric wins in the long haul of the cost comparison.
- Elimination of fuel costs
Although going green may eliminate the actual costs of fuel, it does not mean you aren’t paying for power. Those batteries still need a charging source so unless you will be installing solar on your truck, trailer, or equipment garage here’s the price breakdown:
Gas-powered commercial mower to cut an acre: $3.00
Electric, battery-powered commercial mower to cut an acre: $.25
*Prices based on average gas and energy costs for the U.S.
That’s roughly a 90% cost savings and again, if you develop solar energy into your green strategy, you can get that 25 cents down closer to a nickel.
- Key selling point for luxury housing
Looking to buy a condominium? Imagine seeing on the brochure that ‘quiet landscaping’ is a feature of the complex. This is slowly becoming a factor in more upscale condos, apartment complexes, and vacation rentals and certainly gives battery-powered landscaping companies the ability to charge extra for this premium service.
- Reduce labor costs
You might think the act of pulling a cord to start an engine doesn’t take too much time and wonder how it’s even a factor here, but trust me, as someone who has worked on a landscaping crew for years, it’s not always one pull that gets the equipment going. Often times there’s need for not just a few extra pulls, but also cracking the small engine open to see what’s preventing the start. From our experience and research, battery-powered tools and mowers start on the first ‘button press’ 99% of the time throughout their lifetime.
Next, you’ve got the time it takes to stop off at the gas station and top off all the tanks. When equipment needs to be serviced it’s likely up to a crew captain to take the equipment in and explain what’s going on to make sure they don’t get overcharged. Most electric lawn companies are keeping batteries charged in their trailers using inverters to draw power from the vehicles pulling them. Labor costs related to maintenance for electric equipment generally boil down to blade sharpening and weed eater string refilling.
The Mean Green Mowers ‘Rival’ battery-powered, commercial grade mower in use.
This is somewhat of a two-factor bonus for electric landscaping companies. Environmental ImpactFor one, the direct environmental impact of fewer emissions is a huge factor big companies that burn thousands of gallons of gas each year, emitting a large amount of emissions. A study from 2001 showed that an average-sized, 4-stroke, residential-grade gas-powered lawn mower produced PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) in just one hour equivalent to that of driving a small car 90 miles. Battery-powered equipment is not 100% eco-friendly as the batteries still need to draw power and often times this power comes from a fossil fuel-based source such as coal. However, there is the option to install solar to power the batteries which really does allow the company to boast 99.9% eco-friendly services, especially in the unlikely event that even their trucks are battery powered but as only Tesla currently offers a purely electric truck, that may be a while off just yet.
- Reduced Emissions:
Electric equipment produces zero emissions at the point of use, helping to combat air pollution and climate change.
- Noise Reduction:
Electric equipment is quieter than gas-powered alternatives, contributing to noise pollution reduction.
- Selling Point
The other ‘eco-friendly’ factor boils down to consumer behavior and advertising. In recent years we have seen a shift in consumer behavior greatly rewarding environmentally friendly products and services. Landscaping companies making the swap to electric have the opportunity to be among the first in their local areas to boast ‘eco-friendly’ along with their marketing efforts.
- Potential tax credits
Lowering emissions may also have a tax benefit depending on the area. In certain cities in California for example, companies making the switch are eligible for rebates on purchasing authorized equipment. Santa Barbara offers up to 60% of the purchase price for electric equipment for commercial companies through their Landscape Equipment Electrification Fund (LEEF) program.
- City ordinances and legal requirements
Across the globe, townships are beginning to ban different types of gas-powered landscaping equipment. The primary culprit we have seen behind the push is the rather loud leaf blower, and especially the extremely powerful models such as a favorite of many commercial lawn companies; the Stihl backpack blower.
Who’s dropping the ban hammer on blowers? Washington DC passed a bill in 2022 that bans the use of gas-powered blowers in 2022. Long Island, Fort Lauderdale and many others also have the potential ban of gas-powered leaf blowers on the docket for 2021.
Not all about the past is important to also mention however in some areas, such as Fort Lauderdale, the ban may not only effect gas-powered leaf blowers but instead all blowers as aside from the ear-shattering noise, they also have environmental concerns of debris getting pushed into local waterways. California forces the futureOn the flip side, California isn’t just banning blowers. California is in fact considering a ban on all gas-powered gardening equipment. It could even be the case that this potential outcome is the primary cause for current shortages in the supply for electric-powered commercial-grade landscaping equipment.
- Keep up with the competition
No company wants to fall behind, but in many areas, the fear of losing clients to eco-friendly alternatives is not yet a major concern. If your company is located within some of California’s more populated areas like San Fransisco, you are likely already offering electric lawn services and if not, you’re certainly planning to. Meanwhile, in the Tampa, Florida area, there appears to be only one company that’s made the switch to electric. As more and more companies throughout the U.S. adopt this new technology we might see a tipping point where those who are still running on gas sprint towards electric to keep up with the competition. The appeal of electric, silent lawn care has also opened the door for brand-new companies to enter the market and capitalize. This gap will close, so if you’re considering jumping in, don’t wait till the water cools.
- Efficiency and Productivity
Consistent Performance: Electric motors provide consistent power and torque, ensuring reliable performance without the need for pull cords or priming.
Reduced Downtime: Electric equipment has simpler maintenance requirements, reducing downtime and keeping crews productive.
Ease of Use: Electric equipment starts instantly and doesn’t require warming up, making it more convenient for workers.
Electric equipment can be adapted for various tasks, eliminating the need for multiple specialized machines, and reducing equipment and maintenance costs.
Electric equipment can be used for both small and large-scale projects, providing flexibility for different client needs.
- Client Satisfaction Meeting Environmental Expectations:
Many clients, both residential and commercial, value sustainability and appreciate the use of emission-free, quiet equipment.
- Marketing Advantage:
Promoting the use of electric equipment can be a selling point for businesses, attracting eco-conscious clients and enhancing brand reputation.
- Government Incentives and Rebates:
Some governments offer financial incentives and rebates to encourage businesses to adopt electric equipment, offsetting the initial investment costs. Getting a good deal may be the most important factor for many companies still sitting on the fence, so these incentives have proven quite effective where they’ve been used.
- Regulatory Compliance
On the flip side, governments, especially localized towns may require companies to operate under a certain decibel level. A great deal of agencies have such requirements for certain times of the day or days of the week. Landscaping companies which can operate almost silently have a huge competitive advantage in these areas.
- Workplace Benefits
Health and Comfort: Reduced noise and emissions create a healthier and more comfortable working environment for employees. This can lead to increased job satisfaction and well-being.
- Branding and Corporate Social Responsibility
The transition to electric equipment can demonstrate a company’s commitment to sustainability and responsible business practices, enhancing its image and attracting environmentally conscious clients.
- Resilience and Future-Proofing
- Reducing Dependence on Fossil Fuels:
The transition to electric equipment future-proofs companies against potential fuel shortages and price fluctuations.
Why most lawn companies are sticking with gas
- Cost to go electric
The number one reason our research shows to be keeping companies on their gas-powered equipment comes down to costs. Weed eaters and blowers engineered for commercial purposes tend to cost just a bit more than that of their gas-run counterparts. However, it’s the batteries that must be purchased that start to stack up on costs. With batteries for hand-held equipment ranging from $70 to $150, and most needing three or more to run a full day, costs can quickly add up.
Commercial-grade electric mowers are a whole new level of investment for most small landscaping companies. A strong, reliable commercial-grade mower ranges in cost from $3,000 to $6,000 while the electric alternative comes with a cost similar to that of a new car ranging from $10,000 to $20,000. For instance, the GreenWorks GZ48S comes in at $13k and the industry-leading ‘Mean Green ‘Rival’‘ is estimated to run around $20,000 (price not publicly listed).
The Mean Green Mowers ‘Rival’ electric commercial grade riding mower.
- Cost Breakdown
For a small-mid-sized commercial landscape company to completely upgrade their fleet to run on all electric equipment, here’s the cost breakdown assuming they are running just two small fleets. Each fleet would likely consist of one riding mower, one smaller push mower, two blowers, two weed eaters, an edger and a hedge trimmer.
Riding Mowers: $24,000 (low end at 12k/each).
– Extra Batteries and charging stations: +$8,000
Small Mowers: $1,200 (600/each).
– Extra Batteries and charging stations: +$1,400
Leaf Blowers: $2,000 (4 at $500 each)
– Extra Batteries and charging stations: +$1,800
Weed Eaters: $1,200 (4 at $300 each)
Edgers: $600 (2 at $300 each)
Hedge Trimmers: $600 (2 at $300 each)
– Extra Batteries and charging stations for handhelds: +$1,800
That comes out to a $44,600 estimated total initial investment. If this same company were to then sell their old equipment they would likely be able to recoup roughly 10k in sales. If located in an area offering rebates for electric landscaping equipment, they may be able to recoup another $5,000.
This cost breakdown does not include the labor costs behind the acquisition, testing, training and charging station build-out. All of which compile to make this task all the more costly for the company.It’s easy to foresee a $100,000 investment or more for medium-sized landscape companies and millions for large-scale operations.
“We’ve known of the slow shift towards electric and certainly do not intend to be the last on the train. However, the costs to move our operation towards a fully electric service are too immense to be a feasible endeavor just yet. As technology advances, and the costs lessen, we do hope to begin the transition and start offering clients silent lawn care and landscaping services in 2021.”– Richard Wait, owner of Lawns and Palms, Inc
More reasons why Lawn Services aren’t converting to electric equipment
- Equipment availability
As the industry shift towards electric landscaping has already begun at the time of writing this post, we weren’t surprised to see that many of the commercial electric mowers researched were listed as ‘out of stock‘. With only a handful of small companies currently producing commercial-grade electric equipment and plenty of early adopters shouldering their way in front of the pack, demand is high and supply is low. As demand rises we are likely to see big industry companies like Toro and Husqvarna ramp up their production of electric mowers. Until that time, the gap in the market will likely remain for younger landscaping companies to capitalize.
- Maintenance Preferences
The difference in maintenance preferences between gas and electric-powered landscaping equipment is substantial and plays a significant role in the choice of equipment by landscape and lawn care professionals. Gas-powered equipment typically demands more extensive and hands-on maintenance due to the complexity of internal combustion engines. This includes regular oil changes, spark plug replacements, air filter cleaning, and fuel system maintenance. Gas engines can also experience issues related to carburetion, exhaust systems, and fuel quality, which demand constant vigilance.In contrast, electric equipment offers simplified maintenance procedures. There are no oil changes, spark plug replacements, or fuel system concerns. Maintenance generally involves cleaning, blade sharpening, and ensuring electrical connections are sound. Electric machines are known for their reliability and often require less attention overall. As a result, landscape professionals who prefer minimal downtime and reduced maintenance overhead often lean towards electric equipment. Moreover, electric equipment tends to be more user-friendly and accessible, making it easier for technicians to troubleshoot issues and perform routine care without extensive mechanical knowledge. Overall, maintenance preferences favor electric equipment for simplicity and ease, making it a compelling choice for lawn and landscape care companies seeking efficient and low-maintenance tools while reducing the environmental impact of their operations.
- Range and Runtime
The difference in range and runtime is a significant factor when comparing gas and electric-powered landscaping equipment. Gas-powered equipment typically offers a longer runtime and greater range compared to their electric counterparts. This extended operational capability is a result of the internal combustion engine’s ability to store a substantial amount of energy in the form of gasoline or diesel fuel. For gas-powered machines, refueling is relatively quick, allowing them to continue working without long pauses for recharging or battery swaps. This makes them ideal for larger properties or more extended workdays where productivity and efficiency are paramount. Additionally, gas-powered equipment can be refueled on-site, providing greater flexibility in remote or off-grid locations.In contrast, electric equipment relies on batteries, which have limited runtime and range.
Depending on the equipment and battery size, the operational time can vary significantly. Smaller battery-powered tools are suitable for short tasks, while larger equipment with high-capacity batteries can handle more extended operations. However, electric machines eventually require recharging, which can disrupt workflow. Landscape professionals often choose gas-powered equipment when their work demands a longer runtime, such as large-scale property maintenance or commercial landscaping. On the other hand, electric equipment is favored for smaller properties, eco-friendly initiatives, and when shorter runtimes are acceptable. Battery technology continues to evolve, potentially narrowing the runtime gap between gas and electric equipment in the future.
- Charging Infrastructure
The difference in charging infrastructure is a fundamental contrast between gas and electric-powered landscaping equipment. Gas-powered machinery benefits from a well-established and widespread network of fueling stations, found at gas stations across the country. This convenience allows for quick and straightforward refueling, reducing downtime and the need for complex infrastructure. Gasoline or diesel fuel is readily accessible, providing a seamless and reliable source of energy. Conversely, electric landscaping equipment necessitates a more elaborate charging infrastructure. This typically includes the installation of charging stations, the availability of reliable electrical outlets, and a system for managing and maintaining a fleet of rechargeable batteries. While electric equipment can be charged via standard electrical outlets, for efficiency and to meet the demands of larger fleets, dedicated charging stations are often installed. This setup requires upfront investment and ongoing maintenance. It also requires planning to ensure that charging stations are strategically located to minimize disruptions and ensure uninterrupted operations. The location of charging infrastructure can significantly impact workflow.
Companies need to factor in the time required for recharging equipment, especially for tools with shorter runtimes. Consequently, careful planning is crucial to optimize charging infrastructure, manage battery logistics, and minimize operational disruptions. While the gas-powered equipment benefits from a well-established fueling infrastructure, the electric counterparts necessitate more deliberate setup and maintenance to harness the benefits of eco-friendly and cost-effective operations.
- Resistance to Change
The resistance to change when transitioning from gas-powered to electric landscaping equipment is a significant factor influencing the adoption of new technology within the industry. Gas-powered equipment has been the standard for many years, and landscape professionals are accustomed to its operation and maintenance. As a result, there can be a reluctance to embrace electric alternatives due to concerns and challenges associated with this shift. Resistance to change can stem from several factors. First and foremost is the learning curve. Operators who are skilled with gas equipment may be hesitant to adapt to new electric machinery, which requires a different understanding of power delivery, charging processes, and maintenance procedures. They might fear a decline in efficiency or performance, even if electric equipment can match or surpass gas-powered counterparts in many cases. Additionally, employees and businesses may perceive the initial investment in electric equipment and charging infrastructure as a barrier to entry. While the long-term savings may be significant, the upfront costs can be daunting. The decision to switch to electric equipment often necessitates careful financial planning and consideration.
Companies and workers invested in the gas-powered status quo may resist the transition to electric equipment due to concerns about operational interruptions. The need to recharge batteries or swap them during the workday can lead to changes in workflow and scheduling, potentially causing temporary disruptions. However, as the technology matures, charging infrastructure expands, and environmental consciousness grows, the resistance to change is gradually diminishing. The realization of the advantages of electric equipment, such as zero emissions, cost savings, and quieter operation, is encouraging more landscape professionals to embrace the shift, overcoming the initial hurdles of resistance.
- Perceived Power and Performance
The perceived power and performance of gas versus electric-powered landscaping equipment is a central consideration for professionals in the field. Historically, gas-powered equipment has enjoyed a reputation for robust and consistent performance, especially when tackling demanding tasks and larger properties. The internal combustion engines in gas machines provide a high degree of power, making them the preferred choice for heavy-duty applications such as mowing extensive lawns, cutting through thick vegetation, or operating on rugged terrain. This perceived power and performance advantage with gas equipment has often led to resistance to change, especially when dealing with tasks that require a substantial amount of torque and endurance. Professionals may be concerned that electric alternatives won’t match the strength and stamina of their gas-powered counterparts. Electric equipment, however, has made significant advancements. Modern electric motors and battery technology offer a level of performance that is not only comparable but, in some cases, superior to gas-powered tools. Electric equipment provides consistent torque, allowing for reliable and precise results. While there may still be a perception that gas equipment is more powerful, electric machines can deliver impressive cutting and trimming capabilities while offering quieter, emissions-free operation. The elimination of engine warm-up times and instant start-up further adds to the convenience and efficiency of electric equipment. Over time, as professionals become more familiar with electric equipment and witness its performance capabilities, the perceived power and performance gap is narrowing, driving the shift towards more environmentally friendly and cost-effective electric landscaping solutions.
- Limited Equipment Options
The availability of equipment options is a key distinction between gas and electric-powered landscaping equipment. Gas-powered tools have a longer history and broader market presence, resulting in a wider array of options for various landscaping tasks. From gas mowers and trimmers to chainsaws and leaf blowers, professionals have a multitude of choices tailored to different applications and property sizes. Specialized gas-powered equipment, such as edgers and pole saws, is also readily available. Electric equipment, although expanding rapidly, may have a more limited range of options compared to gas. While electric lawnmowers, trimmers, and leaf blowers are commonplace, the selection of more specialized tools may be more constrained. The variety and availability of certain equipment, like commercial-grade electric ride-on mowers or heavy-duty wood chippers, may be less extensive. However, the electric equipment market continues to evolve.
Technological advancements in battery performance are enabling the development of more specialized electric tools, catering to a broader range of landscaping and lawn care needs. As battery technology improves and demand for electric alternatives grows, landscape professionals can expect to see an expanded selection of equipment options in the near future. While gas-powered tools offer a broader range of equipment at present, the electric equipment market is dynamic and evolving to meet the diverse needs of the industry.
- Regulatory Challenges
Regulatory challenges play a role in the choice between gas and electric-powered landscaping equipment. Gas-powered machinery is often subject to emissions regulations due to the carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and volatile organic compounds it produces. This has led to the introduction of emission standards in various regions to curb air pollution and mitigate environmental impact. Compliance with these standards may require the use of cleaner-burning fuels, emission controls, or regular emissions testing.
On the other hand, electric equipment benefits from its inherently lower environmental impact as it produces no direct emissions at the point of use. It’s generally exempt from emissions regulations. However, some regions are adopting noise ordinances that may affect electric equipment. In densely populated or residential areas, electric equipment is preferred due to its quieter operation.
Regulations also impact the choice of equipment. Local ordinances may restrict the use of gas-powered leaf blowers during certain hours or in specific areas. These restrictions, aimed at reducing noise pollution and emissions, favor the adoption of electric alternatives.
Over time, as professionals become more familiar with electric equipment and witness its performance capabilities, the perceived power and performance gap is narrowing, driving the shift towards more environmentally friendly and cost-effective electric landscaping solutions.
- Industry Traditions
Industry traditions play a significant role in the choice between gas and electric-powered landscaping equipment. The landscaping and lawn care industry has long relied on gas-powered machinery, with established practices and norms. Professionals are accustomed to the familiar roar of gas engines and the smell of gasoline. These traditions are deeply ingrained, making it challenging to shift towards newer, electric alternatives. Many landscaping companies have invested heavily in gas-powered equipment over the years, from mowers and trimmers to leaf blowers and chainsaws. These investments reflect long-standing industry norms, making it difficult to transition to electric tools despite their environmental and cost-saving benefits.
Operators are often skilled with gas equipment, which requires a distinct understanding of engine maintenance, fuel management, and emissions control. There may be resistance to the learning curve associated with electric equipment. However, the industry is gradually adapting. Electric equipment, with its eco-friendliness, reduced noise, and long-term cost savings, is gaining acceptance. As the advantages of electric landscaping tools become more apparent, and as new generations of professionals enter the industry, industry traditions are slowly shifting towards more sustainable and efficient practices. Electric equipment is seen as a modern and responsible choice, and its adoption is expected to continue as the industry evolves.
- Equipment Longevity
The longevity of equipment is a notable difference between gas and electric-powered landscaping tools. Gas-powered machinery, with proper maintenance, can have a longer operational lifespan compared to electric equipment. Internal combustion engines are robust and can withstand years of heavy use, making them a durable choice. With regular maintenance, gas-powered tools can continue to function efficiently for many seasons. In contrast, electric equipment, specifically battery-powered devices, may have a shorter operational lifespan due to the limited lifecycle of lithium-ion batteries. Over time, the batteries in electric tools can degrade, leading to a reduction in runtime and performance. These batteries generally have a finite number of charge cycles, after which they may need replacement. As a result, some electric tools may require battery replacement within a few years of use, depending on their frequency of operation. However, it’s important to note that electric equipment is continually improving, and newer battery technologies are extending the longevity and performance of these tools. Advances in battery management systems and more robust battery chemistry are addressing the issue of limited battery lifespans. As technology evolves, electric equipment is expected to become more competitive in terms of equipment longevity, ultimately reducing this historical difference between gas and electric tools.
- Risk Aversion
Risk aversion is a critical factor in the choice between gas and electric-powered landscaping equipment. Professionals in the industry often exhibit a degree of caution when considering a transition from well-established gas-powered tools to electric alternatives. One of the primary sources of risk aversion is the initial investment required to switch to electric equipment. Electric machines, while cost-effective in the long run, often have a higher upfront price tag. This can create concerns about the return on investment, especially for small businesses or those operating on tight budgets. Companies may hesitate to invest in electric equipment without a clear understanding of the financial benefits over time.
Additionally, the transition to electric tools introduces changes to established workflows and maintenance routines, which can be met with resistance. Employees may be wary of the learning curve associated with electric equipment, fearing potential disruptions and productivity losses. There’s also a degree of perceived risk in terms of performance and power. Professionals accustomed to the reliability and robustness of gas-powered tools may be hesitant to switch to electric machinery, believing that electric equipment may not provide the same level of performance or endurance for demanding tasks. However, the risk associated with transitioning to electric equipment is diminishing as technology improves, cost savings become evident, and the benefits of reduced emissions and quieter operation gain recognition. Electric equipment is now viewed as a progressive, eco-friendly, and cost-effective choice, mitigating the initial risk aversion as the industry adapts to new norms and embraces a sustainable future.
- “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it” mentality
When Toys-R-Us decided to wait on building out their online marketplace, they likely had this same mentality. Seen a Toys-R-Us department store in the last five years? Yeah, neither have we. This mentality however is the second-most point we’ve heard when asking company owners why they aren’t considering electric yet. This is also one of the most concerning issues as we foresee long-standing, valuable lawn care companies slowly losing their market share to other more forward-thinking service providers.
An electric conclusion
Having spent decades in the landscaping industry, knowing many owners and managers, along with our client’s wants and needs, it’s hard to foresee the transition to ‘all-electric’ becoming an industry-wide shift in the very near future. However, certain states such as California, Oregon, New York, and D.C. along with a few others are likely to make this transition within the next three years. This first wave of early adopters is likely to be a consequence of city and state regulations.
The next phase of the industry shift, which has already slowly begun, is happening more due to the opening of a new market niche where brand-new companies can capitalize on pitching quiet, eco-friendly lawn care. As these new companies spring up and begin to take market share, more stable companies will be forced to adapt the new technology into their service offerings.
How far off are we from a fully electric future? If I were a gambler, I’d imagine the safe bet would be by 2030 eighty percent of the commercial landscape industry will be running on battery power.
The exciting, potentially even electric-like period will commence once a tipping point is reached as the cost to go electric is outweighed by the cost of sticking with gas. This will begin when otherwise stable, big companies start losing too many clients to electric operations. Supply will be stretched, and businesses will scramble to keep what they have while forward-thinking younger companies are stocked, locked, and loaded with electricity, jolting the industry into an eco-friendly race for market share.