Blown Away

The wheeled blower is, as its name suggests, a blower that rests on wheels instead of your shoulders. Consisting of a fan, housing and engine, the wheeled blower is, mechanically anyway, quite a simple device, especially considering the engineering that goes into many of the professional tools found on landscape contractor trailers and trucks. However, the best wheeled blowers available today are highly engineered for maximum performance.

The primary users of wheeled blowers are lawncare contractors and homeowners. Autumn leaf removal is job No. 1, but wheeled blowers are also used for spring cleanup prior to fertilizing and mowing. The wheeled blower is also an excellent tool for removing thatch from lawns following power raking. Some contractors prefer wheeled blowers to backpacks for final cleanup after mowing and trimming because they cover so much more ground than backpack blowers do and the operator doesn't have to wear it on his/her back. Many contractors in the Mid-Atlantic states keep wheeled blowers on their trailers during the spring and summer to clear parking lots and drives of fallen pine needles.

IS BIGGER BETTER?

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The wheeled blower succeeds where backpack and handheld blowers fall short: moving large volumes of debris as quickly and efficiently as possible. The top-performing wheeled blowers produce up to four times the volume of air produced by the best backpack blowers; yet maintain the high velocity (more than 190 mph) users have come to expect.

VOLUME VS. VELOCITY

Because the primary use of wheeled blowers is leaf and debris removal in the autumn, the air volume they produce matters a lot. Volume, typically measured in cubic feet per minute (cfm) is the output component that determines how much work gets done over a certain period of time. Velocity, measured in miles per hour (mph), is the other output component. High velocity is required to break the surface tension between the debris and the ground to create the initial momentum. In wheeled blowers, the two measures are inversely related, meaning that as volume is increased, velocity is lost, and vice versa. Manufacturers of wheeled blowers work to find the optimum balance between volume and velocity for the available horsepower.

To better understand velocity, consider these examples:

  • The ceiling fan. An ordinary 52-inch ceiling fan produces a whopping 5,000 cfm (volume), but you won't find a design like this on a contractor's trailer because the ceiling fan's velocity isn't high enough to move any leaves. More velocity is required.

  • The air compressor. Pressure from a compressor is high enough to fill automotive tires beyond 60 psi, but it's not enough to move leaves because there is very little air volume. Only when volume is added does the air stream have the necessary force to move mountains of leaves.

NEW TECHNOLOGY

Wheeled blower design has evolved significantly over the years. Early models were fashioned of simple round steel housings and four-bladed steel fans. Eight-hp engines were most common. All-steel blowers worked reasonably well, but they were loud, heavy and not very efficient. Changes in fan design and materials produced some improvements in velocity and helped to reduce noise as well. Housing shapes were modified to produce more volume, but because they were made of metal, unit weight increased substantially. One manufacturer even added a patented feature to control the discharge air from the handle. Overall performance was improved but weight and noise were still problematic for contractors and homeowners alike.

Some contractors moved to backpack blowers because of all the advancements manufacturers made in the past 10 years. Many top-performing backpack units now approach 30 pounds and create uncomfortable back strain with all their torque. To reverse that trend, today's high-tech wheeled blowers are made largely out of composites. Performance gains achieved through computer simulation and design are impressive, but perhaps more importantly, both unit weight and noise decreased dramatically. Nine- and 13-hp engines are now the most common choices of contractors; 5-hp is often all the homeowner requires.

PRODUCTIVITY AND PERFORMANCE

As you might have guessed, the primary consideration to look for in a wheeled blower is performance. Will this investment help you to cut labor and maximize your profit? Contractors often tell us they've cut hours, even days, from big leaf removal jobs. For detail cleaning, there is no substitute for backpack blowers. But wheeled blowers can produce as much as four times the amount of air of backpack blowers, so it is not unreasonable to expect to be able to cut your staffing by two or three employees on many jobs. Obviously, that flows to your bottom line.

Performance is one thing, but you also have to consider design. If your staff fatigues early, you've not accomplished your goal. Always look at unit weight. Ask yourself these questions: How easily does the blower roll? Can my staff push it uphill without killing themselves? Is it easy to load/unload or roll over a curb? Would my employees rather walk behind a blower than have one strapped to their backs?

In many parts of the country, blowers and noise are evil bed partners. Advances in fan and housing design and materials shift noise frequency and reduce decibels, making wheeled blower design both a logical and appealing solution. At less than full engine rpm, it's entirely possible to begin using the latest high-tech wheeled blower first thing in the morning without driving the neighborhood up in arms.

Finally, make sure the wheeled blower you're considering purchasing is easy on the hands. Some manufacturers isolate vibration by using shock mounts; others design the engine base to deflect vibration away from the handle. Either way, be sure the wheeled blower is comfortable to operate and that your staff is in favor of the model you're considering or else they'll fight using it.

Believe it or not, some contractors still use rakes and tarps to haul off leaves. Not only is this a grossly inefficient technique, it's incredibly hard work. Because the wheeled blower is affordable, versatile and requires very little maintenance, most contractors can justify the purchase of one or more. Leaf removal is significantly more profitable than mowing lawns, so even though the season is shorter, contractors achieve payback on their investment in a matter of a couple of weeks. The newest high-tech wheeled blowers are available starting at $999. By contrast, the top-performing backpack blowers retail for around $500. If you have only one or two jobs each autumn that require wheeled blowers, rental is certainly a good option and allows you to try different brands before buying.

FULL-BLOWN FLEET

With advancements in design, the wheeled blower is an important tool to consider adding to your fleet of equipment. Improved output, enhanced user comfort and dramatically lower noise levels make the wheeled blower a compelling argument for increased profitability.

Will Coates is the president of Billy Goat Industries, Inc. (Lee's Summit, Mo.).

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