SNOWPLOWING AND SNOW REMOVAL BASIC TIPS AND TRICKS FOR CONTRACTORS LOOKING TO BREAK INTO THE BUSINESS
Are you new to plowing and don’t know where to start? If so, we get it! Determining the optimal pattern for your route(s) takes time. Even though experience is the best teacher, some tips and tricks from our seasoned professionals can’t hurt. Whether you’re a one-person team or have a small fleet, this article will help you get up to speed on plowing efficiently.
When you begin your plowing journey, expect to experiment with several approaches before discovering your preferred methods. But before we get into that, the first step is to find the perfect plow for you. Whether you’re a homeowner removing snow from your driveway or a professional snow removal contractor, acquiring snow removal equipment is an investment. Consider the following factors before purchasing to find the most suitable option.
WHAT ARE YOU DRIVING?
Before you can begin comparing different plow options, you need to know which vehicle the plow will be installed on. Whether you’re considering a new vehicle or will be using one you already own, the same information must be considered. All vehicles have a front gross axle weight rating (FGAWR). This indicates the maximum weight that can be added to the front of the vehicle. When installing a plow, you must not exceed this limit. Depending on the plow blade’s size and material, the weight can vary, so your plowing options depend greatly on your vehicle’s FGAWR rating. Most plow manufacturers’ websites have a plow selection tool to narrow down which plow models your truck can handle.
NEW OR USED?
They say the only difference between men and boys is the price of their toys, but we have to disagree. There’s nothing quite like the thrill of buying a shiny new tool. However, is it the best option for you? If you’re building your business from the bottom up, keeping costs down could be key to your success. Statistics show 20% of new businesses fail during the first two years, and 45% in the first 5 years. Most companies don’t even make any significant profit for the first 2-3 years due to overhead and start-up costs. We want you to succeed and we’re here to support you, so we would encourage you to consider more economical options.
Some snowplow dealers sell secondhand plows in good condition. When it comes to the plow you’re contemplating, take the time to examine it thoroughly. Chips and scrapes in the paint are to be expected and are usually easily repaired. Take notes on what will need replaced and look for cracked welds or failing parts. Write down the plow’s model number and look up the parts diagram and weight rating online. This will also allow you to visit The ROP Shop to figure out the cost of any replacement parts you’ll need.
There are more factors to consider when buying a plow, but this is a good place to start. If you’re set on buying new or have several options for used plows, consider the following factors as well.
QUALITY COMES FIRST FOR PLOW AND PARTS
It all starts with the first purchase. If you buy from a dealer, they can assist you with the installation and initial configuration of your plow. Be aware that installation may or may not be included in the final price, so ask about this when considering your budget. Look up how long your dealer has been in business, and how many positive or negative reviews they have online.
How easy will it be to get replacement parts for the plow model they are selling? This is where some plowing newcomers get into trouble. Buying a low-quality plow to save money or struggling to get parts from a less-than-professional business can spell disaster in the middle of the plowing season. Find a reliable business like The ROP Shop for parts and supplies, or even as a backup in case the local dealer can’t come through. Also, plan for maintenance costs and decide who will be doing that work for you going forward. It’s just good business.
So which type of plow is right for you and your company? It will need to be capable of completing your tasks and performing as planned based on your needs. While all three blade styles are capable of moving snow, they each have unique properties.
• Straight Blade
These are the most popular plow blades and are commonly used by entry-level plow users. Perfect for driveways and small homes because of their simple form, they are less expensive than a winged or v-plow. The snowplow’s straight stance is designed for back-dragging snow off the sides of homes and other structures. The blades are put up in a straight position, elevated above the snow as the vehicle moves ahead, and then dipped low to scoop a chunk of the snow between them and the vehicle so that it can be dragged back. It’s a straightforward maneuver in theory, but it does take practice.S.A.M. BUYERS PRO-WING KITS
Some snowplows can shift their blades into a v-shape, with the point moving into or away from the truck. This type of blade can guide snow differently than a straight blade because of its multi-position capabilities. To boost carrying capacity, the plow can quickly transition to the “scoop” position. A v-plow in the scoop position can allow your plow to do longer pushes in one direction than a straight blade can. The v-plow can shift to the v-formation to slice through heavy-packed snow and snowdrifts. This position is also useful for establishing the first channel that you can extend with subsequent runs.
While v-plows are useful and time-saving for commercial properties because of their multi-use flexibility, they do come at a premium price. They also tend to be more prone to breakage and require more maintenance due to the hinge points and the high number of moving parts.
• Winged Plow
There’s a lot of debate in the snowplowing community over which is superior; a winged straight blade or a v-blade. Although most winged blades aren’t as adaptable as v-plows, they have the highest carrying capacity of any style.
There are also a wide variety of winged plow blades to choose from. Some have hydraulics that allows the wings to extend and retract, and some automatically reposition based on your plowing angle for optimum performance. You can even install wing extension kits to many v-blade and straight blade plows to increase their carrying capacity. The possibilities are almost endless. Be sure to check out our S.A.M. Buyers Snowplow Pro-Wing Blade Extension Kit, PW22.
Another thing to consider is the plow blade’s material. All three materials will suffice for commercial snowplow work, but they each have their own set of advantages and disadvantages.
• Mild Steel
For decades, steel has been used to make plows and is the industry standard. Steel plows are coated with zinc powder to help slow the progression of rust formation. Over time, this may become a losing battle based on operator maintenance, storage, and environmental conditions. Mild steel plows tend to stay rugged for extended periods if they are well-maintained.
• Stainless Steel
The term “stainless” doesn’t mean the blade won’t rust; it simply means the blade will resist corrosion. The higher the quality of stainless steel, the more resistant it will be. This plow material offers a modest glossiness advantage over mild steel. It also can be visually pleasing when properly cared for. Unfortunately, it will still dent and scratch.
The smoothest of the three materials is poly (short for polyethylene). Snow won’t adhere to the blade, decreasing the resistance to the plow and the wear and tear to your vehicle. This style of blade is also resistant to scratches, dents, and rust. As a result, an increasing number of snow experts are converting to them.
One common misconception is that poly blades are lighter than the other material options. However, the strengthened skeleton of the moldboard causes most poly plows to weigh more than steel blades.
PLOWING TO BUDGET RATIO
After you’ve found a dealer, decided on the blade style and material, and have saved The ROP Shop’s website for your future parts, the next step is to figure out what size plow is appropriate for you and your budget.
A 7’ or 7’6” straight blade is best suited for residential use or to clear the driveways of a few family members or acquaintances. The price of these types of blades will vary depending on the style and brand of the plow, but they tend to be the most affordable option.
If you’re a professional who plows parking lots, lengthy rural driveways, or side roads, you’ll likely want a plow that’s 8’ long or more. Commercial snow removal companies need to clear snow fast and effectively. If you’re thinking about going commercial, a v-plow could be a good option due to its versatility. With the versatility of a v-multi-position plow, you can easily increase your plowing efficiency, cutting your plowing time from one operation to the next. Keep in mind that even though commercial-grade equipment has a wide range of prices, a brand-new v-blade may cost up to twice as much as a straight style.
EASY DOES IT
The winter season is rough, and you’ll need to be able to attach your plow in the harshest of conditions (freezing, snow, ice, grime, darkness, sleet). When buying your plow, consider the attachment method, since it differs from one manufacturer to the next. Some are as simple as driving up to the receiver brackets, pulling up the shoes, and securing a couple of lock pins. Others are much more complex and could be difficult to navigate depending on the conditions you’re working in.
Our plow fleet drivers use their trucks during the offseason for landscaping and other duties. If you also own a fleet, we recommend having the same attachment system on all your vehicles. Having the versatility to swap between various trucks and plows will allow you to make quick adjustments if something goes wrong.
LIGHTING, STROBES, & CONTROLS
The biggest danger you will face while removing snow is limited visibility. With the combination of low or no light, drifting snow, and objects hidden under drifts, things can get dicey quickly. That’s why it’s important to install dependable lighting such as a high-output, dual-burning system. Take into consideration how the lights mount. If they install using a single stud, they can easily loosen and become dislodged while plowing. Dual-studded lights tend to stay in place more dependably. The ROP Shop offers a universal snowplow halogen headlamp light kit (SKU 100376) with a dual-studded mounting system. We also carry a 12V LED rectangular amber mini light bar that uses a magnetic mount (SKU 100387).
Selecting a good plow controller is also very important. The controller is your direct connection to your snowplow. It must be simple to operate, and it must always be fully functional. Every plow manufacturer provides a basic joystick, touchpad controller, or handheld controller that gives you the ability to position the plow in the desired direction. The Snow Removal section of The ROP Shop’s website offers multiple controller styles and affordable options for many different plow models.
PREPARATION IS EVERYTHING
Mastering snow plowing is mostly about preparation and experience, as it is with anything else. Efficiency and safety are the core of profitable plowing. Each pass matters. Knowing how to use the right technique and equipment for each route will help you save time and money, but knowing how to work with future customers is also key. You’ll need to do some research and put together a plan before you meet with them. Here are some key components to get you started.
• Read the Handbook for the Snowplow Thoroughly
We know, we know. Manuals are for the clueless. However, consider this; each snowplow has different characteristics. There’s no way to memorize them all. Whatever plow you’re using, you must be as familiar and comfortable with it as if it’s an extension of yourself. If you haven’t purchased a snowplow yet, try to locate people who own the plow model you’re considering to get input or actual experience.
• Collect Important Information Ahead of Client Meeting
Make a list of every question they might ask you or that you will want to ask them. This will pave the way for your meeting to go smoothly, and it will make you look and sound professional. Print an aerial shot of the property or properties you plan to solicit and mark high and low points. When discussing important areas of the property with the customer, this visual can help with note-taking and with calculating how much to charge.
• Ask the Owner Where to Stack Snow
Don’t be one of those rookies who piles snow on someone else’s property, on the street, or adjacent to access points. Take note of structures on the property such as mailboxes, dumpsters, electrical boxes, fire hydrants, and water drains. And for the love of all things rugged, avoid burying sidewalks. Installing snow stakes or driveway markers will help you navigate these important points and can help you remember where to place snow.
• Consider Where the Melted Snow Will Drain
Remember, you’re the professional, and the client will want you to know your stuff. They may be fine having their snow pushed to a high point on their property. But doing so can cause sheets of ice to form when the snow melts. Because they didn’t think of this, their property could suffer damage. Preventing this from happening can save you from a grumpy client, bad reviews, or litigation.
When you inspect the property before plowing for the first time, take note of any previous damage and bring it to your client’s attention
• Pack a Bug-out Bag
This emergency kit should contain a tow strap, toolkit, fire extinguisher, flares, flashlight, fuses, first aid kit, an ice scraper, jumper cables, washer fluid, a snowplow emergency parts kit, lock deicer, a shovel, and a bag of salt or sand. It would also be smart to have a spare set of dry clothes and thick gloves packed separately.
• Everything Should be in Working Order
Before heading out, check your vehicle’s tire pressure, belts, hoses, brake fluid, oil, and transmission fluid. Make sure the plow itself is in good working order too. All bolts should be tight, and there should not be any cracks or leaks. The plow’s lights and strobes should function properly. This inspection should be done each time before you plow. We do have a Rugged U Snowplow Driver’s Checklist to help you and your equipment stay on track.
The best practice is to stock up on parts that wear out regularly, such as plow shoes and retaining pins. Don’t get caught without backups! If you need replacement parts, see The ROP Shop for help.
• Check if Ballast is Needed for Your Truck Bed
This is necessary to comply with your truck manufacturer’s weight distribution requirements, and also to improve the stability of your vehicle when plowing. Be careful not to exceed the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) when calculating ballast. Always check your vehicle specs inside the driver-side door.
WHAT TO OFFER YOUR CUSTOMERS
Businesses are always concerned with liability. In the wintertime, storefronts and corporations alike are prone to slip and fall accidents. Therefore, we always recommend deicing after plowing. This will help prevent buildup and keep the area safe for pedestrians. Salting the property can also help melt any remaining snow and keep it clear, possibly preventing a return trip for upkeep.
Instead of salting by hand, consider using a walk-behind spreader, whether drop or broadcast. Doing so can cut down on the time it takes to salt driveways and sidewalks. While faster than hand spreading, it’s still time-consuming. Not to mention you or one of your associates could still slip and fall. Take it to the next level with a tailgate spreader. This is an excellent investment that requires minimal installation. It’s simple to put on and take off as needed during the season. Tailgate spreaders are suitable for deicing services in residential, industrial, and commercial settings. The best part is, The ROP Shop offers replacement parts for salt spreaders as well.
DIFFERENT PLOWING TECHNIQUES
Back-dragging snow away from the building and then plowing in a straight path, moving snow from the center to the outside is basic knowledge (Fig 1-3). But to save time and to run an efficient business, you’ll need to know how to do much more than that.
If you want to avoid excessive wear to your truck and plow blade, don’t wait until the final snowflake falls. This is especially true if you have entry-level equipment and are expecting severe snowfalls. Plowing during a storm and clearing the snow in layers can help your equipment last longer. This will also prevent snow buildup, which can lead to ice and dangerous conditions.
• Parking Lot Plowing Tips and Tricks
In snow plowing as in agriculture, the windrow method is piling snow in long rows (windrows). This is done while plowing broad, open expanses with a winged plow, with the leading wing front. This rolls the snow toward the direction your blade is angled, allowing for a full pass. This will provide minimum spill-off.
A good tip is to lift off the gas as your pass nears the end, then press the brake and elevate the blade to stack the snow. This strategy is less taxing on your power system. When you initially set up a stacking spot, push the banks back far enough to allow for subsequent snowfalls and future stacking. Since most parking lot snow piles remain through the season and will be the last to melt away come spring, it’s important to plan for this.
If you’ll be plowing many parking lots this season, we’d recommend adding plow wings to your straight or v-plow blade. This increases the blade’s carrying capacity and length. It will also cut down on the number of passes required to clear the parking lot, reducing labor time and increasing your bottom-line potential.
• Driveway Plowing Tips and Tricks
Driveways and personal properties are a different bear. It can be tricky to clear the property while also avoiding harm to structures and siding.
Back-dragging helps remove snow from awkward edges such as garage doors or buildings. Only back-drag two to three vehicle lengths each pass to prevent causing harm to your truck. Elevate the blade first, then drive towards the building before lowering the blade to the pavement. With the blade lowered, begin backing up while dragging the snow away from the structure. Return to the area you cleared, then push the snow to the end of the driveway with the blade oriented to the center of the pavement. To make leaving the drive easier for the customer, clear the snow further back from the right side (facing the home), and avoid piling snow there. This makes it easier for the customer to see traffic. It is illegal to pile snow across roadways, so do not do it. (Fig 4)
• Additional Snow Plowing Tips and Tricks
Of course, there’s a lot more to plowing snow than we can put into this blog. The best ground rule we can offer is to keep safety first. Efficiency and time management are never as important as being careful and protecting yourself, your customers, and your equipment.
When dealing with wet snow, always keep in mind that there’s a high likelihood that temperatures will drop at night. If it does, the slush will freeze and turn into black ice. Be sure to properly finish the area to protect against this.
It’s preferable to proceed layer by layer when dealing with dense snow. While your snowplow is a useful tool, you must be careful not to overburden it or your vehicle. If the snow is less than two inches, use the whole width of the blade, and if the snow is four inches or more, use just three-quarters of the blade’s width, leaving a portion of the blade unused. If the snow is six inches or more, use only half the blade. This will also provide you with greater control as you push.
Be sure to check out our blog "HOW-TO BID SNOW REMOVAL CUSTOMER QUOTES AND PRICING FOR CLIENTS WITHOUT LOSING YOUR SHIRT" for a guide on quoting jobs.
Taking proper precautions, planning ahead, and being safe are the keys to success when plowing snow. While it can be a challenge, especially if you’ve never done it before, it can also be an extremely useful and profitable skill set. Whatever you need along the journey, The ROP Shop is here for you and your plow. Stay Rugged, my friends.
Do you ever finish deicing and shake your head at the amount of salt you went through? Maybe you’re checking the books for your snow removal business and trying to cut down on expenses. When minimizing costs, the best place to start is by reducing the amount of material, product, or time consumed. For snow removal, one of the biggest controllable items on that list is salt. Some snowplow crews will throw heavy just to ensure they cover the area, which is likely to result in wasted product. But the less salt you’re dumping, the more you’ll see back on your bottom line. The key here is finding the balance between using too much salt and not enough, shorting your client, and losing business. If you’re wanting to streamline your salt delivery system and ensure you’re managing your spreading to make the most money back, this blog is for you. Just remember that with a topic that includes words like “snow”, “cold” and “salt”, there will be a high number of variables to consider.
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