Don’t Spread Yourself Thin
Choose the right spreader for winter maintenance
As much as we hate to
admit it, summer is all but gone, and winter is just around the corner. The
time is nearly here to start prepping lawn mowers, edgers, trimmers and
other equipment for storage, and to begin thinking about what you need to
battle the oncoming winter.
Whether you’re a landscaping/groundskeeping
professional or someone charged with the responsibility of maintaining a
commercial or institutional property, it’s likely that one of your
equipment staples is a spreader. If it isn’t, why not? From a
contractor’s point of view, offering sand/salt spreading services can
be just as lucrative, if not more so, when compared with
plowing/snow-removal services. For the property manager or municipal
official, spreading an ice control material is basically a necessity given
today’s litigious society.
The fact is that spreaders are becoming a given for any
solid winter maintenance program, but with so many different types of end
users and application demands, a one-size-fits-all approach to spreader
selection simply isn’t feasible. Fortunately, spreader manufacturers
understand this and offer a seemingly endless amount of features and
equipment configurations to cater to virtually any need. But, with this
seemingly endless amount of differences, how do you choose the right
spreader for your operation?
|Photos by Mark Hall.
|Larger, V-box style spreaders are ideal for contractors catering to larger jobs. Shown here is a unit with a poly-built hopper, a feature that is found on more
and more of today's winter-maintenance spreaders.
Capacity isn’t king
All too often, the first, and only, consideration
people make when selecting a spreader is capacity. With truck-mounted
spreaders having the ability to hold anywhere from 150 pounds to 2.5 tons
of material, the equipment’s capacity certainly must be considered.
However, making a choice based solely on how much material a spreader can
hold is a textbook case of putting the cart before the horse.
Several other factors must be taken into account,
including the types of jobs or clients you will be addressing. If you are
typically servicing driveways, sidewalks and other small residential
applications, then a small tailgate spreader would likely be the preferred
equipment. Likewise, for mall parking lots or commercial or institutional
facilities, a larger, V-box style spreader may be a more effective choice.
For large applications, using a spreader that’s
too small will add unnecessary costs in several ways. First, the operator
will have to stop to fill the spreader more often. This downtime could
equate to higher labor costs. It also means a loss of time, which could
mean lost profits and/or productivity. By spending more time to keep the
spreader filled, that’s less time on the job, meaning less customers
or problem areas that can be adequately addressed. Furthermore, having to
drive back and forth to refill the hopper is a waste of fuel.
On the other hand, having too large a spreader can
present problems on smaller jobs. Smaller facilities generally have more
confined areas requiring salt or sand. It’s easier to negotiate these
areas with an appropriately sized spreader that allows for maximum
visibility in congested areas. Carrying a spreader that’s too large
will also have an adverse effect on fuel consumption. Anytime unnecessary
payload is used, unnecessary fuel is burned.
There are a lot of questions that could be asked at
this stage of the selection process, but it’s best to just simplify
and consider the application demands first. What size jobs need to be
addressed? What amount of material is needed to cater to each of these
applications in one pass? Answer these two
questions and the capacity quandary is greatly minimized.
Spreaders come in a wide range of styles and sizes, as
well as materials, including steel, stainless steel and polyethylene
(poly). Durability ranks as the greatest concern here.
Many contractors will spend more money to get a
stainless steel spreader because they assume this offers a durability
advantage over regular steel and poly alternatives. While it’s
certainly true that a stainless steel spreader won’t have the same
rust and corrosion issues that a steel spreader will, there have been
dissenting opinions when it comes to comparing the durability of stainless
steel and poly.
As with any new technology, there were certainly
questions about poly performance when it first hit the scene, especially in
terms of durability. But, now that nearly every spreader manufacturer
offers a poly-built line, the message is getting out: poly is just as
durable. Even with this message resonating from many equipment
manufacturers, deep-seated beliefs are tough to overcome, and some still
assume stainless steel options are the most durable.
While durability may be a gray area, there is no
debate that poly spreaders offer the advantage of weighing less than steel
spreaders. This benefit is made clear when looking at gross vehicle weight
(GVW) recommendations for any given truck. For instance, if a poly spreader
weighs 550 pounds compared with a similar capacity 1,200-pound steel unit,
using a poly spreader would allow the user to carry 700 pounds of extra
material before reaching the recommended GVW.
Again, consider the fuel cost savings. With
today’s gas prices, and weight being a primary factor in a
vehicle’s fuel consumption, reducing the weight a vehicle has to
carry by just a couple hundred pounds can make a big difference. How much
of a difference? According to the U.S. Department of Energy, for every 100
pounds of extra weight having to be carried by a vehicle, the miles per
gallon are reduced by up to 2 percent (roughly 8 cents per gallon). Now,
consider a weight savings of 700 pounds and it’s easy to see why poly
construction continues to gain in popularity.
Another consideration is that steel and stainless
steel spreaders require moving parts, such as chains and belts, along with
an engine to put it all in motion. On the other hand, some of the poly
spreaders on the market are now fully electric powered. Therefore, there
are no chains, pulleys or engines to maintain or repair. Furthermore, one
less engine to fuel obviously results in reduced expenses.
|Some tailgate-mounted spreaders are available with a
swing-away accessory that allows the contractor to open a truck's
tailgate without having to remove the spreader.
|If one is typically servicing driveways, sidewalks and
other smaller residential or commercial applications, a
tailgate spreader would likely be the preferred equipment.
Go with the flow
For all the effort that can go into proper selection,
the spreader can quickly become the wrong spreader if it is not used
correctly. Proper selection is simply a matter of choosing a spreader with
the capabilities to handle the material that needs to be distributed.
Poor material flow will result in a logjam at the back
of a spreader. There are two ways this problem can develop. The first is
just having the wrong spreader for the material. Sand or any type of bulk
material shouldn’t be expected to flow well out of a gravity-fed
unit. Moisture will cause the material to clump together, inhibiting the
spreading process. Bag material has a better chance of getting through the
gravity-fed unit without a problem, because it comes in a smaller size,
it’s a cleaner material and will likely be free of moisture right out
of the bag.
Spreaders handling bulk material should be equipped
with a system to keep the material moving, but some systems work better
than others when dealing with material that tends to clump together. For
instance, some conveyor belt systems experience clogging issues at the
discharge shoot because they continuously pull material and potentially
overload the area. Other systems feature a vibrator to break up the bulk
and an auger system that pulls material. Of course, the importance of this
choice depends on the materials typically being used for the majority of
The importance of size
The size aspect of spreader selection not only comes
into play when considering capacity, but also when taking into account how
the spreader will be mounted on the vehicle. While a spreader is an
essential part of a snow and ice management program, the user may want the
ability to use the truck to carry bag material or additional equipment,
depending on the application.
Some tailgate-mounted spreaders are available with a
swing-away accessory that allows the truck’s tailgate to open without
having to remove the spreader. This gives the ability to load bagged
material into the truck bed. Additionally, this configuration allows for
easy loading and unloading of other equipment, such as a snow thrower or
Material storage capabilities are a consideration when
looking at larger bulk spreaders. Some larger spreaders used on dump trucks
and other large-duty vehicles still allow space to carry pallets of bagged
material. For those who don’t have a place to store bulk material, or
perhaps don’t have the number of jobs or workload to justify using
bulk material, these spreaders give them the flexibility to have material
on hand and ready to go, rather than having to make a trip to pick up a
fresh load of bulk sand or salt. They also offer the possibility of
carrying other equipment.
The largest bulk spreaders typically take up an entire
truck bed and offer nothing in the way of additional storage space. They
also require at least two people or a lift truck to remove. For large
contractors or municipalities with a fleet of trucks, this may not be an
issue, since they may have trucks dedicated to salting, sanding, etc. But,
for smaller operations with trucks that may have multiple uses,
particularly when transitioning between seasonal applications, any amount
of flexibility is welcomed.
Stay in control
Speaking of flexibility, what about the ability to
control how the material is spread? A heavy or light snow, or varying
degrees of ice buildup, will proportionally dictate using a lighter or
heavier volume of material, but not all spreaders offer the same degree of
Although most spreaders have the ability to control
the distance the material is being pitched, volume control is another
matter. Because there is no way to speed up or slow down the flow of
material through a gravity-fed unit, the only recourse for applying more
material is to drive slower or double-pass the application area. By the
same token, the only way to apply less material is to increase the rate of
In spreaders with conveyor systems, the volume can be
adjusted through a two-step process. First, the conveyor system must be
sped up or slowed down. Secondly, a rate gate must be set higher or lower
to control the volume of material going into the discharge shoot.
With auger-fed spreaders, the process is a bit
simpler. These units typically allow the volume of material coming out of
the spinner to be controlled by adjusting the speed that the auger pulls
Again, with any other variable, the right choice comes
down to how much control the user needs for the application. For some,
gravity-fed units offer enough to fit their needs. For others, these same
units would limit productivity and efficiency.
In the end, if one considers each of the major
equipment variables, tempered by the greatest overall need, the right
spreader becomes a simple choice.
The author is director of marketing and sales for