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The Cost of Snow Plowing

wild car tracks in snow covered parking lot

Many commercial property owners new to collecting bids for commercial snow plowing are a little shocked at the cost.  “How hard can it be to plow my own lot?” they asked themselves.  While certainly most people can learn how to safely remove snow, there are a lot of costs that go into snow and ice removal that are not always accounted for.  Let’s go through just some of the costs that go into snow plowing.

The Cost of Snow Plowing Equipment

The most obvious expense is going to be a snow plow.  With a bottom end plow or a decent used plow coming in around $3,000 and new, contractor grade plows costing up to $6,000 after you throw in installation, the plow isn’t cheap.

Do you think your plow is going to last you 10 years?  Unless you only plow one or two driveways or a small parking lot, think again.  The nature of plowing means snow plows get beat up…a lot.  Many professional contractors are replacing their plows every 3 years, and if there are light winters or they are extra ginger in how they plow, maybe another one or two winters can be squeezed out of them.

What gives a plow a short life span is, as the plow is being pushed along the ground, you hit hidden objects…lots of hidden objects.  The trip springs will lighten (again lighten, not eliminate) the impact, but there are times you will accidentally knock the edge of the blade or you will hit a really big object under the snow.  The snow plow takes continual pounding which is hard on the hydraulics and the frame of the plow.  After a while, you WILL need to repair or replace the plow, so be ready.

It is not just your plow that takes a beating.  The transmission on your vehicle feels all of those jolts as well.  If you have a one-ton truck or smaller that you intend to plow with, plan on replacing your transmission or your vehicle every few years.  On the low end, that is another $3500 for the transmission or on the high end you could spend $50,000+ on that new pickup of yours (love those leather heated seats).

The Cost of Snow Plowing Documentation?

A professional commercial snow removal company will document all the work they do with date and time stamps plus the best companies taking before and after pictures.  That documentation will be retained for up to a decade.  Were you planning on documenting all of your work?  You wonder why someone would even bother.

The reason to document your work is to ward of frivolous lawsuits.  Someone could bring a slip and fall suit against you literally years after they supposedly fell on your property after a snow storm.  If you did not properly document the work you did, be ready to pay an average of over $15,000 per lawsuit.

The Cost of Insurance

One of the benefits of hiring a snow removal company is transferring some (not all) of the risk to the snow removal company.  The company is now responsible for keeping your property safe and it is also the snow removal company’s responsibility if there is any damage done to your property.  That is why one of the largest expenses for a snow removal company is their insurance.  It is not uncommon for a landscaper who plows snow to find their insurance bill for the 3-4 months snow season higher than the insurance for the 8-9 months of landscaping.

If you are plowing snow on your own, you are now accepting the liability for everything.  You may find that affects your insurance bill or at the very least your out-of-pocket expenses when you have to make property repairs after the snow season.

Spreading Salt

You can’t plow ice up from an ice storm.  You also need to plan on spreading salt or a salt mix.  If you just get a tailgate spreader, you are only out a few hundred dollars, but the cost of salt adds up.  Rock salt, the cheapest material to spread, will quickly add up to well over $1,000/year for a small parking lot in an average winter when you buy it by the pallet (more if you buy it bag by bag at the local store).

Hidden Costs

Who is going to plow for you?  Oh, you will save money by plowing yourself?  Yet your time is still worth something, because you could have been doing something else to either make or save money.  That time is lost.  Even if you plow at night and go in for a full work day, you will be far less efficient and less effective because your mind does not function as well when you do not get a full night sleep.

Other costs are going to include fuel (plowing is not a fuel-efficient activity), replacing your tires more often, and replacing your truck battery every 2-3 years (plowing is hard on your truck’s electrical system too).

Then there are the little costs that add up.  Most plow guys will have the constant flow of caffeinated beverages to keep them awake during the wee hours of the morning.  You will also want to spend a few dollars on extra warm clothes for when you are out of the truck shoveling.

On top of all the dollars that are going out, you also have to remember you have to remain available to remove snow from October through March and every once in a while, in April or May too!  That means no overnight trips can be planned, important meetings need to be rescheduled when a storm rolls through, and make sure you don’t get sick or injured, because you will still need to be out there removing the snow no matter what happens.

The Question Becomes “How can the Pro. Snow Plow Guys do it so Inexpensively?”

Yes, we are biased in saying we think hiring a professional snow plow company (we prefer professional snow and ice management company) stretches your money just as far as plowing on your own.  There are some things that help us keep it economical on our end.

We can spread out the equipment costs over many properties instead of just one or two.  With as many properties as we plow, the equipment cost per property drops way down.

We can also use different equipment.  Using skid steers, loaders, and dump trucks is way more economical for snow removal than a pickup truck because we can move more snow both safer and faster.

We have economies of scale.  When you are buying multiple pieces of equipment every year, the dealers give you…well, a good deal!  We get our salt in bulk truckloads instead of pallet loads which means we get better pricing on our salt as well.

Finally, our crew members are well trained and well-practiced in snow removal, so they can do the work at top speeds while maintaining the highest levels of safety.  Our crews have dedicated software for documenting work done while we are on your site, so it takes almost no extra time to carefully record what work was done as we are working.

The added benefit of using a professional commercial snow removal company is you never have to lose any beauty sleep to ensure your property is safe for vehicles and pedestrians.

Those are the big costs, though I am sure we missed some items.  If you are still thinking of snow plowing on your own, good luck and be safe!  If you are in the Grand Rapids or Lansing areas, feel free to give us a call about a free assessment of what it will take to keep your clients and team members safe from winter storms.