UMD Goes Electric


On a snowy, winter morning, a soft humming vibrates outside of the Kirby Student Center. The source? A bright red snow blower, which clears the patio without the usual grinding metallic sound. And without any gas.

A few weeks ago, Facilities Management (FM) invested in its first electric snow blower. Not only has this new purchase contributed to the departmental commitment to promoting a healthy environment, but it brings other benefits including reduced noise pollution and long-term savings.

While electric snow blowers still are about 20% greater of an initial investment than their gas counterparts, they have many more hidden benefits. Isaac Kasper, the Fleet & Grounds Supervisor at UMD, shares that one big advantage of the electric snow blower is that it is much quieter than gas blowers. This helps reduce noise pollution on campus and also protects the operator. When using the electric snow blower, no protective hearing equipment is needed.

Additionally, the new machine doesn’t produce any carbon emissions. This helps our campus reach our Carbon Commitment Goal of being carbon neutral by 2050. Another important reason for the switch to electric is that the new snow blower can be stored inside closer to the areas it clears snow. This wouldn’t have been possible with a gas snow blower, due to a potential risk of fire if housed near combustible materials inside. This also greatly reduces the transportation time for the operator.

One example of how this machine will save FM money in the future is that it requires fewer hours of seasonal maintenance. Kasper explains that the electric snow blower doesn’t need to get its oil changed, the carburetor cleaned, or seasonally stabilizing and draining the gas tank. Finally, the new machine starts up much easier than gas ones. During particularly cold days, it can take several times to start up a gas snow blower whereas the electric one simply needs to be turned on with a key and is ready to go. 

Due to some of these fiscal benefits, Kasper estimates that the new snow blower will make up its initial price in about 3-5 years based on “reduced time spent on preventative maintenance, fuel savings, and reduced transportation time.” 

Dan Bergman, a gardener for Facilities Management, was one of the first to use the new electric snow blower. While the machine is much lighter to operate, Bergman has noticed a few issues that make it more difficult to use than the gas blowers. For one, it doesn’t have the same torque capabilities as the gas blower and has a narrower cutting path. In his opinion, it is better suited for smaller jobs, particularly because the battery only lasts about 45-60 minutes. The gas blower, on the other hand, can last several hours with a full tank. The electric snow blower has the capacity for another battery to ensure a longer run time, but that will take more initial investment. 

While this electric snow blower is an exciting addition to the FM snow removal fleet, it is just the beginning. Kasper explains that FM is currently looking for electric alternatives to small hand-held power equipment, including string trimmers and blowers. He states: “As we have positive results with this equipment, I think there are hopes of moving up to bigger electric equipment as well.” 

You can find the new electric snow blower clearing snow on the Kirby Terrace. While it is still in its testing phase, Kasper says that they will likely use it in other spots on campus if they continue to have good results with it.