Snow and Ice Versus Tree Care

The tree crew on the job site with the chip box on the truck. This was an emergency job where a tree landed on a roof and broke through into the client’s bathroom. Having the plow still on the truck enabled us to move snow to better access the tree and position the crane after plowing snow off the lawn. Photo courtesy of the author.

Snow removal can be an important part of your tree care operation. It also can be a good break from doing tree work.

Snow removal can be as simple as slapping a plow on your three-quarter-ton pickup or as involved as using every piece of equipment in your fleet, from your pickups and loaders to chip trucks and bucket trucks. Here in New England, we can expect snow/ice events beginning in November and ending in April, and the days we can’t do tree work doesn’t mean the bills stop, too. Snow-control services can supplement, if not be a major revenue generator for, your business. However, there is some serious planning involved if you are thinking of getting into it.

Some of the important considerations to have covered include:

• Type of contract: per storm or seasonal

• Are your clients residential or commercial accounts?

• Equipment available for snow control: Are your trucks easily converted to snow control? Do you need to purchase any equipment?

• Type of services offered: plowing, shoveling, salting, rooftop snow removal, others.

• Staff available: Who is available 24/7? Are they available holidays? What skills does your team bring to the table?

• Monitoring weather: Who is going to make the decisions? Who delegates who goes out, who will do the post-storm follow-ups? Who answers the phone calls?

• Insurance coverage: Snow is a high-liability event. It is imperative to have adequate coverage.

Contracts

The contracts explain exactly what you are responsible for regarding snow control. The two most common types are per-storm and seasonal contracts.

Per storm will generally say what the cost to plow will be in inches of snow per storm. The more snow, the more it costs. You can invoice the client after each snow or ice event. It will also be specific about how many times you will treat paved surfaces, generally with de-icing material or salt.

The seasonal contract means you are managing the account throughout the entire season for one flat fee. This means all plowing, shoveling, salting or de-icing applications are covered in one fee for the year. To determine how much to charge per season, it is important to get information on how many times it snows a season (this info can be found on various websites through online searches).

An important clause in either type of contract is a separate charge for the large event that keeps crews out for longer than expected or requires additional de-icing applications. This is generally an itemized charge for each service above and beyond the contract.

It is always a good idea to have an attorney review your contracts.

Residential accounts are much different than commercial accounts. Residential accounts generally only involve a plow, whereas commercial accounts are more involved. Most commercial accounts require sidewalk shoveling with de-icing applications, plowing and salting, and these services need to be done before the client’s employees arrive to or leave from work.

There is also follow-up after each storm, which is critical. Do the accounts need to be retreated if those surfaces ice up the following night? Is there drifting snow that needs to be cleaned off or retreated? Snow control on commercial accounts requires more detailed attention than on residential accounts.

Our chip truck has a removable bed that has a chip box on one skid and a spreader on another skid. These can be interchanged in a few minutes with little effort. Photo courtesy of the author.

Equipment

What equipment do you want to dedicate to snow control? Versatility is key to a smooth transition from tree to snow. All our pickup trucks have plows. They are easy to put on and to remove. Our chip truck has a removable bed that has a chip box on one skid and a spreader on another skid. These can be interchanged within a few minutes with little effort. Your post-storm maintenance will help with the longevity of your equipment. Basic maintenance goes a long way after each event; washing the salt from all equipment, checking all fluids and tire pressure and fixing all broken or worn items before the next storm is critical.

Here, our chip box has been replaced with a salt-brine rig. Before a storm, we slide the chip box off and put the salt-brine applicator onto the truck. It only takes a few minutes for the “switch-and-go” beds to be changed. Photo courtesy of the author.

Staff

Does your staff want to do snow? It is a 24/7 obligation. If there’s an event on Christmas, is your team available? There needs to be a commitment from your team. How will they be paid? Will you pay hourly? Is a per-storm wage better? Is setting up an employee-compensation schedule, much like your per-storm contract, a fair deal? The more snow, the more money they get paid.

Is there additional training needed to operate the equipment? Does everyone know how to operate a snowplow? Can everyone calibrate a spreader? There is also a backup plan that is needed in the event someone isn’t available during a storm. Who will fill the hole left by your missing employee?

Someone needs to be dedicated to monitoring weather to decide when crews get dispatched. Who is going to make those decisions? Who delegates who goes out, who will do the post-storm follow-ups? Who answers the phone calls? These are details that can’t be overlooked.

Insurance

An important factor in snow control is insurance coverage. Make sure your insurance agent provides adequate coverage for your snow operation. Slips and falls are not uncommon during the winter, regardless of how well you manage your accounts. You want to be protected for any kind of unfortunate event that comes with snow control.

Some companies make a large part of their income offering snow control to their list of services. When I owned my tree company many years ago, I swore I would not do snow removal. It didn’t take long for me to realize how well it complemented my operation and to appreciate the income it provided.

This job was immediately following a storm. My major concern was crew fatigue, since we were all plowing long hours. My briefing stressed this point, and I emphasized safety. Storm-damage tree work involves many more hazards than non-storm-related tree work. It is good to talk through this point, even though this might be redundant information. Photo courtesy of the author.

There is significant planning before, during and after an event to run a successful snow operation. The better the planning, the smoother your operation. Every snow event is different. You can never be over-prepared for the next storm.

Chris Kemp is plant healthcare manager for Piscataqua Landscaping & Tree Service, a 10-year TCIA member company based in Eliot, Maine.

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