If you're a subscriber to this magazine, then chances are you use a backpack blower sometime during your workday. They are popular with people moving large volumes of debris in cleanup applications for sweepers, crack sealers, sealcoaters, or anyone else looking to clean up a site before or after a job. But not everyone thinks they're so great. Over the last 10 to 15 years, dozens of communities across the United States have banned or restricted the use of gas-powered blowers, citing noise, emissions, and dust creation as a public nuisance. If you've been around the industry long enough to have used a backpack blower manufactured prior to the 1990s, then you can understand where all those negative feelings came from. However, the gas-powered blowers of today are a different story,
"There's no question about it — the older designed blowers and certainly the larger blowers were just plain noisy," says Larry Will, vice president, Echo Inc. (retired). "We've done things to improve that across the line. Not all blowers are super quiet, but they are certainly quieter than they used to be."
Reducing noise, although not mandated by a government agency, has been an issue the industry has taken on as a goal because of the simple fact that these blowers were noisy, both for neighbors and operators, and something had to be done. In addition to the issue of noise, the blower industry has also addressed emissions. Reducing emissions has been mandated by the EPA, and today's gas-powered blowers have up to a 90% reduction in hydrocarbon emissions compared to blowers manufactured in the early 1990s. The dust issue, however, is something blower design can do little about. This problem is best solved by operators who are knowledgeable with their machines and know how to avoid stirring up dust.
All of these factors should be considered when you look at new models of backpack blowers for your business. Price, durability, and performance are driving factors in any blower purchase, but noise and emissions should be considered when purchasing a gas-powered blower, especially if you do work in residential area.
Choosing a blower
When you choose a backpack blower, you need to look at the performance of the machine and how it will fit your needs. You should consider two factors when looking at blower performance — the velocity of the air coming out of the end of the nozzle and the air volume, or the cubic feet per minute of air that's forced through the unit. Air velocity lifts up the debris you're trying to sweep away, and the air volume carries it away. The air volume is related to the total horsepower of the unit, so naturally a unit with a higher horsepower generally will have more air flow. Backpack blowers can vary greatly in horsepower. The air volume from 1 horsepower blowers generally will supply about 300 cubic feet of air per minute at the tube tip, while a 4 horsepower unit normally will supply over 600 cubic feet of air per minute. Bigger blowers, however, will also generate more sound.
Another topic to consider when looking at backpack blowers is operator comfort, and for many people, the number of pounds a unit weighs is at the top of the list in that respect.
"Weight is an issue we hear about all the time — we hear guys say they don't want a certain blower because it weighs 'three pounds more' than another one," Will says. "But if you have to wear it on your back all day, you'd be surprised — that's a lot of weight."
Shindaiwa recently introduced the EB630, which has several features designed for operator comfort, including a contoured back pad made of breathable nylon to help keep operators cool on hot days, and padded shoulder straps. The tube and throttle stick were also designed with ergonomics in mind.
"We have an angled handle on the tube so the operator can have better control over tube direction when he's operating the unit itself," Jay Larsen of Shindaiwa explains. "There's a control arm for the throttle control that moves around so the operator can move the throttle control and operate it very easily with his left hand and hold the tube with his right hand."