Winterize Your Sweeper

"Drain the water" and 8 other tips to protect your equipment for spring startup

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George Lonergan, owner of J&J Equipment in Brewerton, NY, estimates that in the most wintry climates of the United States upwards of 90% of the parking lot and street sweeping equipment hibernates for the winter. But you can't just drive your sweeper into your yard and park it.

"This is expensive equipment that needs to be taken care of or it won't work properly," says Lonergan, who markets the Tymco lines throughout upstate New York. "By taking care of your sweeper properly you can help extend the life of your investment."

One of the first decisions contract sweepers need to make is whether to shut down for the winter, essentially mothballing units until spring, or to sweep intermittently throughout the winter as weather allows.

"Some contractors, especially in places like Syracuse or Buffalo that get a lot of snow, just shut down," Lonergan says. "But in places like Albany that don't get as much snow, some sweepers will get out and sweep if the temperature gets into the upper 30s or low 40s. It makes the spring cleaning easier."

But whether you're shutting down your sweeping or trying to squeeze some extra work out of your machines during the winter months, you need to properly prepare your equipment for the cold. And your main concern should be the water used in your sweeper.

Water serves to suppress dust and acts as a lubricant, according to Gary Eatinger, customer service rep, Elgin Sweeper Co.

"On air machines water holds the dust down from side brooms so that could be considered an optional use," he says. "The pickup head, on the other hand, requires water in the suction hose at all times. Water acts as a lubricant of particulates going at great speed into the hopper."

Eatinger says that on mechanical units water is used to suppress dust on side and main brooms, but it's also a lubricant on the brooms.

"If you use water you will save a certain percentage of the life of the broom, they won't wear as fast," he says.

Eatinger says you can sweep without water provided the pavement is damp or not dusty. But contractors intent on sweeping without water need to understand what effect that will have on their equipment.

"The wear parts are going to be sacrificed at a higher-than-normal rate because you're taking sand or other particles and putting a great force behind it and it's hitting against the steel," Eatinger says. "Sweeping without water is like sand blasting all your wear parts."

Nevertheless, the first step in winterizing your sweepers is to drain all the water from them.

"We recommend sweepers stop using water in their sweepers by late November or certainly at the first freeze," Lonergan says. He says that while water won't freeze in the tanks over one night, if temperatures drop below 30 degrees F at night and don't warm back up during the day freezing can happen quickly, expanding the water and cracking the water tank. The same can happen to pumps (three customers last spring), which he says is costly, citing a $175 price tag on an electric pump and $1,100 for a belt-driven pump.

"You have to make sure to get the water out," Lonergan says.

Eatinger says the key is to make sure all the water is out of the lowest spots in the sweeper. He says most sweepers have a low plug, which contractors should remove to drain the water tank. Next remove the filter housing and the element, turn it upside down, and drain it. Once drained put it in the cab, not back in the sweeper. Then, climb in the cab and turn the valves off and on to help drain them as well.

"Most manufacturers these days try to avoid building low spots into their equipment so you drain everything down just like you would preparing a Wisconsin cabin for winter," he says. "The best way to build your cabin is to pitch all the pipes and if you do that you only have to open two valves, one for hot and one for cold, to drain the water to prepare the cabin for winter. Most sweepers are designed the same way."

He says Elgin's Whirlwind MV unit has an innovation enabling the contractor to hookup shop air to blow the system free of water.

"That makes it a lot easier," Eatinger says.

In addition to draining the water and performing standard vehicle winterization protection, here are 8 additional actions sweeping contractors should take to protect their equipment during the winter.

  1. Don't leave material in the hopper. "You suck up water with the debris and dirt and if that water freezes in the hopper it can crack it," Lonergan says.
  2. Put anti-freeze in the water system. Lonergan says this is an important extra step too many contractors don't take. "In a Tymco 600 street sweeper, for example, the water tank holds 325 gallons of water. Drain the water and put in 2 gallons of anti-freeze in the tank, turn the pump on and circulate it through the whole water system," Lonergan says. "As soon as the anti-freeze starts spraying out the nozzles, shut the pump down and leave the anti-freeze in the system." Lonergan recommends using only approved, environmentally friendly anti-freeze such as RV anti-freeze in the sweeper and in leaving the anti-freeze in the water system all winter.
  3. Remove gutter brooms from the machines and store them indoors. "These brooms are heavy and removing them from the equipment takes the weight off the gutter broom arm," Lonergan says.
  4. Steam clean the hopper. Do this both inside and outside the machine. "Dirt contains a lot of moisture and the sweeper will rot from the inside out," Londergan says. "It doesn't rot from the outside in, and it won't happen in just one year, but leaving dirt and debris in the hopper and allowing the moisture to stay in there for months, freezing and thawing, will over a number of years cause premature failure of the hopper."
  5. Remove screens from the hopper. Just as you need to clean the hopper, you need to remove the screens and give them a good cleaning. This will make them more efficient and also help them last longer.
  6. Paint the inside of the hopper with a strong primer. This is an extra step but one that can extend hopper life. Primer fills in nicks, scratches, and dents from debris that is picked up and moved into the unit.
  7. Open the side inspection doors and the dump door. "Never park a sweeper truck for an extended period of time with the hopper in the closed position over a long period of time," Lonergan says. "Open the doors to let it breathe."
  8. Keep pickup head/sweeper head off the ground. "In cold weather, when the sweeper isn't going to be used, the pickup head should be in the 'up' position," Lonergan says. "Moisture comes from the ground up and if you leave it on the ground it will rot out over a period of years. Also, the sweeper head can freeze to the ground if there's enough moisture beneath it. It's the same principle as keeping the hopper open: It let's the sweeper head breathe."

Store Pavers Indoors if Possible

You can pave as long as the temperature is 45 degrees F and rising, but when it's too cold to pave it's best to store your paver indoors, according to Cameron Calder, vice president of sales at Calder Brothers Corporation. Follow standard maintenance procedures outlined in the maintenance section of the machine manual, then add two key procedures that don't need to be done during the season. "If your engine has a radiator on it, get that cleaned out," Calder says. "That doesn't necessarily mean getting the fluid flushed, it means getting the fins cleaned out. Otherwise, you roll into the peak of the summer and you may run into some overheating situations." Calder says contractors also should verify the heavy gear oil levels found in the gear reducer of the self-contained drive system. In areas of borderline paving temperatures nearly every day, Calder suggests storing your machine indoors so it will turn over quickly on a cold morning, and installing an extra-strong battery. "A paver is generally not a winter weather machine and therefore most manufacturers aren't going to put in a severe duty battery," he says. "So customers in the far north might find that something to help them on any of their hydraulic-powered equipment is upping the cold cranking amps on their batteries."

When It's Too Cold to Sealcoat...

Ground and air temperatures need to be at least 50 degrees F for a successful sealcoat, so Bill Dye, owner of Able Industries, suggests the following tips for preparing your sealcoating machinery for winter storage:

  • Remove all liquid sealer from tank. Remove strainer basket from strainer housing, clean sealer and dried material from basket, and replace.
  • Fill tank approximately 25% with water, add 3-4 scoops of laundry detergent, agitate for 30 minutes, remove water mix from tank.
  • Turn off main valve from tank to strainer.
  • Remove lid from strainer housing and add water to housing while slowly cycling pump. Open any valve on pressure side of pump and continue until water coming from outlet is clear. Turn off water.
  • Add 1 gallon of anti-freeze to strainer basket housing and close all valves that may be open. Pressurize system with anti-freeze/water solution. Be sure no anti-freeze gets back into your tank.
  • Turn off air supply to pump; drain air/water from air storage tank.

Storing Your Stripers and Striping in the Cold

"If temperatures are going to be below freezing, be careful not to leave water or other materials that can freeze sitting in the striper's fluid section," says Jon Knutson, worldwide product marketing manager at Graco Inc. "You can prevent these materials from remaining in your pump by running the system dry for 30 to 40 seconds after you're done flushing the striper. If you suspect that fluid may have frozen in your fluid section, be sure to bring the striper or its fluid section into a warm environment to completely thaw before you get started." To prepare your striper for extended storage first clean your pump with a compatible solvent — warm, soapy water if you use water-based paint, or the appropriate thinner if you use a solvent-based paint. "Once you've cleaned out the pump there are various fluids that you can pump into the fluid section," Knutson says. "These storage fluids are designed to have anti-corrosion properties and anti-freeze properties, so they're excellent for storing in the machine." Other tips: Grease all the fittings, such as hand levers or wheels; pack any bearings that may need it; clean the exterior of the striper with warm, soapy water; change the engine oil; and add a stabilizer to the gas, which will prevent the gas from varnishing.