Snow Plowing During the Slow Season: Pros and Cons

Installers share the benefits and pitfalls of providing snow removal services

Snow Plowing During the Slow Season: Pros and Cons

If you’re an installer in a northern climate, you probably face some months of downtime during winter.

Some might enjoy a break; others need to find a way to stay busy, keep everyone employed, and make some money. One way to do that is snow plowing. 

Several installers featured on over the years have made the case for adding snow removal work during those slow months. And others have been strongly against it. Here we rounded up some pros and the cons to help you decide if it’s worth it. 

It keeps you busy

Kendall Unruh, his brother Brandon and their father Maynard, owners of Western Septic & Excavation in Buhl, Idaho, keep employees working during the winter by providing snow removal services for local businesses — apartment complexes, medical offices, retail stores, gas stations, banks, churches, groceries, nursing homes and restaurants.

“We started with an old tractor and an old snow plow in 2006,” Unruh says. “At that point there were three people doing snow removal in Buhl. One decided he didn’t want to do it anymore and sold us a box plow and his route. The other went to work for the city and just gave us his route, leaving us as the only snow company in town.” Although they currently have a corner on the market, they don’t take it for granted and work hard to keep customers happy.

Their equipment includes five straight and V plows from Hiniker and BOSS, a shop-built 10-foot snow pusher attached to their Case backhoe, a John Deere 4010 compact tractor, a John Deere 52-inch snowplow with a 48-inch rear box plate, a John Deere 48-inch snowblower, two SnowEx walk-behind spreaders and walk-behind single-stage snow blowers from Toro and Briggs & Stratton.

The company has about 60 commercial accounts in the town of 3,700. “It’s interesting because in a little town like ours you drive through it and you don’t really think there’s much there but you start going to all those places and it adds up,” Unruh says. “Sidewalks make up the majority of our snow income because we get a lot of little 1/2- or 1-inch snows. Like, for a pharma complex, they need to keep them safe. So we go in where we don’t need to plow but do those little snows a lot.” 

Some years there’s not a lot of snow but in other years snow removal is what really gets them through the winter, Unruh says. “It helps us make payroll when it’s too cold or wet or nasty or muddy to be out installing.”

It’s not always worth it

A few years ago when Eddie Harrison reoriented his business, BAT Onsite, toward servicing advanced onsite systems and away from excavation, other changes came along. One of them was a big risk: quitting snow plowing.

Based outside of Baltimore in Mount Airy, Maryland, he made off-season revenue for 16 years plowing for the Maryland State Highway Administration. When he gave up the state contract, he also gave up $20,000 to $100,000 annually — the amount in any given year depending on the regional snowfall.

His routes varied year to year. One wasn’t bad — 16 miles through a mostly rural area with a few gas stations and a restaurant where he could take a break. A more challenging route covered 10 miles along a busy four-lane highway through a business district.

He plowed using the dump trucks from his excavating business. For most of his time plowing, he ran four trucks. When he quit the state contract in 2018 he was down to two.

The money was good, but there was a price to pay. “For every hour we pushed snow, we spent another hour working on the truck because the salt was so hard on the trucks,” Harrison says. “Then, when you go to work on it, it’s so rusted up you can’t get anything off.”

He says he’s happy he gave it up. He was in the middle of an annual truck inspection the state required of its contract drivers when a state supervisor told him he would have to follow another new requirement sent down from upper management.

“I was polite,” Harrison says. And he walked away.

It’s a lot of work

Eddie Quast and his father, Garry, are co-owners of GE Quast Excavating in Manotick, Ontario, Canada. The company specializes in septic tank installation and repair, excavation, and snow removal in a region known for heavy snowfalls. They’ve fitted quick-connect plow mounts to six trucks ranging from a 3/4-ton pickup to loaders and dump trucks.

“Snow removal is not for the faint of heart,” says Eddie Quast. “The hours can be endless and you sometimes work so hard you think you can’t work another hour — but you have to.” 

The company works commercial contracts, including large parking lots and private condominium roads. These jobs require the company to sign performance contracts, which include possible penalties. The company must carry liability insurance for snow removal, with an additional rider to perform salting, sanding and ice management. 

“You have to schedule your work to maximize the value of every moment or you can bankrupt yourself,” says Quast. “If you’re installing a septic tank and a piece of equipment breaks down, a delay might be acceptable. If a plow breaks down at 3 a.m., you have to repair it or call someone to help you immediately. You can’t tell a customer that the mall won’t be opening on time.”


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