PRB Articles

Shop Smart

It’s amazing how much money parks and recreation departments waste buying the wrong spray equipment.

What actually causes this, and what can be done to minimize purchasing mistakes?

Here are some ideas:

Backpack Sprayers

Quality --Select a quality product that can stand up to long hours, harsh chemicals, and rough treatment. Pay particular attention to the two key components--the pump mechanism and spray wand. Most industrial-grade sprayer pumps and spray valves contain at least some metal (usually brass), so they can stand up to hard use. Check the warranty. Most quality backpacks provide a 1-year warranty; the best carry a 2-year warranty.

Replacement parts --Are they readily available? If not, don’t buy the equipment.

Service --If the unit is not easy to service, it will end up in a corner gathering dust. The spray valve (gun) must unscrew easily for service. The pump mechanism should be easily accessible, preferably a backpack with an external pump. Where is the filter? Is it easy to check and clean, or does the technician have to stick his or her hand in a tank full of chemicals to find it?

Power Sprayers

Because power sprayers are more complex and are sold in many varieties and with options, buying the correct one is even more difficult.

Some common issues include:

• Not collecting enough input on the requirements

• Attempting to buy a sprayer for every possible application

• Lacking poor or incomplete specifications

• Buying solely on purchase price.

Not Collecting Enough Input On The Requirements

It is important to take the time to obtain input from everyone involved in order to design the right sprayer.

Here is a partial list of stakeholders and some possible questions to ask:

Spray technicians

• What do you like/dislike about the existing equipment?

• What would you change?

• What would you like to see in the equipment?


• Will the size or type of spray projects change?

• Will the products (chemicals) change?

• What vehicle(s) will the equipment go in?

• Will one tech or multiple techs be using the equipment?

Maintenance department

• What do you like/dislike about the existing equipment?

• What would you change?

• Are there any components/design issues that are a problem?

Purchasing department

• Will this work be multiple-bid or directed to a specific vendor under contract?

• Can the first year’s maintenance parts be included in the purchase?

Spray equipment vendor (if not a multiple-bid situation)

• What recommendations do you have based upon our application?

• How can you help with some of the problems in the existing equipment?

• Are spare parts readily available?

• What maintenance is likely to be required in the first year?

• Will this sprayer be easy for users to operate?

• Will you train our users?

Poor Or Incomplete Specifications

When a department does not take the time to write detailed specifications for a new sprayer, what you get may not be what you want or need.

Here are some examples:

• A municipality ordered a 300-gallon spray trailer with a 20-foot boom to conduct weed control on large fields. Officials stated that aside from occasional weed spot-spraying with the hose, this was the only application for this sprayer. A couple of months later, the sprayer was not working. It turned out that one tech was trying to spray 40-foot-tall trees--something the sprayer was never designed to do. The pump had to be upgraded at significant expense.

• Another government agency solicited bids for three 200-gallon spray trailers, and accepted the lowest bid. After three months, the pumps started failing. The specification stated “roller pump,” but did not specify a model number. The vendor used the lowest grade of pump, which could not stand up to herbicides. Those same spray trailers used low-cost, low-quality plastic fittings in key places. A plastic fitting in the wrong place can fail, resulting in a chemical spill and lost productivity.

Be sure you know everything you are getting when you order a sprayer. If you are going out to bid, specify all components, not just the major ones. Your sprayer specs should be detailed.

Buying A Sprayer For Every Possible Application

Not every sprayer works for every application. For example, a golf-course fairway sprayer requires a larger tank and a different pump than one used for spot-spraying weeds in a park.

If you try to design a sprayer to solve all your needs, it often does none of them well. Determine which application will amount to 80 percent of the work for that sprayer, and solve that problem. Find another way to solve the other 20 percent.

Buying Solely On Purchase Price

Have you ever calculated the actual cost of landscape spray equipment? The purchase price is like the tip of an iceberg--only a small portion is visible. The rest is hiding--unseen--waiting to sink the department’s productivity, results, and budget.

Total equipment cost comprises:

• Purchase price

• Installation

• Maintenance

• Repairs/downtime

• Technician productivity

• Longevity/replacement.

It is important to understand all the costs associated with equipment to make good decisions. (Note: although this article focuses on landscape spray equipment, the concepts apply to many types of equipment.)

Purchase Price

This is the most obvious component of total cost. Unfortunately, it is often the only cost considered in the purchase decision. It includes the price of the base unit plus any optional equipment, sales tax, and freight.


Installation includes the total cost of installing equipment. Generally, rigs requiring electric power will cost more to install. This equipment must be wired to the truck battery, which takes more time and requires wire, fuse, fuse holder, etc.

If you are doing the installation, be sure to ask the rig vendor if electrical components are included in the purchase price. If the vehicle requires modification to accept the new equipment, factor that into the overall cost.

When installing the equipment in-house, be sure you know what is under the vehicle bed. Drilling through a pickup truck bed into vehicle equipment--such as the gas tank--adds significant cost and delays.


This includes regularly scheduled maintenance, such as engine-oil changes, pump rebuilds, spray-gun rebuilds, etc. It is a combination of the costs of the components as well as labor. Regular maintenance extends the life of a sprayer.

Repair Costs

Does the rig constantly break down? Repair costs include not only the cost of the repair but the downtime that results during the repair. Are replacement parts readily available? Can the repair be performed in-house, or must it be outsourced? Waiting for parts and repairs can really limit productivity.

Productivity Impact

Does the equipment boost or decrease productivity? Are key components properly situated for easy, safe, ergonomic access? Must the technician perform extra motions just to do his or her job? A small increase in daily productivity will more than pay for a small upfront increase in equipment cost. Equipment with a low purchase price that does not support safe, efficient operation is not saving money.

Longevity/Replacement Cost

How long do the components last? Are top-quality components used? Sprayers with low purchase prices but don’t last are not money-savers.

If you work through a purchasing department that selects the lowest purchase price, the total costs may be higher than expected. As professional managers, it is critical to the success of the organization to understand the total cost of the equipment.

In today’s environment--when parks and recreation departments are being asked to do more with less, buying the right spray equipment is even more critical. Spending time up front to ensure good results is clearly a wise investment.

Andrew Greess is the president of Quality Equipment & Spray, which designs and builds custom weed-control spray equipment. He can be reached at or follow him on Facebook. For more information or to share your thoughts, check out his blog at

----------------------------------------------------- Sidebar ---------------------------------------------------------------------------

A Closer Look

Here are some questions to consider for each of the key items:

Tank --Select a tank size that is large enough so that the technician is not constantly refilling it, which stifles productivity. It must fit in the truck, and be within the truck’s safe-weight capacity.

Power source --Should you select gas, electric, or PTO (power take-off from the vehicle)?

1. Gas

Pros: More volume and pressure, which usually means faster; great for jobs requiring larger chemical applications. Usually the best bet when using a sprayer in multiple vehicles.

Cons: Noisy; smelly; more expensive.

2. Electric

Pros: Quiet; greener image; no need to carry gasoline; less expensive to purchase, operate, and maintain. A good bet for small jobs.

Cons: Less volume and less pressure, but a longer period of time for the job.

3. PTO

Pros: Uses the vehicle’s existing power source to provide lots of power without additional purchase.

Cons: Not easy to move the sprayer to another vehicle.

Pump --The pump must handle the material you are applying without abnormal wear or damage. It must have the output (volume and pressure) to apply the material where you want to apply it, for example, through 300 feet of hose or to the top of a 50-foot tree. Be sure replacement parts are readily available.

Hose --The hose must be long enough to reach the farthest point. Since the end of the hose wears out and must eventually be cut off, it is better to buy too much hose rather than not enough. The longer the hose, the more pressure is lost, which is important if spraying tall trees. A larger hose moves more volume and pressure than a smaller hose, but weighs more, especially when filled with water. Be sure to select a hose that is flexible and durable in extreme temperatures. Buy a quality hose reel with readily available replacement parts. Electric hose reels cost more, but can boost productivity and technician satisfaction.

Configuration --This is a critical decision that is often overlooked. The components must be configured to support operational productivity and maintenance. Can the technician easily reach and operate key components? Can the filter be easily checked as needed? Can the pump be serviced without having to remove other components? Like a leaking roof in a rainstorm, these are not issues that become obvious until the need arises.

The Future Of Our Industry

Tapping The Sugar Bush