By now, you have heard about concerns about gas stoves and their potential to cause harm from what is being labeled “indoor pollution.” While I am sure there are cases where gas stovetops used in poorly vented, small spaces may result in reduced indoor air quality, I am not sure we should be banning a kitchen appliance that has been in service for 200 years. 

I will not get into the politics of the issue, but it seems likely to remain politicized for the foreseeable future. My house has a gas stovetop and oven, with which I am very happy; I’m the cook, so I have the power to decide, at least for now. 

Ventilation is a significant issue, though. My stove has a powered vent to the outside, and it is in an open space with a relatively high ceiling with otherwise good air movement and ventilation. I also have carbon-monoxide sensors mounted near the floor, where noxious gases may build up. So, not only am I keeping my gas stove, I feel just fine about it. 

What does all this have to do with the roofing supply business? 

We operate counterbalance forklifts within the confines of our enclosed warehouse spaces. And, while I’m not sure what percentage of roofing warehouse lifts are powered by LP gas in this country, my guess would be around 99%

Are we on the verge of changing how we run our roofing supply warehouse operations?

Historically, the standard pneumatic counterbalance forklift used in roofing-oriented and other building products distribution has been powered by LP gas. Gas-powered lifts are less expensive to purchase, with a wide variety to choose from.

Gas-powered lifts have been credited with being more robust and able to handle the rigors of operating outdoors in dusty, hot, cold, and wet environments. And they have generally been accepted as safe to run indoors. 

With the advent of concerns over “indoor pollution,” this acceptance may slip away.  

Switch to Electric?

While I don’t foresee a quantum leap from gas to electric-powered roofing warehouse lifts in the near term, there are a few things you may want to consider versus dismissing the changeover outright.

Number one, being seen as a good steward of the environment has never been a bad thing. Most of your contractor customers could not care less, but some of their big-company customers may want to know if their roofing supplier has a good record in this regard. 

Next, who wants to work in a polluted environment? Is it not enough that many roofing supply warehouses are dusty and poorly ventilated? Add potentially toxic emissions from forklifts, and the working conditions can be downright unpleasant. These may not be things you or your warehouse workers notice routinely. They have always been that way. But that does not make them acceptable. 

Last but not least, the electric-powered forklift of today is much improved compared to those in the past. Battery technology has come a long way and continuously undergoes routine upgrades owing to the emergence of electric vehicles of all types. 

Maybe not now, but it should follow that adopting more electric-powered industrial trucks of all types will lower their manufacturing costs, making them even more affordable. 

If you are concerned about indoor air pollution, I offer that you have many options. Since I’m not claiming to be an expert, consider these suggestions “thought starters” to begin the search for solutions that address your situation(s):

  • Clean and seal your concrete floors. Cleaning floors on a daily basis will cut down on the ever-present dust from the fast-paced action of your warehouse lifts (gas or electric). 
  • Maintain your LP gas-powered lifts according to the manufacturer's instructions. Skimping on routine maintenance may result in poor fuel economy and an increase in harmful emissions. 
  • Check your ventilation. Fresh air must move in and out of your warehouse to maintain healthy air quality. Circulation is important, especially if you are operating LP gas lifts.  

Sit down with your forklift suppliers. Find out what it would cost to convert to electric, including all the costs to operate over the anticipated life of the units. You may discover more than one reason to change to E-Lifts, or begin planning to one day make the investment. 

While you are at it, consider lifts that operate at greater heights and narrower aisles than you have previously. The future of roofing-oriented distribution is making the very most of every cubic foot of space in warehouses that seem to get more expensive yearly. 

Above all, your best practice is to operate safely and cleanly!