Image courtesy of Husqvarna

It’s Time To Retire Those Gas-Powered Lawnmowers & Leafblowers

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Spring’s gifts are everywhere in northern climes. Tulips are blooming. The robins have returned from their southern journeys. Trees are budding. But lawn projects beckon, like oak leaves clinging to a side fence or a spot of lawn that was missed in the final autumn trim. As you step out into your outdoor kingdom, this season’s mowing and trimming needs to be a bit different, though — it’s time to switch to electric lawn tools. Those gas-powered lawnmowers and leafblowers have got to go!

The movement to switch to zero emissions lawn equipment is strong. What were largely dependable lawnmowers and leafblowers you’ve cycled through over the years are polluting the environment. Options are available that will not only be sustainable but are also super cool and high tech, so you’ll feel like you’re gaining rather than losing out when you make the move to all-electric lawn gadgets.

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What’s wrong with the lawn equipment my dad used? Does knowing that a commercial gas leaf blower for an hour produces emissions equal to driving from Denver to Los Angeles persuade you to make the switch to battery-powered lawn equipment? Older two-stroke engines are terribly inefficient in terms of fuel burning, with about 30% of engine fuel failing to undergo complete combustion. This means greater levels of air pollutants are produced, including carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, and hydrocarbons. Hydrocarbons also include known carcinogens.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, gas-burning lawn tools account for 4% of US carbon dioxide emissions. They are also a major source of conventional air pollutants that increase risk of respiratory illnesses, including 17% of all volatile organic compound emissions and 12% of nitrogen oxide emissions.

Here’s the lowdown. Other emissions from lawn mowers include methane, ethane, ethene, ethanol, and:

  • Nitrogen oxides – these contribute to acid rain and result from subjecting nitrogen and oxygen in the air to the high temperature and high-pressure conditions in an internal combustion engine. Nitrogen oxides also react with hydrocarbons in the atmosphere to form ground-level ozone that can damage lungs. Acid rain can damage infrastructure, buildings, wildlife and vegetation (including your lawn!).
  • Particulates – microscopic airborne particles emitted in the exhaust from diesel-fueled vehicles. These contribute to smokiness and the smell from gas powered mowers and damage the respiratory system, causing breathing difficulties especially in infants, seniors, and anyone with pre-existing health concerns.
  • Carbon monoxide – a colorless, odorless, poisonous gas that results from incomplete fuel combustion.
  • Carbon dioxide – the end product when burning gasoline and other carbon-based fuels. While carbon dioxide does not directly damage human health, it is a greenhouse gas and contributes to climate change, which has its own detrimental effects on health.

Citizen Action for Limiting the Effects of Home Garden Equipment

Organizations across the northern US are demanding that the use of gas-powered lawnmowers and leafblowers cease and desist. They say that, unless we find a way to control the noise and emissions of this equipment and transition to battery or electric equipment, we will continue to have a serious problem in this country.

Gas leafblowers are only permitted in Princeton, NJ, for two months: March 15 through May 15. Quiet Princeton is pissed that they’re allowed for this period of time.

Quiet Landcare’s mission is to transition landscape maintenance to low noise, zero emissions practices with positive solutions to protect the health of workers, children, the public, and the environment. They explain that battery-powered lawn and garden equipment are zero emissions at point of operation, generally much quieter, and easier to use. The noise does not travel over long distances and does not easily penetrate walls and windows.

In December, 2021, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) approved a regulatory revision requiring most small off-road engines (SORE) sold in California on or after January 1, 2024 to be zero-emission. CARB classifies small off-road engines as spark-ignition engines which are 25 horsepower or less. These engines are typically associated with lawn and garden equipment, portable generators and pressure washers, but these small off-road engines are also present in a variety of farm and ranch equipment.

In Colorado, a new bill establishes a state income tax credit in an amount equal to 30% of the purchase price for new, electric-powered lawn equipment for purchases made in income tax years 2024 through 2026. A seller of new, electric-powered lawn equipment that demonstrates that it provided a purchaser a 30% discount from the purchase price of new, electric-powered lawn equipment may claim the tax credit.

Among other cities and states with bans or limits is Burlington, Vermont, and Washington, DC Vancouver, British Columbia, also have restrictions in place. As spring gardening season starts, other state legislatures, including those in New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island, are currently considering similar proposals, as are local governments from Dallas to South Portland, Maine. They are part of a decentralized nationwide movement that has seen more than 100 local governments.

Opponents say that the average electric lawn mower lasts for just an hour before needing to be recharged and would not be appropriate for commercial landscapers.

All-Electric Lawnmowers & Leafblowers

Get in line, you gas-powered mowers, leaf blowers, chain saws, edge trimmers, and weed whackers. It’s time for you to retire, as the next generation of electric models are ready to continue your job. They’re a lot less harsh on the environment and cut noise a whole lot, too. Advances in lithium battery technology are facilitating the transition away from traditional gas lawn and garden equipment. Gas-powered lawn tools are a problem, as they lack catalytic converters, which lower emissions and are used in cars and trucks.

According to the Smart Energy Design Assistance Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, gas mowers emit 16 times as much planet-warming carbon dioxide per acre as electric mowers.

Reviewers at Wired loved the Husqvarna Automower. It can mow a large lawn and have the result of well-groomed grass for very little effort. The device chops the blades and mulches to save you the work of constantly emptying a storage container. Yes, you have to install a wire pinned to the lawn’s entire perimeter. It has its limitations on steeper slopes. And like a robotic vacuum, it can’t remove toys, chairs, and hoses obstructing its path. Like a household robotic vaccuum, separate areas of lawn dissected by a driveway or sidewalk can’t be covered. Otherwise, the device is fairly thorough.

For a city yard, the residential Automower 115H (4G) is $700, and to cover a larger suburban lawn, the wider Automower 415X runs $2,000.

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Substack:

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