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Alternatives to Gas-Powered Leaf Blowers

There are numerous issues associated with using gas-powered (GP) leaf blowers, but the main concerns are: noxious emissions, propulsion of ground level materials into the air and the incessant, blaring noise. GP blowers emit as much pollution in an hour as a car would if it drove 100 miles. California’s Air Resource Board reports that the 2-stroke engines emit several pounds of particulate matter into air every hour they are in use. In addition to the pollution produced by the blowers themselves, they also force harmful ground-level substances to become airborne. Pollen, feces and other dust particles as well as particularly dangerous substances like lead, organic carbon, chromium, arsenic, cadmium, nickel and mercury which accumulate along street curbs are blown into the air where they are inhaled by pedestrians.

Most leaf blowers operate at levels of 70-75 decibels, about 100 times the level to which health experts say the human ear can be safely subjected. A majority of blowers used in Houston today are, in fact, in violation of the city’s noise ordinance. The ordinance states that, “no person shall conduct, permit or allow any activity or sound source to produce a sound that is discernible beyond the property lines of the property on which the sound is being received that when measured … exceeds sixty-five (65) dB(A) during daytime hours and fifty-eight (58) dB(A) during nighttime hours.” This regulation is rarely, if ever, enforced when it comes to leaf blowers.

The best alternatives to gas-powered leaf blowers are devices that are quiet, pollution-free, and keep ground-level dust and substances from becoming airborne to a minimum. There are several reasonable and affordable options available to lawn maintenance professionals and home owners for the collection of leaves and other yard debris. Here is a brief list and description of options available now.

The old Rake and Broom
Rakes and brooms are, by far, the safest, easiest to use and most inexpensive of all methods. They are also lightweight, easy to store, emissions-free, very quiet and require little maintenance. Diane Wolfberg, a grandmother in her late 50s, conducted several tests administered by the LA Department of Water & Power to gauge the speed and effectiveness of using a rake and broom versus gas and electric powered leaf blowers. In three tests, Mrs. Wolfberg cleaned specified areas using a rake and broom faster than the electric blower and nearly as fast as the gas powered blower, both of which were operated by lawn maintenance professionals. On all three tests the rake and broom proved to do a more thorough job of cleaning the areas than either of the power blowers. (source: January 8, 1998 press release from Zero Air Pollution)

Yard Vacuums/Blowers
In addition to the concerns of air pollution and noise, there is the issue of the effectiveness of leaf blowers. Often yardmen tend to blow leaves from one side of the property to other, leaving pockets of debris scattered throughout the lawn. Leaves on the edges of employer’s property lines are often blown into the street or into a neighbor’s lawn, only to be blown back by the neighbor’s lawn crew several days later. Our suggested solution: vacuuming up the debris with electric leaf ‘blower’ units. Many manufacturers offer units that can be switched over to act as vacuums. Electric engines provide plenty of power, are 50 - 70% quieter than gas powered leaf blowers and emit no air pollution. If yardmen used electric leaf blowers to vacuum up and mulch yard debris, it would eliminate virtually all the air pollution problems and greatly reduce the issue of noise. Many of the new ‘blowers’ have mulch ratios of 10:1, and can reduce leaf and grass clippings to a tenth of their former size. Yard debris account for a full 20% of landfill waste! While we would recommend that this mulch be used to naturally nourish the flowers, trees and grass on one’s own property- should it be thrown away, it will take up a tenth of the space it would have, had it not been vacuumed and mulched. Many of those who have switched from blowing to vacuuming, report that it is faster and leaves the yard in a cleaner state. It seems rather inefficient use of time to blow huge piles of leaves around and then bag them afterwards when you could do it all in one step using a vacuum unit.

There are several major brands, including Craftsman, Toro, Ryobi and Black & Decker that offer electric models with vacuuming and mulching functions. They can be purchased at local major retail stores like Home Depot, Lowes and Sears.

While you might not think of using a mower as a tool to collect leaves and other yard debris, many mowers have the ability to not only cut grass, but also vacuum, mulch and store leaves, grass clippings and other yard debris. A new generation of electric and reel mowers have emerged, providing consumers with the opportunity to maintain their lawns without emitting pollution or making a lot of noise. They are available in both manual and battery powered versions at prices comparable to, and sometimes well below, gas-powered mowers. With fewer moving parts, reel mowers require substantially less maintenance and tend to have longer lives. Pollution-free electric mowers are a little louder, but they provide more power which allows for faster mowing.

Brill brand mowers receive the high ratings for performance, affordability, and ease of use for both their reel and electric engine mowers. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to be carried by any local Houston retailers. However, a Dallas based company called Clean Air Gardening has a variety of Brill mowers and offer fast, free shipping as well as a 60-day money back guarantee. Locally, Ace Hardware has a good selection of electric and reel mowers at fair prices. Home Depot, Lowes and Sears also carry brand names like Black & Decker, Craftsman, Bolens and MTD.

Silent and pollution-free, lawn sweepers quickly and easily pick up leaves, grass clippings, twigs and other yard debris without sending dust flying into the air. Some models are specifically for use on the hardscape (i.e sidewalk, walkway, street, etc), but others can handle your yard refuse on grass and concrete surfaces.

Home Depot carries a Gleason brand sweeper that can be used on grass and hard surfaces. Ace Hardware is a primary retailer of the Agri-Fab lawn sweeper, but it is not a regularly stocked product so you will have to ask the store to order it for you.

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