When I was a kid, we read the newspaper every day, called people on the phone (using a slowly rotating dial — nobody wanted a phone number with multiple zeros in it, it took too long!), and tended our gardens with a push mower, hand shears, and a rake. Nobody has time for any of that anymore, it seems; we live in the future, and our tools are more modern.
Except maybe for how we tend our gardens. A lot of garden equipment – lawnmowers, weed whackers, leaf blowers, and even hedge trimmers – is powered by burning dinosaur juice, a loud, smelly, and distinctly nonfuturistic source of power. And believe it or not, these ‘small off-road engines’ are projected to be a bigger source of smog than cars by 2020. Yes, you read that right! Cars have been getting cleaner for years, but gas-powered garden tools are mostly still dirty. And if Los Angeles wants to start meeting smog guidelines, it’s got to start electrifying everything, including garden tools.
Fortunately, the same kind of batteries that power electric cars are now being used in gardening equipment. As Popular Mechanics wrote in 2017, “it’s clear that we’ve reached a new age of outdoor power equipment. Gas-engine blowers are still the most powerful, but for a wide range of medium-duty jobs… a battery-powered blower is plenty capable, not to mention faster and easier.”
For example, I recently picked up a 40 volt cordless leaf blower from Black & Decker. It’s quiet, lightweight, and works well. It’s not quite strong enough to do the whole driveway as quickly as a professional would like, but sometimes being quiet and lightweight is more important.
The power of leaf blowers is generally measured in cubic feet per minute; 100 CFM is light duty, 500 CFM is heavy duty. Also, more volts generally means more power. (That means the 20 volt blowers are probably best left on the shelf.) In search of a more professional grade leaf blower, I tried an 80-volt Kobalt cordless unit from Lowes. It’s strong enough to send rugs flying, remove dust and cobwebs from the side of your house, and clean long driveways quickly. It’s also a bit heavier, though — which is worth factoring into the equation, depending on who’s using your blower and for how long. (In other words, unless you need the speed and additional power of the 80-volt unit, you might prefer a lighter 40-volt model.)
A couple of tips: Batteries are expensive and unstandardized, so you may want to pick tools from the same brand and lineup to minimize battery confusion and maximize the usefulness of a spare battery. Also, if you have allergies, you might prefer a leaf blower that can double as a leaf vacuum; they do exist, but are a bit harder to find. You’d be surprised how much dust a leaf blower can kick up!
The new electric tools aren’t just for homeowners, either. Several gardening services are using them now; Dan Goshin of Mow Rake Sow says they use electric equipment about 90% of the time. And in 2016, the City of South Pasadena switched entirely to electric tools for their parks. Finally, Los Angeles is starting to move in that direction, too; the Parks Department is currently testing electric equipment in Boyle Heights, Wilmington, and Pacoima.
And then there’s noise. Many people are annoyed by the sound of gas-powered leaf blowers, which sound a bit like chainsaws. The electric units sound more like hairdryers and are significantly quieter. And, bonus deal, they’re legal to use in residential areas. (The city nominally banned gas-powered leaf blowers 20 years ago, but softened the ban after protests from gardeners, who saw the ban as a direct threat to their livelihood.) I have heard gardeners prefer the new tools, and as battery life increases and cost decreases, a switch seems inevitable.
Readers, have you tried cordless garden equipment recently? Or do you wish your apartment manager or neighbors would? Tell us about it in the comment section below!