When I think of air pollution, my thoughts immediately turn to vehicle exhaust and industry. However, all the small engines that we use daily, such as snow blowers and lawn mowers, make a significant contribution to air pollution. Switching to an electric lawn mower can help reduce these urban emissions.
In this article, I’ll discuss the pros and cons of switching to an electric lawn mower, however, I think it’s important to first understand the issue in a broader context.
Small engines can be big polluters: understanding the issue
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that prior to emissions controls, gardening and lawn equipment accounted for as much as 5% of man-made hydrocarbons in large urban areas.
Hydrocarbons contribute to the creation of ground-level ozone, which in turn is a principal component of smog.
Over the years, concerns about global warming and air pollution have led to considerable advances in emissions controls on automobiles. However, the equivalent emission reductions have yet to be made for small-engines; though about 35 million small engines are sold in the US each year, compared with 15 million light cars and trucks.
Recently the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finalized a new emission control program that targets small spark-ignition engines with an aim to reduce hydrocarbon emissions by about 35 percent.
Switching to electric mowers is making a difference
The EPA encourages a shift from gas-powered lawnmowers to electric as although there is pollution associated with the generation of electricity, emissions on a whole with electric mowers are significantly reduced. There are some great success stories out there of how switching to electric mowers has made significant improvements to air quality.
- The Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District (SMAQMD) has been providing incentives for residents of the Sacramento area to switch from gas to electric mowers for 15 years. Since 1997, the SMAQMD has sold 14,448 electric mowers, recycled over 506 tons of metal from gas-powered lawn mowers, and reduced emissions by 169.6 tons.
- Oregon ran a 5-year program in the Portland area to promote the switch to electric and between 1996 and 2000, the program removed over 2,000 gas-powered mowers from service and in the process reduced carbon monoxide emissions by 130.6 tons per year.
The EPA has resources available to help promote a switch to electric in your neighbourhood and potentially reduce air pollution where you live.
It’s clear from these examples that the broad-scale advantages of switching to electric lawn mowers are clear. However, what are the pros and cons of electric to the single consumer?
Five pros of switching to an electric lawn mower
1) Reduced noise pollution: An electric mower is 50-75% quieter than a standard gas mower, which runs at 98-100 decibels. In fact, if you’re operating a gas mower for extended periods of time, it is recommended that you wear ear/hearing protection. Electric mowers won’t damage your hearing and they also won’t annoy your neighbours!
2) Reduced air pollution: I’ve already mentioned how the switch to an electric mower can reduce air pollution in an area, but it also means you are breathing in less fumes as you cut the lawn. An electric lawn mower emits 3,300 times less hydrocarbons, 5,000 times less carbon monoxide, one-fifth as much nitrogen oxides and less than half the carbon dioxide of gas-powered engines.
3) Reduced maintenance costs: There is no combustion engine in an electric mower and so annual maintenance costs are greatly reduced. There is no need for oil or fuel, just a plug.
4) No risk of gas spills: We’ve all done it, whether we want to admit it or not. When refuelling a gas lawn mower, there is inevitably a dribble that escapes. With an electric mower there is no chance of spilling oil and gas into the environment as it simply doesn’t use them!
5) Easy to use: More and more models are available in electric mowers, making them an easy option for everyone. For those who can’t be bothered to fuss about with a cord there are cordless models and for those who have less energy to push there are models that are self-driving.
Of course, I would be neglectful if I didn’t also include some of the cons of moving to electric, so here they are:
Four cons of switching to an electric lawn mower
1) Reduced range: If you have a very large lawn, you might find that an electric mower has some limitations. Firstly, if you have a corded version, you are obviously restricted to the length of the power cord. Secondly, if you have a cordless model, you may find that you aren’t able to complete the entire lawn with a single charge and you have to just plan a 2-day cutting routine.
2) Reduced power: Electric mowers don’t tend to be as powerful as gas powered mowers. However, as there is more demand, technologies will undoubtedly improve and this power gap may eventually close.
3) Still pollution producing: Unless you are generating your electricity from clean energy such as solar or wind, there is still pollution and emissions associated with the generation of the electricity for your lawn mower.
4) Cord confusion: Some people simply find it too annoying to continually worry about a power cord while cutting the lawn. There is also the risk of cutting through the cord! However, there are now cordless models available and if you always cut in a direction that moves away from the power source, you should never be at risk of cutting the cord.
From my own observations, we seem to get a little equipment happy when it comes to our gardens and we buy far more powerful tools than are necessary to get the job done. For most households, an electric lawn mower is perfect for the job and certainly a more environmentally-friendly option for keeping that lawn trimmed – so if you haven’t already, consider making the switch. This video contains some buying guidance if you decide to make the switch: