A GUIDE TO (mostly) NON-GAS-POWERED LAWN CARE EQUIPMENT: The Best First Step Toward a Quieter, Greener, Less Polluted City

Susan Cooke

A GUIDE TO (mostly) NON-GAS-POWERED LAWN CARE EQUIPMENT:  The Best First Step Toward a Quieter, Greener, Less Polluted City

“Excessive noise seriously harms human health and interferes with people’s daily activities at school, at work, at home and during leisure time. It can disturb sleep, cause  cardiovascular and psychophysiological effects, reduce performance and provoke annoyance responses and changes in social behavior.”     —World Health Organization (WHO)

(Note to readers: If you’re already sold on the need for de-stressing cities by using quieter, cleaner equipment, skip to the section further down with this heading:

*What’s Available Now in Cleaner-running, Quieter Landscaping & Lawn Care Tools for Residents, Lawn Care companies, Landscapers, and Government Leaders who Hire Landscapers or Buy Equipment for the City to Use. 

However, this intro isn’t long and I recommend it if you’re got an extra minute or have some doubts about the need for change.

Why we Need to Switch

Living, driving, and eating at high speed, Americans and the many people in other countries who live as we do are buying books in droves about how to handle stress. But we can only do so much on our own as private citizens. We desperately need government leaders and others in power to help us, to recognize that many people are suffering both mentally and physically from chronic stresses. We can control some of our stress, but there’s a great deal we have no control over which those in power can help us decrease.

Loud industrial noise is a major one we must have help with. I have seen people in tears, others who have become severely depressed, and others who just can’t even begin to relax, all because the places where they used to rela –their own gardens or a nearby park–have become unbearable due to extremely loud leaf-blowers, lawnmowers, string trimmers, and all gas-powered lawn equipment being heaped onto the already loud load of city noise from diesel trucks, motorcycles, and loud cars made artificially extra-loud–all of which are rampant in my own suburban neighborhood.

Government and businesses need to know that many noise-related stressful incidents along with the damage from fumes associated with much of the equipment are under-reported. Private citizens mostly can’t control how much industrial noise or indeed any non-natural noise we’re forced to hear, which also includes flyover noise that’s increased to absurd levels, loud radios, people shouting on cell phones right next to them on a park bench, and sound system levels in stores in restaurants that are often so high they’re damaging the hearing of people who stay longer than a few minutes, and certainly the hearing of employees, while often raising blood pressures all around. (This sound system level is thought to bring in more money, and health effects rarely matter to owners buying into this notion. Many people report to me that in fact they can’t set foot in such places, and so feel more isolated than ever in our dangerously-isolated society (read the book Bowling Alone for starters). 

What will it take to get industries and individuals treating loud noise so cavalierly to pay attention?  I hope maybe thinking of their children’s futures might make a dent. Do they want them to grow up in a society where it’s normal to experience earlier-than-ever deafness, chronic anxiety, depression, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, addiction, and suicide? In a closely-related matter, we stressed-out Americans, especially in cities, are said by researchers to very much need calming nature in our lives (it’s not calming if accompanied by industrial noise and fumes). 

For details on the effects of these noises please go to  

www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/environment-and-health/noise

where you’ll learn that the 2018 World Health Organization Noise Guidelines for the European Region (for example), “provide strong evidence that noise is one of the top environmental hazards to both physical and mental health and wellbeing in the European Region.” 

(Note: This is of special interest because Europe generally limits noise much more than we do in the US.)

THE U.S. IS SLOW WITH RECOGNIZING NOISE DAMAGE

With exceptions here and there, The US is slow compared to some other countries in making the changes that can prevent much of this stress, changes that aren’t that onerous. We can learn a great deal from what other cities, countries and some of our own US cities already have accomplished. I write more about that elsewhere but just so you know, it includes tighter limits on when to use loud equipment (but these won’t need to be quite as tight if we all use quieter equipment), prioritizing the presence of nature with parks and planted areas, converting unused asphalt space to green space, more car-free areas, and a focus on providing more trees, plants, and natural areas in general throughout the city while protecting existing ones. 

I’m talking then about a relatively holistic approach to de-stressing people in our cities then, especially when we add nature not accompanied by noise and fumes–is that people know they have places to go where they can be at peace. A nice side effect of natural areas, especially if you add a couple of coffee shops to the area–is that it can cause a reduction in crime, especially in poorer urban neighborhoods. (See this article by CityLab): 

https://www.citylab.com/solutions/2016/04/vacant-lots-green-space-crime-research-statistics/476040/

Complicating matters is noise bullying. Those inflicting it may not always consider themselves bullies, but they need to know that due to the hostility and even violence that often results when people ask those wielding leaf-blowers to stop or at least decrease what they’re doing, most people are afraid to ask. They then suffer, feel helpless, and hopeless, and often become depressed. Many report exactly this situation to me. Yet many private users just don’t care, and yard-work business owners who claim speciously that they’ll go out of business if they switch to something cleaner and quieter just keep right on torturing everyone. So stressed Americans often can’t open windows, take care of a beloved garden, or sit on a balcony or front steps without being pummeled by long periods of noise their nervous systems were never designed to withstand. This is why we must have the help of businesses inflicting the noise, and especially of government.

Do you imagine that unrelieved chronic stress might affect human behavior?  You may already know many cities are growing quickly, and that crowding among animals can cause them to turn on each other. So doesn’t it seem likely we also need these calming measures? They surely could help to combat the current atmosphere of hostility and hatred online, as well as speeding and dangerously-rude driving on our roads, both of which I believe are at least partly caused by and also add to stress. (For more on effects of overcrowding see a number of books and articles at the link below, especially Harold Proshansky’s article “The Environmental Crisis in Human Dignity.”)

https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=XA8Ho_aITVoC&oi=fnd&pg=PA133&dq=psychological+effects+of+overcrowding&ots=JxPPxVqbqD&sig=nxCfFqDUf_wURW_B3QjXHrl2VeY#v=onepage&q=psychological%20effects%20of%20overcrowding&f=false

Finally, since much industrial noise and toxic fumes come from gas and diesel power, replacing or reducing use of such machinery will also help clean the soil we plant in, the air we breathe, and the water we drink.

But this post is mostly about how citizens and those in government can help by simply switching to quieter equipment that already exists. Fortunately the number of companies making quieter and cleaner non-gas equipment is growing, so we can expect even more choices in the future. So let’s get started with at least a few examples.

LAWN/YARD-CARE MACHINES TO CONSIDER

*What’s Available Now (2018) in Cleaner-running, Quieter Landscaping & Lawn Care Tools for Residents, Lawn Care companies, Landscapers, and Government Leaders who Hire Landscapers or Buy Equipment for the City to Use

I did not personally test the tools below, but gathered as much information as I could from web sites and company reps. Since I gathered this information over the past two years even more quiet machines (hopefully) and/or companies may now be available. But the issues below will help you understand what to look for when looking for effective but less crazy-making and painful-to-hear lawn care. Further down I provide detailed information on some issues you may want to know about, including decibel levels, “with cord” or cordless, what CFM and MPH mean in leaf-blowers, etc. 

A MAJOR POINT

The main point here is that we have options, and that people are so stressed already by modern life already, we can help calm their days and therefore better protect their mental and physical health a great dealby choosing/legislating to have only the least damaging-to -nerves equipment. Keep in mind that people can be and often are so badly stressed by noise that they feel depressed, anxious, and physically ill. It seems insane not to do all we can to reduce that stress, help people have a chance to boost mood through less suffering, encourage more wellness in general, and in fact quite possibly reduce crime (loud yard equipment has indeed caused violence of neighbor on neighbor) just due to getting quieter equipment and limiting its hours of use. 

Don’t forget that if you have a very small yard or space to manage, you can probably do a great deal with a rake, broom, and least powerful, of the quieter and smaller electric or manual tools should you really need them. But please note also that even electric tools can be quite irritating and loud, so do test-drive for quietness. You’ll likely get a much more accurate idea if you get another person to help you determine how loud a tool is by standing in the house or in the yard next door. Company reps have told me you can return machines to such places as Home Depot if you determine they’re still too loud at home.

I did not personally test the tools below, but gathered as much information as I could from web sites and company representatives. First is a rundown of some of what’s available, and below that I address common questions and issues concerning decibel levels, etc. If you see a term that’s unclear in the machinery section it may be explained further down. I list the company names at the top of each group of tools.

FISKARS  (for smaller spaces)

FISKARS REEL MOWERS

Fiskars has been making high quality products for a long time, so if you don’t have too much grass I’d look at their reel mowers, which range from  $100-$150. They claim their mower blades require less sharpening than most. There’s an optional grass catcher attachment for $50, and a blade maintenance kit (supposedly rarely needed) for $35.

FISKARS WEEDERS

Fiskars also makes a manual “stand-up” weeder with a nifty design that’s supposed to make weeding much easier (no loud motor). It’s so popular it’s currently out of stock as I write this. It makes no noise, requires no gas, and, Fiskars says, is easier on your back and knees than traditional weeders.

See the above at http://www2.fiskars.com/Products/Gardening-and-Yard-Care/Reel-Mowers.

EGO

Next let’s look at EGO, another company focusing on quieter lawn equipment, which claims it makes the most powerful battery-powered blowers. It uses lithium batteries and “turbine fan engineering.” 

EGO LEAF BLOWERS

At this writing EGO’s prices on various blowers, all lithium battery-powered, range from around $140 to $450.

A smallish EGO leaf blower is the Power+530 CFM leaf- blower, weighing in at 7.4 lbs including the 2.5Ah  battery. In “High Efficiency mode” it runs 75 minutes without recharging. It claims a noise rating topping out at 65 dB. EGO says it is the most powerful cordless blower in the industry. Several of their blowers appear to top out at 65 decibels which is in fact lower than many others I’ve looked at which tend to be in the 90’s range. Be sure to look at questions and reviews on each of their models both at EGO’s site and shopping sites such as Home Depot, and get the quietest one that you can given other variables such as weight.

EGO BACKPACK LEAF BLOWERS

The TLB6000 145 MPH 600 CFM 56-Volt Lithium-ion Cordless Electric Backpack Blower—battery and charger not included” ($199), has a top level of 65 dB. Backpack leaf blowers tend to be heavier and more powerful than hand-held ones, so if it really stays at 65 dB tops that would be one to test too if you need more power than the smaller blowers have. EGO claims it’s 8 times less noisy than “popular gas blowers.” But reviewers of this product tended to have large yards, and while one said he did think the noise was indeed 8 times less, another said his wife got upset with him for using it while she was trying to take a nap—this leads me to believe it still sounds plenty noisy. Again I recommend you buy one and test it at your home and with family and neighbors. By the way if there’s a “turbo” setting on a blower, offered for tougher jobs, that’s almost certainly going to be louder.

FYI I’ve seen reviewers comment that the back pack takes time to get into so between that and possibly more noise than a hand-held it certainly seems not the best choice unless you have big clean-up jobs to do. 

Note that EGO and some other green companies often have one battery charger that works with many of their tools, so you’ll see prices for ‘With charger” and a lower one for “Without charger” which assumes you already have a charger.

EGO LAWN MOWERS

The EGObattery-powered lawn mower no. LM2101, labled “21-in. 56-volt Lithium-ion Cordless Battery Walk Behind Push Mower 5.0 Ah” with battery/charger included, cost $399 at Home Depot online the day I looked. Gerry Barnaby, EGO’s “Director of Excitement,” says its top decibel reading is 70 dB. Its run time is listed as 45 minutes. I’d definitely check out that one or any of the smaller ones whose dBs are probably even lower.

EGO STRING AND HEDGE TRIMMERS 

String trimmer ST15434 comes in a at top level of 76 dB.  Hedge trimmers seem to be harder to keep quiet, and EGO’s had a decibel level that I imagine could be tough for the neighbors (and maybe users) to take, at 90 dB. (Maybe try some manual clippers if you just have a small job to do?)  Since EGO works so hard at making quieter tools, I doubt you’ll find other companies’ hedge trimmers to be quieter but I’m still researching that.

The trimmers range from $179-$201 again at HD, and there’s a $129 one that comes without battery and charger. Hedge trimmers and attachments for them run from $109 (pole saw attachment) to $199, with a combination string trimmer + edger with battery and charger for $399.

EGO SNOWBLOWERS

If you need a snowblower and don’t have too much area to cover it might be useful to know that one reviewer used EGO’s 530 leaf-blower as a snowblower as well, mostly for his car and driveway. That must surely be an improvement over the snowblowers on my street which smell awful at quite a distance away. And it would mean you’d only need to own one tool if you don’t have too much snow to deal with. 

But EGO does make a snowblower and claims they’re also relatively quiet and of course don’t smell since no gas is used. Their Snowblower SNT2100, is said to top out at 80 dBs. 

For more details on how these products work, and how they differ, I’d start at their own websites rather than at the stores’. I found much more info at EGO for example than online at Home Depot though HD did a decent job. These come up on Amazon too though I didn’t look there extensively.

EGO’s customers often say in their reviews that they buy the company’s other battery-powered products to replace their old weed-whackers, mowers, etc. On its “About us” page it claims all of this product line is designed to provide the power and performance of gas without “the noise, fuss, and fumes. Both Echo and EGO are sold at Home Depot and other stores. To keep it simple I used mostly Home Depot’s site and the product sites. 

Decibel levels for example vary from one tool to another but the company has tried hard to make all tools much quieter than what we usually hear. Of course due to non-use of gas power they’re certainly cleaner-running. The numbers refer to the highest volume each tool makes, but of course you can run them at lower levels and bother people and yourself with noise even less that way. 

I wanted to hear these motors in action, maybe at Home Depot (there’s one near me), but EGO’s Barnaby warned me that HD has tended to keep batteries on display that are almost out of power, maybe because of theft. He thought with some determination I might be able to get a demonstration anyway, but I realized it wouldn’t be the same as hearing the tools in the yard next door. (Again I don’t use any such tools but we have a very long sidewalk to shovel so one day we might consider the snow-blower.) Barnaby does say we can buy these tools and try them and return them if we’re not happy, so maybe that’s the way to do it. Maybe just try one leaf-blower if you use them, and see what you think (maybe ask the neighbors what they think too).

Should you try one and keep it and want to get rid of your old one safely, you might want to know I learned while looking around the HD site that there’s a page with links to various states’ recycling programs for getting rid of old electronics responsibly, including lawn cleanup equipment like leaf-blowers. Those programs were listed on its site at:

https://www.homedepot.com/c/electronics_recycling_programs

Barnaby told me there are also sometimes trade-in programs you can take advantage of. He says EGO co-ran a trade-in program in Boston recently with the group Quiet Communities. There is information on this kind of program available from Jamie Banks at Quiet Communities, jamie@quietcommunities.org .

SUN JOE & SNOW JOE

SUN JOE LAWN MOWER

 The Sun Joe battery-powered lawn mower is labeled Sun Joe Ion 16LM Cordless Lawn Mower 16inch/40V/Brushless Motor. (I discuss “brushless” later.)  Two female reviewers in their 60’s said the SunJoe lawn mower was light and easy for them to push. The site says it provides u to 40 minutes of “whisper-quiet” runtime. However its decibel rating is much higher than some I’ve mentioned so far, well above, EGO’s, at 96 dB.(This doesn’t seem a good choice then, to me.)  It says its compact design is idea for small to medium lawns.The price on the Sun Joe site was $279 + free shipping. It says because its brushless its battery lasts longer, and that the motor life is “up to 2000 hours.” I can’t tell for certain but it looks like you need to buy the charger separately. That battery seems to be useable on both it and  the SnowJoe snowblower (which we’ll get to). It’s called the Sun Joe iCHARG40 EcoSharp Lithium-ion Battery Charger/40 Volt, for $49.99 + shipping. While this machine is better for the environment, it will still cause a lot of misery for  neighbors and not be that great for your hearing and blood pressure. 

 Have you been wondering what “brushless” is? Me too. Here’s what I found: Popular Mechanics and Milwaukee Tools say it’s been around since the 1960s, used in industrial and manufacturing applications as a motor to drive conveyor belts. It was then used in power tools for aerospace and defense, and later in a three-speed impact driver. Manufacturers say brushless tools provide added performance and durability, and are smarter than the average tool. But they’re not in all tools because the technology is rather expensive. For more on the technology go to https://www.popularmechanics.com/home/tools/a8109/whats-so-great-about-brushless-motor-power-tools/ .)

As you know by now, in general I think we all will help each other the most, if we must buy power tools, to  look for non-gas of course but also choose dB ratings we know are lowest, and also know from how much distance away that number was determined. (You may often have to write and ask.)

SNOW JOE SNOW REMOVERS

There’s a whole handful of snow removal products offered by the Sun Joe company for snow removal, all called Snow Joe. First there’s the Electric Snow Thrower for $249, next the Cordless Single Stage Snow Blower for $299, the Cordless Two-Stage Snow Blower for (gulp) $899 (but it’s self-propelled too), the Hybrid Single Stage Snow Blower for $249 (this one lets you switch to a corded electric power if you want to “shred” the snow, so it’s hybrid only in that sense—no gas), They also offer a more expensive single stage blower for $399 (21 inch, so bigger than the 18 inch Single Stage mentioned above for $249), and a Cordless Two-Stage for $599 (rather than the $899 two-stage one mentioned above, also self-propelled and 24 inches so I’m not sure what the difference is.) 

Neither of the bigger two-stage snowblowers and none of the electric snow shovels further down say “whisper quiet” in the description, and I’m trying to get a decibel reading from the company. After a long online chat with the SnowJoe/SunJoe people I learned only the lawnmowers so far have decibels listed on their site. The rep said since I brought it to their attention they’ll try to get decibels for every product on each product page. If you don’t see any, then write or chat with them and it looks like they can get you dBs for products you’re considering. Unlike some sites that say the decibel levels described are for a certain distance (say, 50 feet away, which I find a useful number), this rep said their dB readings are for right next to the user. So we have to assume the sound levels decrease somewhat as you move away. 

SNOW JOE BATTERY-POWERED SHOVELS (to use instead of snowblowers)

The 13-inch SnowJoe Cordless Snow Shovel claims to be “ideal for quick, easy, and cord-free snow pick-ups on decks, steps, patios, and sidewalks,” for $219 + free shipping. It says it stores in a hall closet easily. It weights 14.5 lbs. (I don’t quite get how they work. It sounds like it might just be a louder shovel!) But if you think t’s for you I’d again check the dBs, and then sound-test it at home. 

If the battery snow shovel seems ideal to you, there’s also a last piece of snow removal equipment I see on this site (besides a battery charger)— it’s another electric shovel, a 13-inch electric (not cordless so you’d have to plug it in) one for $89. It claims to have back-saving design, and weighs under 14 lbs so is a little lighter than the cordless one above. Please don’t buy these if they do end up being just a loud version of your old snow shovel—we don’t need more noise unless it really helps you get the job done better than hand-shoveling!

Again none of these snow removal tools say “whisper quiet” or anything about noise in the descriptions I saw. But if they’re quieter than what you’ve got that’s something, and you won’t be polluting the air and your lungs (and your neighbors’ lungs).

SOME OF SNOW JOE/SUNJOE’S OTHER TOOLS 

The company makes a combination leaf-blower and vacuum for about $50 re.furbished, that it claims is quicker, cleaner, and quieter than similar gas blowers. There are several other cordless or electric blowers or blower/sweepers for less money, again with no dB ratings (but al east there’s no gas required). Some of the blowers again are suitable also for “light snow” such as their 2-speed electric blower (but is this that much better than a broom, and if not, why add the noise??)  

Reminder: Light exercise out in bright light (i.e. raking and sweeping) is good for your body and your mood!

GREENWORKS

Greenworks is based in China and Europe but with one office here in North Carolina (be sure to shop at the Greenworks US site and not the EU site). It  makes an entire line of products including those for lawn care and chain saws and other power tools. In the About Us section of Its website it says the people behind the Greenworks line are “The Globe Group,” with “subsidiaries all over the world.” Further reading reveals its products are used by other companies in addition to Greenworks. Its office serving Canada and the US is in Mooresville, North Carolina. It has a dot-eu web address and its headquarters and manufacturing are in Changzhou, China. There are several plants there and it says it uses robotic production lines. It tests for sound, vibration, and duration, and yet so far I can get no information on how loud or soft this vast array of tools is compared to others. (I will keep trying, and invite you to join me, in getting decibel levels listed on each tool, and in getting these listed for all such tools so together we can make it a less stressful world.

GREENWORKS MOWERS

Greenworks makes a 40-volt G40LM49DB mower that will cut 800 m2 —that is, square meters– on one 45-minute charge. That’s around a fifth of an acre. Our small one-story house sits on a fifth of an acre, but if you just counted the non-house area you’d need to mow only about a seventh or eighth of an acre (if we had grass which we don’t—just solid plants that don’t need mowing). 

Their mowers range from $150 for small ones with electric cords (although the site says “no cords” in its About US section) to more money for mostly cordless ones, up to $600. I also saw a $300 cordless one, for example, the “40 Volt 21 inch.” It also sells 16, 18, and 20 inch reel mowers, for from $90 to $130. Reel mowers are usually manual but sometimes can still be noisy. Greenworks says its reel mowers have “contact free blades for silent cutting” so they do sound like a low-cost quieter, clean alternative to the usual. This was the only reference I found on their site so far that referred to “quiet.”

The company has used batteries from the beginning, and says its batteries are more powerful than the norm. It claims 18 volts is the industry standard and that it uses 24-82 volt batteries. It uses no fossil fuels or electric cords.

Here’s a smaller slightly quieter Greenworks battery powered mower:  2507502, a 17-inch 10-Amp 2-in-1 Lightweight Corded Brushed Lawn Mower. I found one on eBay for $182, and on the Walmart site for $148. The 2-in-1 feature provides mulching and “rear discharge” capabilities. Rear discharge means the mower has a discharge chute in the back that will open and send clippings into a clip ngs bag if you have one. You can then dispose of the clippings. You can remove the bag and if there’s a “mulching plug” or you can close the side discharge door, leaving no exit path for the clippings, you can then mulch your lawn with the clippings, which are cut into tiny pieces and fall back onto the lawn “for recycling” as one site explained it (I found this explanation at https://homeguides.sfgate.com/benefits-mower-side-rear-discharge-87532.html .) Lawn mower techies please forgive me if I didn’t translate it exactly correctly.

The rep at Greenworks told me this mower’s dBs are around 90.

I did see on this mower’s product page a California prop 65 warning for cancer and reproductive issues. Because this is an electric motor I don’t seen an obvious reason for the warning, and the Prop 65 site doesn’t mention lawn care tools specifically, or tell you exactly which chemical or ingredient is a problem. I can only figure then that it’s something you touch a lot or breathe a lot when you use this mower (handle? cord? maybe something when it blows out the grass clippings?)  This what the warning looks like, often accompanied by a bright yellow triangle:

WARNING! Cancer or reproductive harm.www.p65Warnings.ca.gov. 

This refers to California’s Prop 65 which generally protects California consumers more than the rest of us are protected from toxins in millions of products. The US is relatively lax in its protections compared with many European countries and with California. They protect people with more stringent toxin limits. Not all sites list prop 65 warnings, but since we live in a more complex toxic soup that ever before in history and it does affect our health and lifespan, I always note those warnings carefully when I do see them. 

Further down there’s a similar warning for an Echo mower (not to be confused with EGO!) but I assume that’s because the Echo mower is gas-powered. MY personal take on this is why buy any tool that carries such a warning when you can find others that don’t?  My impression is though that not every site allows California Prop 65 warnings to appear so we may not always know. The Prop 65 website does give an extensive list of chemicals you can check through but it still isn’t clear what applies to an electric mower. The general feeling among the many sites on all aspects of landscape tools that I’ve visited is that non-gas is the cleanest, quietest, healthiest way to go. However if for some reason you simply must have gas power (but why?) I have indeed listed some here that claim at least to be  quieter than their forebears.

Continuing with Greenworks, an interesting note for those intent on maintaining a lawn is that Greenworks said, in answering a customer’s question on this, that the run time of a mower may depend on the condition of your lawn, which I’ve read before on some other sites. So it would seem a good idea to follow any advice you can find for keeping the lawn in the best shape for mowing. This may sound odd but such info is widely available and sometimes is on the tool sites too, so if you’re not already up on it ,it might be worth a look. But again I encourage you to consider at least replacing some of your lawn with flowers, flowering shrubs, flowering ground covers, and evergreen ground covers, etc. for inspiring beauty, less need for water, and less work overall! (Neighbors will love the sight of all those plants, in my experience, and will stop to admire them and often thank you for planting them.)

In searching Greenworks’ site to find more decibel ratings, I learned that if the ratings aren’t right on the page, you can find them by clicking on the user’s manual for each tool, which takes you to a pdf. There you’ll see various descriptions of the sound including vibrations measurements.  I don’t know exactly how most of these categories affect what we actually hear, but from what I can gather, the best one for non-experts to look at is again “sound power level.” 

So for example I just looked at their, “Axial Blower, G24AB (40 volts). Its manual lists its “sound power level” as 106 dB, which seems on the high side. An article on NoNoise.org lists general leaf-blower range as 95-105 dB, much louder than the dBs in the 65 range mentioned earlier for some other leaf-blowers such as those made by EGO. To give you a comparison, 106 dB is louder than most typical weed-wackers, food processors, air compressors, and lawn mowers. 

Greenworks’ string trimmer G40LT, for smaller jobs, is listed as <96 dB. Its lawn mower G40LM35 lists at 86.6 dB, which is in fact a little better than the numbers in abovementioned chart that lists typical mowers at 88 to 94. The larger G40LM49DB mower lists at 96 dB, again in the food processor and leaf-blower ranges. or a bigger space. My impression is that Greenworks’ emphasis has been on helping the environment by avoiding gas power, but that it, like some other companies, uses the term “quiet” a little loosely. These all are dBs at or above danger levels.

For a useful list of typical machines’ decibel levels go to that page I used:  http://www.nonoise.org/library/household/index.htm .

UPDATE: I just discovered this company, but haven’t had time to get a good look at it. You might want to do that before you decide. It’s called

MEANGREENMOWERS, and is at http://www.meangreenproducts.com/about-us/

MORE ON GETTING A SENSE OF DECIBELS 

Founder of Quiet Communities Jamie Banks has said that leaf-blower noise ranges from 64 to 78 decibels, but at the operator’s ear, 95 to 115 Decibels. Yet in my experience, looking for the average sound of leaf-blowers, I often see much higher numbers. (I do trust Jamie Banks though, which means we can assume there are quieter blowers available. However, many researchers say it’s not just the volume that people find stressful, but also the quality of the sound.)  In any case, a constant problem in researching dBs alone—sound quality is even more challenging– is that different companies measure decibels at different distances and often don’t explain to customers online how they figured them. At this writing all I can say is just do your best to find out what you can, and meanwhile here are a few things that may help you head in the right direction. 

First, Banks’ comments above and some other information immediately below come from the informative article I’ve put a link to here, by Jennifer Fenn Lefferts of the Boston Globe: https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/regionals/west/2015/03/28/war-loud-leaf-blowers-strategic-retreat/Gpgr0hxSoCzNprgfDNlSAN/story.html

It’s quite a helpful article if you have time to read it. Meanwhile Lefferts adds that the group Dangerous Decibels, which works to reduce hearing loss, gives us some ideas about decibel (dB) levels for a few things we hear often such as: 

Typical speech—about 60 dB 

Washing machine——- 75 dB

Food Processor——93-100 dB

Chain saw——————115  dB

The group’s site DangerousDecibels.org tells us85 dB and above harms hearing.Extended exposure to 85 dB+ harms inner ear cells and leads to hearing loss. I have to agree with Quiet Communities’ Banks who says leaf-blower noise, besides often being too loud, is also particularly stressful because of its high-pitched, whining drone that continuously throttles up and down. I’ve seen in my research other comments referring to such  stressful, irritating sound qualities of certain tools–especially leaf-blowers, string-trimmers or weed-wackers–and various saws and sanders–even if the decibel levels aren’t super high, which means no matter what the dB listed we should try hard to hear a sample before buying when possible. It isn’t that easy to do in all stores selling the equipment, which I explain more later. This means the best course is probably to buy the tool, test it at home, and return it if t’s too loud for you or your neighbors (please do let the store know it’s too loud so they’ll pass it on to the maker.)  

OSHA  says120 dBs is considered to the threshold of pain. It recommends ear protective covering starting at just below 85 dBs. 90 dB is comparable to a blender at a distance of 3 feet, or a car passing at highway speed at 10 feet away from where you’re standing. (Soon we’ll get into distances used to measure dBs.)

Sites I used to get some of the dB levels and which you might want to see more of are: 

https://homeguides.sfgate.com/much-noise-lawn-mower-emit-97458.html ).

https://www.ehow.com/info_10040122_decibel-levels-lawnmower.html

https://homeguides.sfgate.com/much-noise-lawn-mower-emit-97458.html

Here are more dB levels:

Jackhammer—130 dBs.  

Normal headphones—often 90 dBs, or even range to 110 dBs (not safe if you hear them at those levels)

Riding mower–around 90 dBs (note on the pdf below—it says an electric riding mower is much quieter—60-65 dBs

By the way, some say maintaining a lawnmower by lubricating helps to reduce“sharp” noise just a little.

One article I looked at said electric mowers often have noise levels as low as 56 dBs for cordless electric push mowers. A manual reel push mower was listed at 55 dBs, although I’d imagine some of those are lower, and I know some are annoying sounding probably because they’re older or not well-maintained, or maybe some models are just better than others. Still, around 55 dBs seems much kinder to the health of all of us than the sound levels of much of even the so-called quieter equipment I found that’s not manual. If you have a manual mower and don’t like it have a look at the pdf below and see if you can find one you like better.

Surprisingly, many riding mowers can be quieter than some string-trimmers or chain saws, both of which can reach 110 dBs.  (This explains why string trimmers drive me truly around the bend, but they also tend to have a particularly irritating sound that makes them even more stressful to hear. Of course I”m not fond of chain saws either. ) 

Noise Pollution Clearinghouse (NPC) provides a great pdf on its choices for better and quieter landscape equipment. Among its comments and choices are the suggestions by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the EPA that we only expose ourselves to lawn-mowing noise (as user or suffering neighbor) a maximum of 45 minutes for the quieter ones, and 15 minutes for “average” ones, and 5 minutes for the loud ones. Not surprisingly, they say electric mowers are usually 80 decibels less than gas-powered for the operator.

Go to their page for a helpful  list:   http://www.nonoise.org/library/qz7/QuietLawns05.pdf  

Here are a few examples from the list of what you might be able to buy.  (Note: They say something I don’t completely understand: “The noise footprint is on the order of acres, not 100 acres.” For example they may say a mower is “55 dB @ 25 feet.” (Related to this, see a few ‘graphs below what EGO’s Gerry Barnaby, and also a Greenworks spokesperson, say about decibels and how they’re measured. i’ve put them in bold so you can find it easily.)  In any case you can see clearly in the next ‘graph (just below) some of the differences in sound volume in some of the NPC examples for their “Quiet Lawns” initiative:

For small lawns, they recommend reel mowers and have tested dozens of them. They say they tend to be 55-60 dB @ 25 ft. For small to medium lawns they suggest electric mowers at 60-65 dB @ 25 ft. For medium to large lawns they recommend “large electric mowers” or Quieter Gas Mowers at 70-75 dB @ 25 ft. It goes on from there, but this page is a helpful reference and also goes into great detail on other aspects of mowing and mowers. They refer readers to back issues of Consumer Reports, whose May and June issues often review mowers. Just below is a chart with reviews of many mowers, but I must emphasize that it seems crazy and irresponsible to go with any gas powered mower or other equipment when you can almost always get something cleaner and quieter. In large print on this pdf page is a quote from NPC:  

If everyone in your neighborhood was mowing at the same time with a quiet electric mower, it would probably be quieter than if just one person in your neighborhood was using a typical gas-powered mower. 

Returning to EGO for a moment, it claims to make quieter, non-gas lawn care tools as we’ve seen, and its enthusiastic Gerry Barnaby (his title is “Director of Excitement”) told me its decibel listings refer to the loudest noise the machine makes. I think this goes for most of these companies. The difference you need to find out about (other than just hearing for yourself) is at what distance they got that reading. Some measure right next to the ear of the user, and others may measure as much as 50 ft. away. This isn’t usually obvious on their websites, I found, so you may have to write the company and ask. Just finding decibel or dB (or sometimes db) levels can be difficult. If it’s not on the page of the tool, look at the manual if they offer it online.

Greenworks describes sound levels slightly differently. On Greenworks’ product pages it lists several ways to get an idea of decibels which I didn’t understand so I asked a rep about it. He told me the most important of the ones mentioned on each product are sound pressure level and sound power level. 

He explained that we should think of sound power level as the wattage rating of a lightbulb. We should think of sound pressure, on the other hand, as the brightness experienced. The further you are from the bulb, the dimmer it appears. The sound power is the actual volume at the source. The sound pressure is the volume of the sound as it’s transmitted (and therefore it drops with more distance).

He then gave me a simplified version:  Sound Power = dB at the source. Sound pressure = dB at a set distance (usually 3-5 feet, that is, the average distance from the user’s ear to the motor. When I told him it’s been confusing looking from company to company to find comparisons of sound level he explained that first of all, the U.S. does not have a federal standard that legislates the distance at which decibel levels should be measured. However some states do have statewide laws for this. So, he added, Greenworks and many other companies measure the dBs as experienced by the average user. In some cases manufacturers provide more levels at different distances, such was dBs at 25 feet or 50 feet because some municipalities have noise level restrictions in residential areas. He says these figures are usually labeled as such and are most often used for commercial machines, although some companies may also list them for noncommercial machines depending on the application.  

Remember that if you care about protecting hearing and the stress levels of family and neighbors, you really want to know with any such equipment how it sounds at 20 or 50 feet or inside your house or your nearby neighbors’ houses, so it may still be best to buy and then test them at home. One of the company reps I interviewed suggested this was the best way to go. By the way I find that private (not lawn care company) users often are less stressed by the noise, and I think that’s from two factors: one, they are in control of the loud sound, while others such as neighbors have no control and often cannot get away from it even inside with windows shut, and two, some users find these tools fun to use. (I’m all for fun, but if the fun is painful to others I recommend finding other fun things to do and keeping the pain-causing ones to a minimum if you can afford quieter equipment.)  

JUST LEAF-BLOWERS

DO YOU REALLY NEED A LEAF-BLOWER?

I think I mentioned this in my first noise post but will say again (so you know loud tools aren’t necessary) that in our medium-sized plant-stuffed garden that’s on our town’s “life friendly” garden tour (life-friendly meaning friendly to birds, butterflies, bees, and other pollinators), no mower, blower, or trimmer of any kind has ever been used. The sound of machines, at any level, would destroy the garden experience for us, and due to all our flowers and shrubs we don’t need or want any grass. We have instead much more interesting flowering or just very pretty ground cover plants instead, such as wild geraniums, some lovely purple, bronze and green “Ajuga,” also known as Bugleweed, vinca (blue flowers on low glossy ground cover, and many more. (Try googling “garden groundcover plant photos” to see many of these.)  There’s a lovely ajuga called Carpet Bugle that looks a lot like ours. Not only do we not need to mow, the ground covers need less water and care than grass does, and grass doesn’t flower. Like the famous Mount Cuba native plant gardens in Delaware, we let fallen leaves gather around plants, and even put them there to serve as mulch over the winter. Most of them disappear into the landscape, and add to its’ value for other plants because the dead leaves feed the soil. Mostly we love to see leaves in the fall, and we don’t have to worry about them harming our grass because we don’t have any grass!  That way we have more room for more beautiful flowers, and the garden is broken up by small paths, a couple of fountains, and a birdbath. Not one neighbor has ever complained about our leaves. They love the garden and all its flowering plants and trees.

Another approach to decreasing your lawn care work is to “kill your lawn and go native,” which might include getting some of the ground covers I mentioned but also lots of other lovely plants. There’s a good summary article about that at https://www.ecori.org/green-tip/2017/10/16/kill-your-lawn-and-go-native . This sounds like it could be an exciting project, but if you’re unsure you might start with one section of lawn that’s more hidden and see what happens. Author Tim Faulkner suggests you might not even plant anything at first and see what comes up—it could even be a beautiful meadow. I would warn against using chemicals to get rid of the grass though, since even the “safest” of them tend to kill or harm something in the garden (and he lists many other methods). 

This is really something to consider now because as droughts become more common, grass will be even harder to maintain than it is now, and it’s generally now known by researchers that it’s terrible for the environment in many ways. Another great article about this can be found at the site of the Natural Resources Defense Council at https://www.nrdc.org/stories/more-sustainable-and-beautiful-alternatives-grass-lawn. Author Mary Talbot reports that California in fact is offering $500 rebates to those who replace turf with native plant, drought-resistant xeriscaping. People in any state however are often delighted with the butterflies and birds they see in their yards after switching to native pollinator plants. 

If you can’t live without grass, try to plant a type that requires the least water and chemicals. And/or try to live with just a little grass, maybe as a divider between flower beds. There’s a lot of information about grass choice but one place you might start is http://www.ladybug.uconn.edu/FactSheets/selecting-an-appropriate-grass-for-your-lawn.php .  I believe if you look for photos of grassless or mostly grassless gardens (which easily can also include some vegetables) you’ll be blown away by the beauty of them. I found a stunning page for you to start with: https://www.google.com/search?q=photos+of+grassless+flower+gardens&oq=photos+of+grassless+flower+gardens&aqs=chrome..69i57.6708j1j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

If you aren’t swayed by the above and must have a leaf-blower, please read on.

CFM & MPH in leaf-blowers

You’re going to need to know about these terms that you’’ll often see in info on leaf-blower descriptions. 

At the helpful site https://thebestleafblowers.com/good-cfm-leaf-blower-calculator/ the writers say CFM is cubic feet per minute, that is, the volume of air that comes out of a leaf blower’s tube in one minute. A leaf blower with a CFM of 550 can push 550 cubic feet of leaves and debris in one minute. In other words, CFM refers to the leaf blower’s blowing strength or power. Some experts consider the CFM airflow analogous to the width of the head of a yard rake. Generally, the bigger the leaf-blower’s mouth, the bigger the CFM airflow.   

 MPH indicates “the speed by which the air escapes from the tube in an hour.” So MPH is like the speed with which the rake sweeps through an area. If you see, say, 165 MPH listed, it means that blower’s maximum speed is 165 MPH. 

The site recommends you consider three issues when choosing CFM, which they consider the most important: the size of the property, the kind of debris you’ll be cleaning up, and noise limitations in your area. (If there aren’t any or they’re very weak, again I urge you to set lowest possible noise as one of your goals, for the sake of the health of yourself and those nearby.)  

They recommend that for small areas such as driveways, decks, and patios, an electric handheld blower with 200-400 CFMs is enough, and they are quieter than backpack blowers. Most backpack blowers are gas-powered, with CFMs from 400-“Walk Behind” leaf-blowers are the ”beasts” of the leaf-blower world, with CFMs as high as 3,000, and the ability to push small rocks. The site says they’re all gas-powered and extremely noisy. Please refer to the site for even more detail.

WHAT DO ALL THESE TOOLS REALLY SOUND LIKE?

I knew you might wonder, so I again asked EGO’s Gerry Barnaby to help and do his best to describe what some of these sounds are like—or at least  give us an idea of the sound quality:

The mower and snowblower tend toward a low end to the sound, but you can stand next to both under full power and have a normal conversation. The string trimmer sounds to him and some customers like a swarm of bees. (I asked whether it was a big swarm or not but haven’t heard back yet.) The hedge trimmer he finds “the most mechanical sounding as the 2 blades are moving in opposition to each other, so it has a little scraping sound to it, though not high pitched,” adding that you can still have an easy conversation over it. The leaf-blower “has a turbine in it (to generate great wind power) so as you crank up the throttle it sounds “a bit like a jet engine spooling up before take-off, but again you can have a conversation over it.” 

But Barnaby insists all the tools can be used at any time of day and not annoy people right next door. Yet I  feel I’d really have to test them at home to be able to tell you if I (for example) could bear hearing them from my neighbors’ yards. That’s where I hear them since weI don’t use any of these tools. (We might one day get a battery snowblower however, if it’s really quiet, since we have a ton of snow to shovel on the corner we live on. But generally we enjoy the exercise and the quiet of shoveling in snow (admittedly after a blizzard it can get to be a bit much at times.)

It may be hard to figure out which tool is the quietest, so again I’d try to test at home, and return if it’s not soft enough. Let’s take one of the Greenworks’ lawnmowers for example. its sound power is 94 dB (at your ear), and its sound pressure is 82 dB. as you hold the machine away from your ear which you usually do while you’re mowing, and I guess a little less so while you’re blowing if you use a leaf-blower. So we now know that in the case of this mower, even the lower number is close to a level requiring ear protection. How will your neighbor hear it if he’s outside planting roses and his yard is 20 feet from yours? That’s harder to say, but if it sounds fairly loud to your ears without protection, he’s probably going to be pretty rattled by it unless he’s one of the lucky people loud noise doesn’t bother (even if it is hurting his hearing, and, though the companies don’t discuss this, raising his blood pressure possibly for hours after the sound begins). If you do it a lot, or for more than a few minutes, it’s not too good for you either, or any family members inside with the windows open, or most of your neighbors who are outside because they want to feel and hear mostly nature, not machines. Your family and closer neighbors who are still inside may have to close their windows to keep their stress levels down, but closing windows can be depressing and it’s good for people to feel closer to nature by opening their windows if there’s something besides cement outside their homes. It doesn’t seem fair to keep others from enjoying a lovely day whether inside or outside because you’re making or hiring people who make a lot of stressful  racket with industrial tools.

So I think now you can go to a number of sites selling these tools and have a better idea of what dBs you want to stay under. It’s a good idea to check first the laws of your own town to make sure you don’t go over what they require, but in fact most towns are far too lax and the kindest thing to do for your neighbors is go with the quietest tools you can manage. 

——————

OTHER COMPANIES AND TOOLS (should you want to investigate further—warning—some are only gas power but I listed because they may include both or relatively quiet tools. Still I don’t recommend even quiet gas-powered tools)

I focus on a few more companies attempting to make quieter tools below, although I urge you to go with those that also are not gas-powered even if they do say their gas-powered ones are quieter. To reiterate, these tools and machines adds greatly to human and animal stress due to noise alone, so why continue to add to that problem the second problem of more polluted and health-damaging air that gas-powered machines also add to our daily lives, when we can all use cleaner air to breathe and most of us want to help the planet? 

ECHO tools:

ECHO sells mostly gas-powered tools, but I list them here because A) they say they’re quieter, and B) they do have a few non-gas-powered ones. Please try not to buy the gas-powered ones I do mention. That said, the site Reactual.com compared leaf-blowers for noise and chose the ECHO as the quietest blower of 2018—I can’t imagine they .also tested non-gas ones and got that result, so I guess they mean the quietest gas one. ECHO makers say they’ve tried hard to reduce the high whine of most leaf-blowers ,and Reactual feels they’ve succeeded though I haven’t heard one of the blowers yet. The noise level is reported as 65 decibels. I went to Echo’s web site to take a look. That’s at https://www.echo-usa.com/Products/Blowers.

They provide a quiz to help you choose best kind of blower for your job and your property. For low noise they recommend their “low-noise” blowers, the most powerful of which is a 65-decibal model. Again we need to hear that noise to know for sure to see how it affects us and will affect those who live near us. They’re for sale at various stores so maybe someone will demonstrate them, however as I later learned, a demo may not be so easy to get without being pretty persuasive at the store (more on that below). The Echo site has its own “leaf-blower noise” page link where you can go to study the issues further, but it does tend to get back around to how gas-powered blowers are much better now (in its opinion), and in fact all of Echo’s blowers all seem to be gas-powered. That noise link on the site is

http://www.leafblowernoise.com/

ECHO’S hand-held leaf blower PB 250-LN, for an example, holds 16.9 oz. of fuel and uses a 2-stroke engine. It’s called LN for low noise and lists at 65 dB. all this according to At the site https://thebestleafblowers.com/good-cfm-leaf-blower-calculator/.

Remember the discussion about CFM and MPH. The same site asks a question. It suggests, what if you have, say,  a small rake head, such as a 330 CFM blower, going at a higher speed (100 MPH). Or consider that you might have a bigger rake head (480 CFM) sweeping at a lower speed (92 MPH). It asks you which do you think will get the job done faster? 

Its answer is that definitely the one with 480 CFM at 92 MPH will perform the job more efficiently, because again CFM counts more than MPH. (Again see the site for more detail.) This site by the way not only full of useful information but links to another site with yet more on choosing the right blower for you. It’s  Finding the Best Leaf Blower: Facts You Should Know Before Buying One

While ECHO makes many protestations on their site that all leaf-blowers made in the last two or three years by most companies are cleaner than ever before, this matter is surely still up for debate, especially in today’s world of increasingly alarming effects of all kinds of exhaust on health and on the environment. I’d like to see some clear numbers, but I can’t imagine how gas power exhaust and disease-causing particulates are still be coming out of even Echo’s quieter blowers (of course quieter is still an improvement). ECHO also claims that electric blowers can be just as noisy and irritating with a loud siren sound and can’t have the power of gas. Still I can’t understand why they would put so much effort into a new kind of quieter blower and not just convert all of their tools away from gas power. As you’ll see, other companies are managing to provide plenty of power without the worries about exhaust, fuel, re-fueling, storing fuel, fire, etc. If it’s not the absolutely most powerful blower possible, but it’s clean-running, keeping people much less stressed, keeping the environment healthier, and delaying further global warming, a non-gas leaf-blower (and all such tools) seem to me in this time of climate crisis and tragedy absolutely the only way to go. I’m frankly amazed there is no national law yet requiring this change.

ECHO does have a section on its site where it showcases a limited number of cordless tools (for which I congratulate it) such as several string trimmers (it also sells gas-powered trimmers). One, labeled CST-58V2AHCV, has a 58-volt Lithium-ion battery, and a brushless motor “for superior and performance.” One customer review claimed that its “SilenTrimmer Line” (patented) made his job shorter since it was so efficient compared to past models he’d used. And in one of the company’s gas-powered versions of this trimmer, it says it helps reduce fuel consumption and improve engine efficiency (but again, why use gas if you don’t have to??) And in fact it’s notable however that right under that description of the gas-powered trimmer (Model# 312080060) is another mention of the California Prop 65 warning. In this case I can’t tell if it refers to the string wire or the trimmer tool itself. Often the link only takes you to a general site about Prop 65 and leaves you to do further digging yourself. 

Among ECHO’S other cordless products are a chain saw and a lawn mower, both with 58-volt lithium ion batteries. I recommend reading customer reviews of all these products and writing the maker for decibel levels and other details you can’t find on the page. I’ve had good luck with getting most questions answered so far, but don’t have room to put all of the info for each tool of each company here. I do have decibel levels in more detail for the products I mention next.

BRIGGS & STRATTON

As I’ve mentioned, some gas-powered toolmakers  are sticking mostly with gas and trying to make those quieter. Briggs and Stratton says it’s created a Quiet Power Technology that makes some of its gas-powered tools quieter. The company says some other companies also are using their new technology too, but that it is only for four-cycle gas-powered engines.I was told that in lawn mowers this technology is designed to be 65% quieter and with less vibration than a traditional gas-powered mower (“as tested against Toro model 20371 and Honda model #HHR216VKA”).  

I asked for decibel levels on its own mowers using the technology, and also on its line of battery powered “chore equipment.” I was told “Presently Briggs &  Stratton does not conduct decibel rate testing as there is no industry standard for noise testing in the USA. Currently the only place that standardizes db testing exists in EU.” I looked at its 82-volt Max* Lithium-ion Cordless Hedge Trimmer, which is among its tools with its patented new “Snapper” technology” which the site says offers more power and durability. There is no mention of noise level on the product page or in the reviews. (Again I do recommend reading reviews anyway because of other information you get such as how heavy the unit is to carry, etc.)

I first heard of Briggs and Stratton while researching my first blog post on noise. There were some issues with noise, but I do see now the company seems to be more aware of this problem. They have a new noise-testing lab you can read more about at: https://www.lawnandlandscape.com/article/ll-112618-briggs-stratton-noise-testing-lab/ 

They say there “Noise reduction has become a very important aspect of outdoor powered equipment design as consumers have demanded it and both the US and the EU have developed noise emission standards.”

Meanwhile, as I always suggest strongly, read all stats and reviews carefully at any rate—the reviews  extremely helpful. NoNoise.org is a great general resource for you too especially if you want ammunition to help fight noise pollution in your neighborhood or city.

I hope this post has given you a reasonable primer on how you can reduce noise and pollution from tools of all kinds. 

KINDNESS

We all need to remember that many city dwellers who don’t make much noise themselves suffer almost constant stress effects from others’ noise. Stress—especially constant stress– is so bad for both mental and physical health that thousands of books and articles are devoted to how to combat or stop it. Yet most of us have no control over others’ noise. So the kind and humane thing to do, until there are widespread laws created to protect people’s health (which is what it will probably take eventually) is to think of neighbors’ and animals’ (including pets’) health and sanity, and be charitable and generous to them by keeping noise levels down as much as you possibly can.

After all, if they’re calmer and you treat them kindly, they will likely be kinder and more thoughtful about you and your wellbeing in return.

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