Leaf Blowers: Selection Use and Safety

Richard L. Parish  |  12/3/2004 1:07:54 AM

Leaf blowers are an efficient and effective grounds maintenance tool. They are widely used by homeowners and professionals to clean up after mowing, move leaves and other lawn trash, and clean patios, porches, sidewalks and driveways. Studies have shown that blowers are more efficient than other methods such as raking, sweeping or hosing with water.

Types
Leaf blowers are available in at least three configurations: hand-held (Figure 1), backpack (Figure 2) and wheeled (Figure 3). The hand-held units are most common for homeowner use. They provide all the power and capacity needed for most home maintenance jobs. Backpack units are more common for professional use. They have the engine and fan mounted on a backpack frame with a hand-held hose and spout to direct the air flow. Wheeled blowers are less versatile but can be used to blow the leaves from an entire lawn.

Some blowers can be used in reverse to vacuum leaves and yard waste. Those units typically reduce the volume of waste by chopping and packing it. Some can achieve a 16:1 reduction in volume.

Power Source
Hand-held units can be powered by either an electric motor or a gasoline engine (generally a 2-stroke engine). Backpack units are powered by small gasoline engines (again, generally 2-stroke). Wheeled units generally have a 4-stroke gasoline engine. Electric units may be less expensive but are not necessarily less noisy. Some electric units make as much noise as a gasoline engine since the fan is a primary source of noise. Electric units also require an extension cord. Battery-powered units are available, but they are limited in capacity and operating time.

A maximum rated output air velocity of 150 mph should be adequate. A maximum rated air flow rate of 250 cfm is more than adequate. You can find sound levels as low as 65 dBA – the lower the better.

Use Considerations
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use. You will soon learn to “sweep’ leaves and clean patios and driveways. Operation at part throttle is usually sufficient for most jobs. Be sure to close home and car windows when using a blower; they kick up a lot of dust.

Maintenance
Spark plugs on 2-stroke engines need to be replaced regularly – perhaps annually. Be sure to mix the right amount of oil in your fuel. Clean or replace the air and fuel filters as needed. Keep the tool clean – especially the engine cooling fins.

Personal Protective Equipment
Always wear eye protection. Goggles are better than safety glasses at preventing swirling dust from getting into your eyes. Hearing protection is advisable – especially if you will be running a blower for more than a few minutes. Thick, padded gloves are appreciated when using a hand-held gasoline-powered blower. The vibration from the blower can cause the operator’s hands to shake an hour or more after using the machine.

Other Safety Considerations
Don’t use a blower around other people; it can throw objects at them. Be careful of ricochet problems when blowing around obstacles. The air stream and objects in it can come back at you. Never point the blower at people or pets.

In summary, electrical units are fine for small lawns, gasoline hand-held units are the best choice for larger home sites and backpack blowers are a good choice for professional users. Be safe, and wear eye, ear and hand protection. Be courteous of your neighbors and use your blower at the lowest possible throttle setting and at times when it is least likely to offend.

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