In many neighborhoods, the roar of lawnmowers has been joined by the howl of leaf blowers. "The primary complaint with leaf blowers is noise," says Dr. Dick Parish, an engineer at the LSU AgCenter’s Hammond Research Station.
For homeowners and grounds maintenance professionals alike, hand-held or back-pack leaf blowers are a wonderful invention. These relatively new innovations move leaves and lawn trash faster and more easily than other methods. They do a fast, efficient job of blowing off patios, sidewalks and driveways.
Some people, however, consider leaf blowers a terrible nuisance that should be outlawed. In fact, Parish says using leaf blowers has been prohibited or severely restricted in some cities – especially on the West Coast.
"A leaf blower combines engine noise with fan noise, but it still isn’t much louder than a lawn mower, string trimmer or edger," Parish says.
It’s not clear or logical to Parish why communities have zeroed in on leaf blowers to control by local ordinance, but some have.
The rules differ in the various cities with leaf blower ordinances, he says. A few cities ban leaf blowers, some restrict hours of use and others put a sound-level limit on them.
When leaf blowers were introduced in Los Angeles in 1976, the city mandated their use to prevent gardeners from wasting water by using water hoses to wash down sidewalks and driveways, Parish says. "Now, Los Angeles residents face a $270 fine for using a gasoline-powered backpack leaf blower within 500 feet of a neighboring residence."
A major argument for leaf blowers is they’re far more efficient than water hoses – a major alternative in the past. They’re also more efficient than using rakes, brooms and other tools.
A recent study reported in "Lawn and Landscape" found that the average cleanup time – after mowing – on a single-family residence was 3-5 minutes with a leaf blower and 10-20 minutes with alternate methods.
"That time difference is certainly significant to professionals," Parish says. "Some homeowners, on the other hand, may be willing to put in the extra time to avoid the noise."
Parish says leaf blower manufacturers have redesigned their machines to reduce the sound level. Newer leaf blowers are quieter than older ones by as much as 70 percent, and manufacturers are continually working to further reduce noise levels.
Parish says that while electric leaf blowers might appear to be a solution, much of the noise comes from the fan. "Some electric models are as noisy as the better gasoline models," he says.
"Unless your community bans leaf blowers, you can continue to use them," Parish says. "And by using them responsibly, you can help protect your right to continue using them."
Parish says the first thing a user can do is use a leaf blower – or any powered lawn equipment – only during times when people aren’t trying to sleep.
"Avoid early morning use – especially on weekends," he says, pointing out that some ordinances require that operation be limited to between 9:00 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
"Be considerate, and don’t use a leaf blower at times when you know it will be especially annoying – for instance when your neighbor is hosting an outdoor party," Parish says.
The engineer points out that you often don’t need full throttle to move leaves. If you can do the job with the engine running at half speed, you’ll make much less noise.
Parish also advises to keep gasoline-powered leaf blowers properly tuned to minimize noise as well as smoke. If you buy a new leaf blower, he suggests choosing one with a low sound-level rating.
"Leaf blowers are efficient, useful tools that annoy some people," Parish says. "Be aware of the problem, and use your leaf blower responsibly to avoid loss of the privilege."
Additional yard and garden information is available by contacting an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office. Also, look for Gardening and Get It Growing links in the Features section of the LSU AgCenter Web site.