Leaf Blowers: Good or Bad?

For many homeowners and grounds maintenance professionals, hand-held (Figure 1) or backpack leaf blowers (Figure 2) are a wonderful invention. They move leaves and lawn trash faster and more easily than other methods and do a fast, efficient job of blowing off patios, sidewalks and driveways.

Other people consider leaf blowers a terrible nuisance that should be outlawed. In fact, the use of leaf blowers has been prohibited or severely restricted in some cities – especially on the West Coast.

The Problem
The primary complaint with leaf blowers is noise. A leaf blower combines engine noise with fan noise, but it still is not much louder than a lawn mower, string trimmer or edger. It is not clear or logical why some 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; a few cities ban leaf blowers, some restrict hours of use and others put a decibel (sound level) limit on them.

An Interesting Historical Sidelight
Leaf blowers were introduced in Los Angeles in 1976 and their use was mandated by the City of Los Angeles to prevent gardeners from wasting water by using water hoses to wash down sidewalks and driveways. Now, Los Angeles residents face a $270 fine for using a gasoline-powered backpack leaf blower within 500 feet of a neighboring residence.

So Why Use Leaf Blowers?
As just noted, leaf blowers are far more efficient than water hoses – a major alternative in the past. They are also more efficient than using rakes, brooms, etc. A recent study (reported in Lawn and Landscape magazine) 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. Some homeowners, on the other hand, may be willing to put in the extra time to avoid the noise.

What the Manufacturers Have Done
The manufacturers of leaf blowers have redesigned their machines to reduce the sound level. Newer leaf blowers are quieter than older ones by as much as 70 percent. They are continually working to reduce noise levels even more.

What You Can Do
Electric leaf blowers might appear to be a solution, but since much of the noise is caused by the fan, some electric models are as noisy as the better gasoline models.

Unless your community bans leaf blowers, you can continue to use them, and, by using them responsibly, you can help protect your right to continue using them. The first thing you, as a user, can do is use a leaf blower (or any powered lawn equipment) only during times when people are not trying to sleep. Avoid early morning use – especially on weekends! Some ordinances require that operation be limited to between 9 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.
You often don’t need full throttle to move leaves. If you can do the job with the engine running at half speed, you will make much less noise. Keep your leaf blower properly tuned to minimize noise as well as smoke. If buying a new leaf blower, choose one with a low sound level rating.

In summary, leaf blowers are efficient, useful tools that annoy some people. Be aware of the problem, and use your leaf blower responsibly to avoid losing the privilege.

12/2/2004 11:51:48 PM
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