Four Alternatives to Petrol-Powered Leaf Blowers (That Aren’t a Rake)

Four Alternatives to Petrol-Powered Leaf Blowers (That Aren’t a Rake)

Everyone hates leaf blowers, and it’s not hard to see why. For most people, the noise is reason enough; if your neighbourhood has lawns, the chainsaw-level buzzing is inescapable for most of the year, and it always seems to start at the worst possible time. But the biggest, best, and most correct reason to loathe leaf blowers is how bad they are for everyone around them. Their engines are so inefficient and so good at polluting the are that they should qualify as a threat to public health.

A petrol-powered leaf blower is basically an old-school two-stroke engine with a nozzle attached. I mean “old-school” literally here: Unlike motor vehicle engines, the ones that power leaf blowers, chainsaws, and generators look and work basically the same as they did more than a hundred years ago. They still require a mixture of oil and petrol, the former of which burns off in a big cloud of smoke every time the engine fires. To make things worse, two-stroke engines don’t have catalytic converters to mitigate their emissions. An oft-cited (and mis-cited) 2001 Swedish study found that operating a catalytic converter-less lawn mower for an hour produced roughly the same amount of polluting emissions as a 150 km car trip. (If you’ve heard that operating a leaf blower for an hour is worse than driving a car for 161 km, this is where that statistic comes from.) Most lawn mowers don’t use two-stroke engines, so you can’t really apply this study’s findings to leaf blowers — but considering that they’re are even less efficient (and less regulated) than lawn mowers, it sure paints a picture.

The bottom line is that huge clouds of noxious fumes are just part of the deal with petrol-and-oil-powered leaf blowers. This is incredibly hazardous to everyone forced to inhale those fumes, particularly children, elderly people, and most notably, workers whose bosses and/or clients require them to operate these nasty contraptions at very close range and often without sufficient protective gear. Frankly, they should be banned and replaced with any of the following options — none of which require picking up a rake.

Electric leaf blowers (and vacuums)

The most obvious swap for a petrol-powered leaf blower is an electric one. They’re still noisy as all get-out, but they’re plenty powerful for your leaf removal needs. Electric leaf blowers are also surprisingly affordable: Light-duty models cost less than $140, while a beefier, more serious machine will run you somewhere between $200-400. If you want to shred those leaves for mulch, look for a blower with a vacuum and shred or mulch function; many models can do it all.

Tow-behind lawn sweepers

Removing leaves and other debris from a lawn big enough to require a riding mower is a massive project. If that describes your situation, a tow-behind lawn sweeper may be just the ticket. These contraptions attach to your mower with a hitch and pick up whatever you drive over. You’ll need to empty the collection vessel as you go, but it sure beats dealing with clouds of oily smoke.

Push leaf collectors

If you want to go entirely motorless, you still have at least one non-rake option: Push-powered leaf collectors. These are also sometimes called lawn sweepers, but unlike the ones that attach to a tractor or mower, you operate them almost exactly like a push mower. They’re basically a big basket on wheels; as you push them over your lawn, the sweeper collects leaves and other debris in the basket.

Killing your lawn

Lawns are a high-maintenance, water-hungry waste of space. If you redesign your yard to eliminate bare grass altogether (or at least minimise the amount that sits under leaf-shedding trees), you won’t have to spend half your fall weekends picking leaves off it. Besides, fallen leaves make great mulch; if your yard is set up such that they fall on plants instead of grass, you can just leave them where they are and let nature take its course. Of course, this won’t help if you already have a huge pile of leaves to deal with, but it’s worth considering for the future.

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