The Quiet Revolution: Electrification of Yard Tools

September 22, 2021

Can’t happen fast enough.
I’m seeing it right here in my middle American suburban neighborhood. Even my Uber-conservative neighbor across the street went out of his way to show me his new green machine.

Finance & Commerce:

For Jared Anderman, of Croton-on-Hudson, New York, switching from gasoline-powered tools to electric ones for lawn care was a no-brainer.

“I’m concerned about climate change and wanted tools that are more eco-friendly, and also quieter. I like listening to music when I do yardwork and this way I can enjoy music or a podcast while I work,” he said. “I could never do that with gas-powered equipment.”

The biggest advantage of all, he says, is maintenance. “Gas mowers are a pain. With electric tools, they boot right up and there’s really no maintenance at all. It’s just about keeping the batteries charged.”

First, he bought an electric lawnmower. Then an electric string trimmer, hedge trimmer and leaf blower. “I don’t have an electric snowblower, yet. But when I do replace the gas snowblower, it’ll be with an electric one,” he says.

There’s a quiet transformation going on in yards across the country. Longstanding complaints about the roar and fumes from gas-powered leaf blowers, mowers and other equipment have grown even louder as more people work from home because of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the quality of zero- to low-emissions electric landscaping equipment has improved markedly, with battery packs that last longer.

“Batteries have changed a lot in the past year alone, and we are there in terms of technology. Now it’s just a matter of getting the word out to professionals and consumers,” says Kurt Morrell, associate vice president for horticulture operations at the New York Botanical Garden.

“Last year we were 90 percent electric on hedge trimmers and this year it’s 100 percent. My guys won’t even touch a gas hedge trimmer anymore,” says Morrell, who oversees the trimming of the garden’s 4,850 linear feet of hedges.

There are even autonomous lawnmowers akin to the Roomba vacuum cleaner.

“They are really taking off, and in the next four or five years you’ll see more robotic mowers in the private sector,” says Morrell.

Morrell, who also teaches aspiring landscaping professionals, says that while electric trimmers and mowers are now as good or better than gas-guzzling versions, cordless electric leaf blowers are still a challenge “because they require a lot of velocity and power, and the weight of the battery at this point is a lot heavier than gas.”

But the technology is evolving quickly, he says. “When I teach my landscaping management students, who will go on to manage large landscapes, I know they will be using electric equipment.”

The electric tools, and some less-polluting gas options, are just part of a rethinking of many lawn-care practices and their effect on the environment.

Many gardeners and landscapers are moving away from “a hyper-managed standard of blow drying leaves,” for instance, in favor of “just letting leaves be leaves, with some of them staying on the ground,” says Daniel Mabe, founder of the American Green Zone Alliance, which offers homes, businesses and organizations across the country a certification for low carbon-footprint landscaping.

Letting more leaves, plant stalks and other garden debris cover garden beds during the winter helps the soil, and insects and other wildlife, experts say.

Where power tools are needed, the shift from gas to electric is not unlike the trend toward electric cars.

According to the California Air Resources Board, a department within the California Environmental Protection Agency, operating a gas leaf blower for an hour can create as much smog-forming pollution as driving a Toyota Camry 1,100 miles.

The battery-powered lawn equipment sector is growing at a rate three times faster than gas, according to the Freedonia Group, a division of MarketResearch.com.

“In terms of residential adoption of electric landscaping equipment, at least here in California, it’s already about 50 percent,” Mabe says.

He sees more resistance to electric equipment among professional landscaping companies than among residential consumers. But he estimates there are now at least 200 “all-electric” landscaping companies. Many of them make use of robotic technology, programming and maintaining the lawn equivalent of the Roomba.

Andrew Bray, vice president of government relations for the Fairfax, Virginia-based, National Association of Professional Landscapers, says, “The transition to electric is inevitable, and most landscapers are trying out this equipment all the time. But while the technology is already there for homeowners — and I myself use electric equipment at home — the technology isn’t there yet for most of the commercial sector.”

“With leaf blowers, for example, they don’t yet have the battery power needed for commercial use,” he says.

And he said there are cost and infrastructure hurdles for professional landscapers looking to switch from gas to electric.

“Since battery packs are not interchangeable between brands of tools, you’d have to retrofit your whole shop so that everything is the same brand. You’d also probably have to upgrade the wattage of the electrical system in your shop, since an average crew would need about 36 batteries,” he says.

Still, electric’s momentum is growing. Stanley Black & Decker, a leading maker of outdoor products, estimates that the volume of electric-powered landscaping equipment that North American manufacturers shipped went from 9 million units in 2015 to over 16 million last year, an over 75% increase in the past five years.

“We continue to innovate in cordless (electric) products focused on delivering high performance while having lower noise and no emissions in use,” says John Wyatt, senior vice president of Stanley Outdoor.

17 Responses to “The Quiet Revolution: Electrification of Yard Tools”

  1. Gingerbaker Says:

    I have a small yard, so my yard care needs are met with a cord. But I can’t believe most people could not get by with a 100-foot cord or two. It’s about the same hassle as dealing with rechargeable batteries, and a fraction of the cost.

    Burlington, VT just passed an ordinance restricting leaf blowers to 65 db or less. Pretty sure that means just electric blowers.

  2. Keith McClary Says:

    “Since battery packs are not interchangeable between brands of tools, you’d have to retrofit your whole shop so that everything is the same brand.”

    And when they stop selling those battery packs, you will soon have to scrap all your tools. Is there any (good) reason there can’t be standardized battery packs?

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      What often happens is that a couple of brands come to dominate the market, 3rd party companies make off-brand batteries that are compatible with these popular brand (and are de facto standardized), and other tool-makers convert to using those standards. The market has to vote first.

    • J4Zonian Says:

      Because when they stop selling those battery packs, you will soon have to scrap all your tools.

  3. Keith Omelvena Says:

    “First, he bought an electric lawnmower. Then an electric string trimmer, hedge trimmer and leaf blower. ” Ah, the joys of greenwash marketing. If one wanted to make an actual difference, a range of low tech hand tools can do all those jobs. Maybe even help the waistline? A broom, hedge shears, shovel, push mower. Got to keep all those lithium miners in business though right? Along with the nuclear power plants planned to fire up these gadget factories? Revolution? Nah!

    • jimbills Says:

      I actually did buy a nicer model push mower about 7 years ago, but holey macaroni, try doing that against a quarter acre St. Augustine grass in 100 degree Texas heat. I got an electric mower about a week after that. That finally gave up the ghost this year (battery gave out, there is no replacement for that model), so I bought another electric mower. Planned obsolescence, proprietary batteries, infinite growth, yadda yadda.

      I’ve always been annoyed by leaf blowers, though. Really loud, a broom or rake isn’t that difficult, and leaves are nature’s fertilizer, anyway.

      • Keith Omelvena Says:

        I always wonder what the point of blowing leaves around is? Wind changes direction, they all blow back again. Or maybe just blow them into the neighbours place? 🙂

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      I like the idea of hiring services to do the mowing rather than every house in the suburb having its own mower. Unfortunately, they tend to use the combustion mowers because they’re (business-wise) more cost-effective and there’s no issue about where to plug it in.

      As for manual yardwork, that might be delightful on a 25°C/75°F spring or fall day, but spending that extra time and working harder in >30°C/86°F morning heat gets old real fast.

  4. Mark Mev Says:

    Bought the egopower lawnmower in May of 2016 for about 3/4 acre lawn. Since then it has grown to ego power snowblower, hedge trimmer, backpack leaf blower, chainsaw, and string trimmer.
    They have their place for the homeowner, but they are not for everyone or every case. Snow blower is good for a few inches of snow, walkways, and decks. But when we get heavy wet snow or a lot of snow, the John deere tractor with its 4′ snowblower comes out. Unfortunately, as I got older and weaker, I also used the deere with its 52″ mower deck for the main grass cutting, moving the electric mower to trimming. I used to jog while pushing the lawn mower, that is not going to happen now.
    Electric chainsaw is good for quick trims, but the stihl comes out for large trees.
    Electric backpack leaf blower is great as long as you have multiple batteries.
    I still recommend this to people as long as they are willing to spend the money on the tools and batteries. Not having to wear ear protectors was worth it to me.
    It also helps that the solar panels provide more electricity than I use now. That will change as we get mini splits and finally an electric car. Someday.
    Also, slowly more and more of my portable woodworking tools are being replaced with battery powered versions.

  5. redskylite Says:

    Should be more peaceful and the air sweeter with electrified gardening in progress in urbania, the electric Flymo, “hovercraft” lawnmower was born in 1964 and a great garden tool that is still produced. I still have a 2-stroke tiller to work my heavy clay – but see even electric tillers are available now for the domestic garden.
    ===================================

    Then there’s the big boys. .

    The difference in price between Monarch’s autonomous-electric tractor and, say, a diesel-powered John Deere unit is about 1.5 times higher, but Schwager touts the savings through battery power and labor will result in a return on investment in less than two years.

    https://www.forbes.com/sites/edgarsten/2021/09/20/driverless-battery-electric-tractors-coming-via-company-led-by-tesla-vet/

    • redskylite Says:

      Replacing batteries for electric tools, seems a bit akin to buying manufacturer brand replacement print ink cartridges, I bought a Ryobi cordless drill a few years ago, with two batteries, both batteries are completely shot now and I can buy a complete new cordless drill for less than the cost of replacement batteries. I favour cords and extensions over batteries. Same for security cameras and pond fountains.

      • jfon Says:

        Went to borrow a drill off the woodwork teacher at the school I’m at today, telling his the one I had was playing up. ‘Ryobi, is it?’ he asked. It was. I grabbed a HItachi off him. My own (mains) Hitachi at home is old but rugged.

        • Gingerbaker Says:

          I have a Black and Decker electric drill which has outlasted a Milwaukee by about 15:1. It was about 1/3rd the price. Go figure.

  6. mboli Says:

    I’ve been using electric lawn mowers, with cords not batteries, for nearly 30 years.
    From my point of view much nicer than those clunky, expensive, short-lived battery ones.

  7. J4Zonian Says:

    I hate the noise of all this machinery. When I’ve gone on quests on my steed (30 year old pewter Trek touring bicycle with trailer), once about 12 miles each way for feed bags for a pond wall, several times to a distant feed store for special items, I’ve been so joyful about roosters serenading me the whole way (through suburbs and city) it seemed like a 20 minute trip. But they were weekdays when most people were at work.

    But I’m not happy about electric machines taking over the suburbs, either. Most yards are oversized wastes of space, energy, fertilizer & poisons, & where they’re only small to medium wastes of space, energy, fertilizer & poisons, the idea of each household owning each of these 7 or 10 machines is…chilling? sickening? saddening. I despair that even here, among people exposed to the dire reality every day, there’s such irresistible need for domination, through geometrically-enslaved swaths of pseudo nature, and so little consideration of the stark inequality revealed. Personal changes will not solve the climate crisis, but they are important, so seeing that this site has so little effect that regular readers still live like all the other consumptive Faux-diseducated morons, 40 years after the expiration date of this life”style”, is profoundly depressing.

    https://climatecrocks.com/2021/09/22/arctic-sea-ice-reaches-minimum/

    (For a 1/2 acre hillside, I used a scythe around gradually increasing numbers of fruit & nut trees, perennials, beds, & bees, & used the straw for the animals—ducks, geese, chickens, Angora rabbits.

    • jimbills Says:

      “profoundly depressing”

      You’re just figuring that out? Pretty much everyone who comments here is: older (at least 40, most are over 60), white collar or retired, wealthier than the average Westerner, living near or in major cities, and except for the odd duck like Canman have mainstream liberal politics.

      The people here do have the wonderful quality of caring for the environment, or at least, caring about the subject of climate change – but by and large, they’re also pro-growth environmentalists with hopes like solar panels and Democrats will solve the problem.

      This segment of the population is a minority within the total population that cares more about the mundane – their own individual sex lives, bank accounts, likes on Facebook, and so on, than they do about global issues like climate change. A good percentage of them are actively opposed to do anything at all about climate change.

      Your segment of the population, people who actively live close to the land because of environmental concerns, is the smallest of minorities. Almost no one like you is out there – and yet, you somehow think the rest of the world will get on board your lifestyle, and you get frustrated that they don’t. It’s a daydream, J4. It won’t happen.

      The vast, vast majority are not you. They do not think like you, and they never will. If they even care about climate change, which is far from a given, they are looking for minor (often tech reliant) solutions like electric leaf blowers. That’s just the reality.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: