Buzz Cut

Electric Lawn Mowers Beat the Gas Guzzlers at Their Own Game

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calculates that a single gas lawn mower emits the same amount of volatile organic compounds in an hour as a car driven 350 miles. Multiply that times 54 million—the estimated number of Americans who mow their lawns every weekend—and it's a staggering amount of toxic particles entering the atmosphere—some five percent of the nation's total air pollutants. And because lawn mowers are used predominantly in hot months when ground-level ozone is the highest, they bring added misery to asthma sufferers.

© Lisa Blackshear

And that's just the toxins that get into the air. Each year, the EPA says that homeowners spill 17 million gallons of gasoline when refilling their lawn products, six million more gallons than the Exxon Valdez spilled into Prince William Sound in 1989.

Electric Advantages

The Electric Power Research Institute of Palo Alto, California, says that replacing one half of the nearly 1.3 million gas mowers in the U.S. with electric mowers would be the emissions equivalent of taking two million cars off the road.

Electric mowers are not only better for the environment (because they create no exhaust emissions and run cleaner), they also need less maintenance (no spark plugs and belts) and are easier to use (no pull cord—just turn the key). On top of all that, they're less expensive to run. The average electric mower uses the same electricity as an ordinary toaster, costing just $5 per year. The electrics also create considerably less noise pollution.

On the downside, electric mowers cost up to $150 more and are limited to use with smaller lawns; corded mowers are restricted by the 100-foot cord length and cordless mowers are limited to the runtime of their charge—30 to 60 minutes, depending on battery size. Corded mowers also carry the risk of running over the cord, although top models guide the cord to the side of the handle to prevent that. And cordless mowers can present an environmental hazard if their lead-acid batteries are not disposed of at a recycling facility.

According to consumer ratings, Black & Decker leads the pack. Consumer-search.com reports that B&D's corded model, MM 875 ($230), is "maintenance-free" and has a one-lever height adjustment that's easy to maneuver. Its cordless model, CMM 1200 ($400), does a better job than most corded electric mowers, plus mulches more effectively and cuts more evenly. Other corded models that fared well are the Craftsmen 37051 ($220), and the Homelite UT13120 ($200), that reportedly has the widest cutting deck (20 inches) of all electric mowers, as well as the highest maximum cuttings available.

Cord-Free

As for cordless models, Consumer Digest rates the Neuton Cordless Mower ($400) higher than B&D, mostly due to its lighter 48-pound weight, its whisper-like hum and its "reel" mower, which cuts the grass at a diagonal angle that's considered healthier for the grass.

Most of the major mower companies make electric mowers, as do many smaller manufacturers, including Sun-lawn, Neuton, Homelite, Yard Machines and Worx. The difficulty is finding stores that carry them. Locally, Home Depot carries one brand—Homelite. Nick Redwood, department manager of Lowes in Orange, Connecticut, says his store sells a maximum of four different models. The Black & Deckers are the most popular, but Redwood says customers rarely ask for electric mowers. He sells only one for every 20 gas mowers.

Bill Moore, webmaster for EV-world.com, has owned a Black & Decker CMM1000 for three years and says he had to resort to the Internet to find an electric mower because there were none on showroom floors where he lives in Omaha, Nebraska.

He now says he'd never go back to using a gas mower. "It was tiring," he says. "I can't prove it medically, but the electric doesn't produce the same level of fatigue; it's not spitting out a quart of fuel and giving off exhaust fumes." The one drawback, Moore says, is that he occasionally needs to make an extra pass because the blade of his B&D is 19 inches, compared to the 20- or 21-inch blade of most gas mowers.

John Longo of Milford, Connecticut stopped into Lowes on a recent Saturday to purchase his second electric mower. He says he bought his first 10 years ago, kept it for seven years, then went back to a gas mower. "It's a man thing," he jokes, "I went for more power."

But Longo says he couldn't deal with the mess and noise. The clincher for both Moore and Longo is the simplicity of use. "The electric mower is always there, ready to go," says Moore.

LUANNE ROY is the listings editor of the Fairfield County Weekly. She lives in Seymour, Connecticut.