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Wednesday, July 2, 2008 12:02 pm

Why mow electric

Gas-lawnmower emissions account for 5 percent of nation’s air pollution

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Neuton’s top-of-the-line battery-powered CE 6.2 mower is one of several electric-mower models on the market.
PHOTO COURTESY OF NEUTON POWER

What’s available now in lawnmowers that’s easier on the environment — and runs on something more than human power?
Traditional gas-powered lawnmowers are a public nuisance, to say the least. Using one of them for an hour generates as many volatile organic compounds — dangerous airborne pollutants known to exacerbate human respiratory and cardiovascular problems — as driving a typical car for 350 miles, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA estimates that, with some 54 million Americans mowing their lawns on a weekly basis, gas-lawnmower emissions account for as much as 5 percent of the nation’s total air pollution. Beyond that, homeowners spill some 17 million gallons of gasoline every year just refueling their lawnmowers.
So what’s a green-minded property owner to do about keeping the grass down? Go electric, of course! Electric mowers, which either plug into a wall outlet with the use of a long cord or run on batteries charged up from the grid, create no exhaust emissions and run much cleaner than their gas-powered counterparts. They also need less maintenance, with no spark plugs or belts to worry about, and are easier to use, because they tend to be smaller and come with push-button starters. The icing on the cake might be the fact that electric mowers are cheaper to run, using about as much electricity as an ordinary toaster. Most electric mower owners spend about $5 a year on electricity to keep their grass trimmed just right. The nonprofit Electric Power Research Institute reports that replacing half of the 1.3 million or so gas mowers in the U.S. with electric models would save the equivalent amount of emissions of taking 2 million cars off the road.
But going electric involves some minor trade-offs. Electric mowers tend to cost as much as $150 more than their gas-powered counterparts, and the plug-in varieties can only go 100 feet from the closest outlet without an extension cord. The cordless models last only 30 to 60 minutes on a charge, depending on battery size and type, though that’s plenty sufficient for the average lawn (just remember to recharge it in time for the next mowing). And, of course, just because electric mowers don’t consume fossil fuels or spew emissions directly doesn’t mean they are totally green-friendly. Most people derive their household electricity from coal-fired power plants, the dirtiest of all energy sources. Of course, running an electric mower on electricity generated from clean and renewable sources (solar, wind, or hydro power) would be the greenest of all possibilities, and those days may be upon us soon. For those ready to take the electric-mower plunge, the Greener Choices Web site, a project of Consumer Reports, gives high marks to Black & Decker’s corded ($230) and cordless ($400) models for their efficiency, reliability, and ease of use. Corded models from Worx and Homelite (both around $200) also fared well, along with cordless offerings from Craftsman, Homelite, Remington, and Neuton ($300-$450).  

For more information: Black & Decker, www.blackanddecker.com; Remington, www.remingtonpowertools.com; Homelite, www.homelite.com; Worx, www.worxpowertools.com; Neuton, www.neutonpower.com; Greener Choices, www.greenerchoices.org.

Send questions to Earth Talk at P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881 or e-mail earthtalk@emagazine.com.
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