The Virtues of Electric Lawn Care
By Jenevra Wetmore
Imagine it is a Saturday morning and you are mowing the lawn. You check the fuel level of your lawn mower and, realizing it is low, go to the garage to grab the can of gas/oil mix and pour it into the tank, trying your best not to spill. You think about how expensive gas is (estimates of how much gas is used per hour by push mowers are as high as 1 to 2.5 gallons per hour, or $5 to $12.50 an hour). When you’ve filled the tank, you prime the machine, hold the throttle and pull the start cord. The noise of the mower’s engine quickly drowns out all sounds around you and the smell of gasoline fills the air. You breathe in fine pollutants and particulates as you make your way around the lawn, which takes you roughly an hour to finish mowing. By the end of that hour your lawn mower has emitted the equivalent pollution of driving 11 cars for an hour, and you have emitted 20 pounds or more of CO2.
Rewind that Saturday morning, but now imagine that you own an electric lawnmower. You unplug the battery that has been inside charging overnight and bring it out to your lawnmower, lifting the cover and snapping it in. With the push of a button, you start the mower. It is virtually silent as you push it to the area of the lawn you plan to mow, then you engage the blade, which makes a low whirring sound. You smell the freshly cut grass and nothing else as you mow, which takes you the same hour it would have taken with your gas mower. By the end of the hour you have used, at most, 2.8 kW of electricity, or 45 cents’ worth of electricity. You have released 0.73 pounds of CO2 into the air, compared to the 20 pounds released by the gas mower.
If you are looking to do something good for the planet, look no further than your own backyard. Though it may seem small, electric lawn care is an important part of addressing the climate crisis. All of the lawncare tools we use–lawnmowers, leaf blowers, string trimmers, chainsaws and more–have electric versions that are powerful enough to keep up with the needs of homeowners and contractors, and they are much better for people and the planet. Most gas-powered lawn equipment uses 2-stroke engine fuel, which is a gas-oil mixture that is especially toxic compared to automobile emissions. These emissions include hydrocarbons, nitrous oxides (components of smog), carbon dioxide, and VOCs (volatile organic compounds). These pollutants and fine particulates linked to cancer, asthma, heart and lung disease, and create smog-forming air pollution. By contrast, electric equipment emits no harmful pollutants or smog-forming air pollution.
The cost of switching to electric equipment might seem like a barrier, but the savings of going electric add up to be worth the initial investment. In general, battery electric tools are 20 times less expensive per hour of operation compared to gas tools. Electric equipment requires no engine maintenance or filter replacements, and has none of the hundreds of moving parts that wear out and need replacement in gas/diesel mowers. Assuming the price of fuel per gallon is $4.50, switching to electric would save the average contractor $2,795 a year. For Vermont homeowners, Green Mountain Power (GMP) offers a $100 rebate on electric lawn tractors and a $50 rebate on push mowers. GMP also offers a $25 rebate on electric trimmers, electric leaf blowers and electric chainsaws.
Going electric will be better for you and those around you, but there is more you can do to help the environment and wildlife that depends on it. Instead of using a leaf blower, consider leaving leaves and other mulch on the ground and around trees and shrubs. Many butterfly species overwinter as pupae in leaf litter, and the leaf litter is alive with small creatures that are essential to the health and function of our ecosystems—from microscopic fungi to ants, beetles, snails, salamanders, and many others. Consider changing other lawn care practices to care for the earth like “grass cycling” or leaving grass clippings on the lawn. Avoid pesticides and fertilizers, plant native flowers and plants for pollinators, and perhaps most importantly: reduce or replace your lawn! Grass is the largest irrigated crop in America, if you define a crop as a cultivated plant. Instead of using this land to grow turf grass, support edible crops or pollinators and other wildlife.
Geoff Martin—Sustainable Woodstock Board Chair and Intermunicipal Regional Energy Coordinator—pilots an electric commercial lawn mower during a recent (May 25th) EV equipment trial for landscaping consultants offered by several equipment retailers on the Woodstock Green. PHOTO: Jenevra Wetmore.
What you can do:
- Visit mowelectric.org to learn more about the advantages of switching to electric lawn equipment.
- Visit greenmountainpower.com for information on rebates.
- Visit www.nwf.org/nativeplantfinder, where you can enter your zip code to see plants native to your area.