Ministry of Controversy

Getting our arms around the nasty issue of leaf-blowers

Leafblower

It seems that I’ve joined the band of eco-activists in my town in asking our City Council to look into the
banning of all gas-powered leaf-blowers, as evidenced by my name at the end of this letter of request [pdf].

Readers here are super-familiar with the air and noise pollution caused by the much-hated leaf-blowers, not to mention gas lawnmowers, which I suppose might be the next target of our cabal.  But sticking with leaf-blowers for the moment, is hating them enough to ban them outright?  Let’s see if there are any unintended consequences of such a ban.

Happily, this is a great time to look into this issue because the EPA recently passed some emission standards for the damn things, which standards go into effect in 2011.  Presumably people will experience the economic hardship of having to buy cleaner leaf-blowers by 2011 anyway, so if towns go farther and ban all gas-powered types, people can just switch to electric instead, right?  Uh, we wish.  Everyone’s telling me that there ARE no electrically-powered leaf blowers with enough power to do the job, yet.

So it looks like people have to give up power equipment altogether and switch to rakes and blooms, which seems like a good thing.  But according to press reports of anti-blower battles in California, requiring the use of rakes and brooms has at least two downside effects:

  • It takes longer to do the work without power equipment, so our small, local landscape companies will suffer – along with their low-income workers – if they’re unable to can’t pass the extra cost on to their customers.   
  • The use of rakes and brooms is more physically stressful and injury-producing than the use of power blowers, which allow the worker to remain upright at all times. 

HOMEOWNERS or COMMERCIAL AND GOV’T WORKERS
Now when it comes to homeowners collecting their own leaves or
clearing their sidewalks of debris, so what if it takes a little longer or if they have to take a break or two because raking
and sweeping require bending over?  And as for forcing them to buy new equipment, they’d have to upgrade by 2011 anyway, so why not just outlaw gas-powered by that date?

But when it comes landscape companies and the city maintenance crews – people who spend 8-hour days doing this work, after all – that’s a different story.  So one compromise that’s been suggested – to ban gas-powered leaf-blowers only on weekends – seems like a good one to me, at least until the industry produces electric blowers that can replace the gas machines.  Funny, though – I notice that Westchester County, NY has imposed the burden ONLY on landscape companies and government workers.  That may be because it’s easier to enforce the law against those users but it just seems ass-backwards to me. 

But what do you guys think?

HELP!  WHAT HAVE OTHER CITIES DONE?
Now the real reason for this post is that I seem to have volunteered to research what other jurisdictions have done in this arena and I’m thinking that some nonprofit MUST have compiled this information already, right?  So which one?  Seriously; I need some help here.

Photo source: Westchestergov.com.

Posted by on October 11, 2008 at 3:51 am, in the category Ministry of Controversy.
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39 Responses to “Getting our arms around the nasty issue of leaf-blowers”

  1. Les says:

    The noise and pollution are certainly bad enough. However, what gets me is that more often than not all the pollution and noise are created just to blow leaves and debris into the street or on to someone else’s property. I never see leaves blown into a pile for clean up. With the wind they likely end up back where they started. It is all wasted effort. Hand me a rake.

  2. kim says:

    I hate the noise. Hate it. And it seems like it’s constant this time of year. My neighbor blows off his pool cover (pool is under trees) at least every other day this time of year. We use a lawn vac/shredder you push (like a lawnmower) to collect and shred the leaves to compost on our 1/2 acre. And we do that once a season. We rake the rest of the leaves. We DO have an electric leaf blower – Garden Man, who is notoriously “frugal” bought an adapter kit ($4.99) for his Sears shop-vac which converts the motor to a leafblower. It’s not nearly as noisy, and Garden Man uses it for light-duty jobs. But I didn’t answer your question. I don’t know what other cities have done. I can’t imagine a ban here in my development, where a good number of residents are original owners in their 70′s (or older), and they depend on the mow, blow, go groups AND they are on fixed incomes (and have likely seen their retirement savings evaporate lately). But good luck with your research. I look forward to hearing what you come up with.

  3. sarahammocks says:

    Oh give me a break, landscapers. It’s not about man hours and worker injury. How many times have you seen a landscape crew inching their way across a lawn, engines roaring on their backs as they herd a handful of leaves to the curb? This is the shock and awe approach to landscape maintenance. Blast the bad stuff with loud gas guzzling artillery–so much more macho than a hand rake!

  4. Lee says:

    Have you considered that the ease of using a leaf blower enables people who are not young and/or able bodied complete a job which would otherwise be impossible for them to do?

  5. Peter Hoh says:

    I predict that somebody, somewhere is going to respond to a leaf blower ban by cutting down all the trees on his/her property.

  6. weeder1 says:

    I use an electric leaf blower. Yes, it does make noise but it is easier on my back than raking and it only takes a few minutes to clear a big area and the sidewalk of leaves. It only gets used once or twice a week and yes, the leaves do get composted. I wouldn’t own a gas powered one.

  7. Reading Dirt says:

    The neighbors hire a lawn care company. The workers use leaf blowers to blow leaves, toys, and assorted tools and such left outside off of their lawn and into the street or into our yard. Neither the workers nor our neighbors seem to care much where the debris goes — so long as it is off of their lawn. Every weekend (the workers come on Friday), I go out and chuck all the toys and tools back into their yard.

    Would it be any different if the workers had to use rakes? Maybe — if raking leaves also includes bagging them and hauling them away. Or maybe not. I see plenty of people rake leaves into the street, where they clog gutters and drains, under the impression that “someone” will come along and make the leaves go away.

  8. Pam J. says:

    In answer to the question posed by Lee (“Have you considered that the ease of using a leaf blower enables people who are not young and/or able bodied complete a job which would otherwise be impossible for them to do?”). I think this is a handy rationalization. If someone has the strength to buy and transport the gas needed for the blower, carry the blower on his or her back, and wander around the yard, that person also has the ability to use a 3-lb rake.

  9. eliz says:

    I have an electric leaf vacuum/shredder and I like it. it’s great for getting them out of ground cover. But I must say, it’s harder to carry and handle than a rake, though it works faster and shreds them, which is the cool thing. Noisy though.

  10. tibs says:

    The only place I like to use my electric leaf blower/succer-upper is for the ground cover. It is either that or hand pick the leaves out. Which I can do now, but the older I get the more my back protests. Very labor intensive, not something that I could ever afford to hire done, if I could even find someone to do it. Now my lawn can be raked with ease. So my question is how do you reconcile the ban the lawn plant ground cover and ban the blower ideals?

    I am not pro lawn, pro gas powered tools, I just really would like some ideas. And if today the mowers, tomorrow the hedge trimmers, and with over 300′ of privet hedge (some came with the house, some self imposed) as a perimeter fence, I can’t live without it.

  11. Aunt Ida says:

    THE place to go for noise information is http://www.nonoise.org. I sent a longer email with links to specific noise ordinances, but the system flagged it as spam.

  12. When you are charging $35 to $50 per man hour, time is indeed a concern for landscape professionals and consumers. Never having used a blower for a rake; mulching mowers solve most of that issue and a rake gets the remnants, I can still tell you they save time. They are used to clean the bits of grass, dust, dirt and tiny debris left on walkways, drives, pool decks, patios and other hard surfaces. Clients want clean, kitchen floor clean, when the landscaper is done.

    What are the other options in this situation? A broom or a hose. Can’t waste water for that and sorry, babushka wearing peasants to sweep your hard surfaces live only in old novels.

    Sorry Susan, I can’t help with info on what other towns are doing. The compromise to me is the EPA’s new small engine standards.

    Face it, most Americans are too lazy and too pressed for time to rake all the leaves quietly for the disturbed.

  13. Pam J. says:

    “Clients want clean, kitchen floor clean, when the landscaper is done.” This is part of the problem.

  14. Paul says:

    Umm, I really like my leaf blower. In fact, I can’t imagine moss gardening without one. Its not lazy, just efficient and much less damaging than raking moss. Please don’t take it away….

  15. Rosella says:

    My husband is 80 and I am 71. I can assure Pam J that we do not use a 3 lb. backpack blower, but we do rely very heavily on a rake, an electric blower, and a little blower/vacuum/ shredder, because although we are both pretty hale and hearty we don’t have the stamina needed to clear our 1/3rd of an acre by hand –heavily-treed, flower-bedded, ground-covered, etc., and we can’t afford to pay a landscape company to do it.

    Yes — I hate the noise of the gas-powered equipment, and I specially hate the stink they leave behind. I sometimes run and shut the windows in the house when I see them arrive so that the house won’t smell of exhaust for the rest of the day.

  16. If you people get your way and lawns are outlawed there will be no more lawn mowers……less noise

    You have already moved on to your next battle front……….leaf blowers…….

    But trees will be outlawed because new trees need to be watered…….and we don’t like people using water…..less noise

    So there you have it..leaf blowers oulawed by outlawing lawns first……..

    Am I still irrational or is incrementalism beinginning to make sense?

    The (never a pacifist) TROLL

  17. My neighbor who uses a blower mulches all the leaves he picks up while my neighbor who rakes puts his leaves in the gutter which is illegal in my town (they have to stay on the grass etc. til they get picked up by the city).

    My husband and I use the blower on moss and gravel gardens where we also do a lot of hand work but it is a very helpful tool. Also use it on the roof valleys where leaves collect and mess up the gutter …

  18. Old Kim says:

    Blowing leaves under the trees for compost is a better way than raking up piles and burning them like folks use to do.

  19. Wow, interesting discussion. What about the noise and emissions from lawn mowers? Rototillers? Tractors? I am concerned about where we stop. I think having all small engines have to have emissions standards is a great idea. Eventually the old ones will die and we will have nothing left but the newer ‘greener’ ones. Telling people that they cannot use the equipment that they purchased on the lawn and gardens they own now seems like government way overstepping its proper role. How fair is it to tell someone that something he bought which was perfectly legal is now against the law to use?

  20. Carolyn says:

    Financial crisis…more time…raking is a terrific way to enjoy the outdoors…done correctly it won’t hurt…a rake is cheaper than a blower…no pollution…be an educator

    We have too many laws…send the politicians home for 3 weeks every month…be an educator

  21. Lead by example? Hmmm what a concept, lol! Love it!

  22. RenateKa says:

    I’m surprised noone mentions that the plants really suffer from the industrial strength blows. It dries them out, and those gusts of wind, once a week, are not what every plant likes.

    And I agree with Pam. We should just get over it that a garden floor should look like the kitchen floor. What I find amazing is that 30 years ago, people somehow managed without leaf blowers. Hard to believe but true.

  23. greg draiss says:

    and we managed without email, blogs, atms, ezpass, daycare,digital cameras, microwaves, etc

    Does anyone rally wanna go back to the goold old daze!

  24. Lisa Albert says:

    “Clients want clean, kitchen floor clean, when the landscaper is done.”

    Christopher in NC, it seems you hit a chord with several of us. I watch as my neighbors’ mow & blows machine-sweep every last blade of cut grass off the sidewalk. And then they spread fertilizer that sprays over that sidewalk. And they leave it. What’s wrong with this picture?

    I’m glad to see new emission controls enforced (about time), but that’s only half the battle. The vision of the American garden also needs to undergo a revision. Changing our perspective will change our habits, and hopefully reduce reliance on these power tools. Personally, I don’t think gardens should look groomed and pruned to an inch of their lives, not even for photographs in magazines and books. I prefer a “lived-in” look over one that looks like it will be covered in plastic, like a 50′s sofa.

  25. Pam J. says:

    daycare?? What planet do you live on? We’ve had daycare for as long as women have worked outside the cave or the tent, and that’s a long, long time.

  26. bryan herdman says:

    I used to do some of that stuff and thought I’d get involved here. First, I think calling the mow, blow and go guys landscapers is being unnecessarily nice to them, and demeaning to landscapers. The people to blame for those guys blowing the stuff everywhere is the property owner – I wouldn’t put up with that crap on a property I own. I wouldn’t be that inconsiderate when I was doing property maintenance as I knew it would anger the neighbours which would be bad for my reputation and for getting more business in the neighbourhood. I always made certain that debris, leaves, grass, etc was blown into a pile and then picked up.

    In terms of electric blowers I don’t foresee the day that they will be satisfactory comercially, unless you folks are talking battery-operated, and that brings in tons of bad environmental impacts due to the various heavy metals used in the batteries. Mining and processing the pollutants and then discarding huge amounts of batteries is NOT good for the environment.

    Blowers using A/C (household power) would not be practical for a professional. If forced to used electricity I expect most folks would end up with twice the noise, because the pro will be using a generator to power his tools, not a ton of extension cords. (There will be places with no suitable outlets, places with the only outlets paid for by tenants, and just plain poorly located outlets – plus ease of use). I think that on a large property one would tow a trailer with the generator around. So you’ll have the noise of the blower and the noise of the generator, plus the exhaust fumes to annoy you, and maybe the noise of the machine towing the generator.

    FWIW I personally find the whine of an electric blower _much_ more aggravating than that of a gas-powered one. No matter how annoying the pro is, he’s in and out of there as fast as possible, because time is money. Homeowners can be much more annoying – you must all have seen the guy chasing a leaf from one side of his car to the other for what seems like hours of the annoying whine. It sure is an interesting topic, though.

    Saatuk

  27. Pam J, The Troll lives in his own special little tiny tiny world.

    Lisa Albert, I don’t disagree with you or Pam J that the idea of kitchen floor clean may be pushing landscape maintenance to an extreme in a lot of situations. In reality though when you have large houses on small lots with swimming pools and spas and stone or tile decks surrounding large parts of the house there is at times more square footage of hardscape than landscape. The bushes are just to hide the neighbors without blocking the view. When you trim and mow this stuff it gets on the decks and at times in the pool. A rake will only pick up the bulk, not the little stuff. That’s where a blower comes in. The latest rage on Maui before I left had people tiling and faux stoning their concrete driveways. Their nice SUV’s were too good to drive over plain concrete into the garage.

    Fertilizer on sidewalks did not drive me near as insane as the huge amounts of fertilizer spread onto the roads when the hell strips were fertilized. Talk about your high nutrient runoff. Now me, I was very carefull to keep fertilizer on the lawn and in the beds. Most spreaders have a pattern you can work with. Since blowing was the absolute last thing done at a job any excess fertilizer on sidewalks or decks was blown where it would do some good. But that was just me.

  28. bev says:

    I firmly believe that the epidemic of obesity in our country could be at least partly alleviated by banning leaf blowers. Wow, people might actually have to do some exercise and – gasp – bend over!
    I think they are an abomination.
    And yes, my neighbor blows his leaves into my yard on a regular basis.

  29. SJ says:

    I run a landscape company – me!

    In the past I’ve run those gas powered blowers (working for someone else). Basically, the unlucky crew member had one strapped unto their back for up to 8 hours a day (minus lunch).

    After my turn I would be sick for the rest of the day from the fumes and sore from having 30 lbs of plastic and metal on my back. And by the way, we still had to use rakes as the blower is only truly useful for cleaning up hard surfaces such as patios and driveways. On wet days even a high powered ones doesn’t work well on beds or lawns or behind A/C units or other tight spaces.

    Now that I work for myself I use several sets of rakes, metal for the beds, plastic for the lawn and narrow rakes for tight corners. And depending on the surface a good broom.

  30. Julia says:

    The electric leaf mulcher (could be a blower, don’t recall, hardly used for that) is critical to us. Lawn mower also used to mulch leaves. Both required because we have a woods belt just behind the house, and half the oak leaves in the county will pile up in our gardens, deck and patio every fall. Mower mulches leaves onto the lawn, and the electric mulcher chopped stuff goes into a bag and gets mixed up with my food recipe, and spread back into all the gardens on the property. We are down to about two postage stamps now for lawn. This mostly chopped leaf-some blood meal-Epsom salts-bone meal mix seems to do wonders for the yard and less leaves for the landfill. Not possible, folks, without the electric mulcher and gas mower, though…we are no spring chickens.

  31. Anthony says:

    I have an electric leaf blower that boasted wind speeds of 225 MPH on the box when I bought it. It’s definitely enough power to corral all the leaves on my 1/2 acre to my compost bin.

    When you say that there aren’t any electrically powered leaf blowers that are good enough to do the job, I’m guessing that you mean cordless electric or battery powered.

    No big deal just get a long extension cord.

  32. Susan: You are correct to state that the problem is a lot more complex than just banning blowers. As City Landscape Architect for the Parks and Recreation Department for Santa Barbara, CA., I experienced the movement to ban leaf-blowers city-wide. My direct experience is that though there is some compliance among professional gardeners and homeowners, the devil is in the details of enforcement.

    There are a lot of good reasons to hate leaf-blowers, not the least of which is the ignorance and carelessness of the carbon-based life-form at the switch. I’ve watched in dumbfounded awe as a gardener tries to move a handful of wet leaves down a 50 ft. driveway.

    In the right hands, the leaf-blower is a valuable and only moderately obnoxious tool. Set it at the lowest rpm, don’t rev is every 2 seconds (it’s the change in pitch that attracts and offends our ears), and use it to create a pile within the property.

    As homeowner and business owner budgets continue to shrink, manual sweeping becomes less of an option, due to the time needed to do a good job. For my money, leave the leaves on the ground or sweep them off the paving into the shrubs – why do you think they call them leaves? You’re supposed to leave them there.

    But, as I said, enforcement is the issue. Here in Santa Barbara, the City Council gave in to the shouting hordes without thinking it through or committing any more than lip service to the ordinance. The purported enforcement of the 100% ban on gas-powered leaf blowers in all but commercially zoned areas is that the offended party calls 911.

    Yeah, like the boys and girls in blue have nothing better to do than roll their black & whites out to try to snag a gardener in the act. It doesn’t happen.

    In the meantime, the only group who regularly observes the regulation is my own Parks and Recreation staff. We’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars purchasing new equipment, like mini-ride on sweepers and converting electric blowers to battery packs. No one thought about the fact that most parks don’t have electrical outlets every 100 feet.

    We’ve scaled back the level of maintenance of some of our most beautiful, horticulturally rich parks to cut loose the manpower needed to clean our walkways after mowing.

    I could go on, but in the long run, it’s going to come down to politics and the pressure from citizens. Sometimes the expedience of looking to please “the people” falls heavily on the shoulders of the people with the least resources to adapt.

    Kindly submitted by Billy Goodnick

  33. Did I miss something? There’s something wrong with leaving grass clippings and leaves lying around? I never knew! Nobody ever told me. Must go do something about those pesky leaves…

  34. kate says:

    When I worked as a landscaper last year- I had serious aches in my back, wrists and ears after a day of carrying the blower around. Even toting the latest lightweight, ergonomic, low-noise model was no picnic. It was still heavy labor. And after the blowing, we still had to pick up and carry away the collected piles using (gasp!)our rakes and hands. Though, some landscapers shortcut this step by making unwarranted piles behind shrubs and sheds, and on roadsides.
    Over a season, those piles can build up and become obnoxious… like all of the other issues that surround our beloved blowers.

  35. TC says:

    I reckon this blog really is just a “Garden Rant.” Unfortunately, it’s not very “uprooting” to hear a bunch of whiners.

  36. Christy says:

    It seems to me a good compromise would be to restrict the usage in the same way we have watering restrictions.

    Personally I’d happily ban all small gas-powered noise pollutants including ATVs and dirtbikes but that’ll never happen.

  37. letme tellya says:

    My neighbor leaf blows from sun up to sun down and later! He blows the yard, the street and the roof of his house and garage! In this case the leaf blower is nothing more than a very loud instrument to warn of approaching stupidity!

  38. Peg says:

    Trying to work in my home today, and being driven insane by the infernal racket of TWO leaf blowers being used about 20 yards away, I had to walk over and ask these two yahoos when they’d be done. Boy did it get ugly. The one dude (white guy) was first condescending (saying “Is that a fact?” twice when I explained I could not concentrate and this noise carried a very long way) and then when I pointed out his condescension decided to be indignant (I don’t know who you think you are to come over here and yell at me blah blah) and when I called him a dick he said “Don’t use foul language” to which I replied, “Dude, I have not BEGUN to use foul language!” He said if I had complaints I could call the police, and I said I’d do that, and I did.
    I felt a bit dumb but the officer who came said the noise ordinance applies 24-7 if it’s unreasonable.

    I have been researching this issue and have been cheered to see some communities in NY State have enacted bans. I am going to look into presenting to to the Albany Common Council.

    This is a balanced article on the issue:
    http://www.metroactive.com/papers/metro/11.12.98/cover/leafblowers1-9845.html

  39. Steve Davies says:

    See http://www.greenourcity.org, a site created by some Takoma Park, Md., residents, trying to get gas-powered leaf blowers banned

    EPA’s latest small-engine rules won’t tighten standards for handheld blowers. If you look at the rule, EPA says that those blowers are as efficient as they ever will be.

    If we can’t bring ourselves to ban or at least severely restrict the use of gas-powered leaf blowers (and other gas-powered eqpt), we’re never going to reduce harmful ozone levels in our communities. That’s what this is about, not global warming or greenhouse gases. It’s about the ozone. check http://www.globalchange.gov for a recent govt report on climate change that says municipalities are going to have to grapple with the ozone issue, given the higher temps we’ll expertience in the future.

    I don’t think planting more trees will get us out of this one.

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