“ZZZZrrrrrrraaaaaaaaaannnnnnnnnnng!!!!!!!!! ZZZZrrrrrrraaaaaaaaaannnnnnnnnnng!!!!!!!!!”, said the gas-powered leaf blower at 70 decibels. Yeah, they sure have a way of catching one’s attention. That sound has become more ubiquitous in recent years, as leaf blowers have caught on for both professional landscapers and homeowners alike. The question is: what does this noise mean for energy and the environment?
A typical homeowner-sized gas-powered leaf blower might blow through 14 ounces (~1/10th of a gallon) of fuel per hour. A typical sedan, by contrast, might use 2 gallons of gasoline to go 50 miles in one hour. So fuel use and cost for a single leaf blower is minimal. CO2 emissions are also minimal for this single blower, although hydrocarbon emissions from typical 2-stroke engines are not. According to a 2011 test by Edmunds, its tested 2-stroke leaf blower emitted 299 times the hydrocarbons of its tested pickup truck and 93 times the hydrocarbons of its tested sedan. The blower emitted many times as much carbon monoxide and nitrous oxides as well. Its tested 4-stroke engine performed significantly better than the 2-stroke in most of the categories, but still far worse than the car engines.
At scale, this means significant contributions to smog formation and acid rain (hydrocarbons can also be carcinogenic). Even CO2 emissions from blowers aren’t to be completely dismissed at scale. For instance, if 1 in 5 homes uses a blower an average of 3 hours per year, those blowers in total will burn the same amount of gasoline as over 17,000 cars traveling 12,000 miles per year at 25 mpg.
By contrast, electric blowers (either corded or cordless with rechargeable batteries) don’t emit any of the pollutants spewed by gas blowers at their points-of-use. Electricity used to power them or charge their batteries can come from fossil fuels to be sure, but can also come from clean sources. Good ol’ fashion rakes simply require human energy supplied by food (and the CO2 emissions associated with the calories we need to use our rakes – oy vey!). Leaf collectors also use human push-power to collect leaves at a more efficient rate than raking leaves into bags.
So there are lots of options and opinions, and the stakes for our planet and health can be high. What is your answer, my friends, to your leaves blowin’ in the wind?