Why Leaf Blower Bans Are On the Rise

Written by Michele C. Hollow

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Michele C. Hollow

Climate Journalist

Michele C. Hollow is a journalist that specializes in climate and health. She is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

Updated:

Leaf blowers are increasingly controversial.  Here is the latest on the leaf blower bans that are popping up across the country.

Those who hate the loud, high-pitched, irritating noise call them “the lazy man’s rake” and “the devil’s hairdryer.” Critics compare the sounds of leaf blowers to jumbo jets at liftoff. 

The noise is so unwelcome that more than 100 cities across the country including ones in CO, IL, MA, NJ, NY, TX, and VT imposed complete or partial bans on leaf blowers. Governor Gavin Newsom of California recently signed a bill that will phase out gas-powered leaf blowers and other gas-powered lawn equipment. The majority of these bans focus on gas-powered leaf blowers.

In Seattle, WA, it’s illegal to use any leaf blowers (gas, electric, or battery-operated) that’s louder than 65 decibels before 7 a.m. and after 7 p.m.

In Maplewood, NJ, a partial ban is in place. The town’s ordinance limits the use of leaf blowers between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. during the week and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. Residents can’t operate leaf blowers on Sundays. 

Comparing Leaf Blower Ordinances

Maplewood, NJ

  • Monday – Friday: Allowed from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
  • Saturday: Allowed from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
  • Leaf blower use not permitted on Sundays
  • Commercial entities prohibited from gas-powered leaf blowers from May 15th – Sept 30th

Seattle, WA

  • Monday – Friday: Allowed from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m
  • Weekends and Legal Holidays: Allowed from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m

Many don’t take kindly to those ignoring the rules. In Maplewood, a neighbor called the cops on a young man blowing leaves from his lawn into the street after 8 p.m.  The mom of the young man posted her disdain in a local chatroom saying she wasn’t aware of the ordinance and asked, “Why didn’t you just tell him to turn it off?”  

While most people agreed it wasn’t neighborly to call the police, one person responded with “Leaf blowing is not permitted at that time of night. We all benefit from societal living, which includes the laws that govern our community. In this case, the leaf blower ordinance exists to reduce noise pollution.”  Many in the chatroom agreed. 

In Newton, MA, “one woman made it her mission to have them (leaf blowers) removed from town,” Joshua Milne, a former resident of Newton, said. “This is an upper-class town in Massachusetts and some people have nothing better to do than complain to the city about leaf blowers.”

Newton banned all gas-powered leaf blowers from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Electric and battery-powered leaf blowers are permitted Monday-Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Milne moved to a neighboring town, not because of the leaf blower ban. He lives in Waltham, a town that allows leaf blowers. “I have a lawn service mow my yard and rake the leaves,” he said. “I did it because the company was already mowing the lawns on the houses on either side of us, so I think they gave us a deal. They use a gas-powered leaf blower.” 

“It’s frustrating that residents get all worked up about leaf blowers. I can understand that the noise level could be frustrating, but the landscapers or homeowners need an easy way to move the leaves off the yards. Before I had a landscaper, I would rake for two days and bag around 40 bags of leaves.”

JOSHUA MILNE, FORMER NEWTON RESIDENT

Gas powered versus our health

The American Lung Association recommends electric leaf blowers over gas-powered ones because “old two-stroke engines like lawnmowers and leaf or snow blowers often have no pollution control devices. They can pollute the air even more than cars, though engines sold since 2011 are cleaner.” 

According to a study from Washington University, in addition to air pollution, when heat and sunlight react with nitrogen oxides and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) emitted from combustion engines—such as gas-powered leaf blowers—ozone becomes a problem. 

Washington University is located in St. Louis, which is one of the top-ranked areas for ozone and particle pollution. That’s a problem because according to the Clean Air Partnership, in the summer ozone levels exceed federal-based health standards every year since the passage of the Clean Air Act. A small action like finding alternatives to gas-powered leaf blowers is highly recommended.

The National Audubon Society posted on its website that people committed to their manicured lawns can use electric and battery-operated leaf blowers because they are quieter, greener, and healthier than gas-powered ones. 

See Also: The 5 Best Electric Lawn Mowers for 2021

Protecting biodiversity

Electric- and battery-operated blowers don’t get a pass because of the damage to biodiversity. Leaves on the ground cover and protect insects and their egg sacs. All leaf blowers remove that layer of protection, which is essential to bugs, birds, and other wildlife.

Bumblebees, for instance, burrow underground. The leaves provide warmth in the winter. Spiders, worms, beetles, millipedes, and other insects under that layer of leaves are food sources for chipmunks, birds, and amphibians. 

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation believes the best thing we can do regarding lawn maintenance is to leave a layer of leaves on the ground to provide protection to pollinators and other invertebrates. That thin layer of mowed and/or mulched leaves puts nutrients back into the soil. If you do this, make sure it’s a thin layer; too many leaves kills the grass. 

In addition, adding a handful or two of leaves to your compost protects hibernating insects and deters scavenger animals from the food in your compost. The Xerces Society recommends placing whole leaves rather than mulched ones because it offers a better layer of protection. 

Noise levels

Gas-powered leaf blowers are the nosiest at 80 to 90 decibels. Electric models are a bit quieter with a decibel range between 65 and 70. A few new models of electric leaf blowers come in at 59 decibels. Ryobi makes one. 

It comes down to size and cost

Old-fashioned rakes are ideal for small yards. They pose no health, noise, or pollution problems. 

Many people with large yards either hire lawn companies that use either gas-powered or electric leaf blowers because raking takes time, and the more time an outside service works on a yard, the more money it costs. A number of leaf blower companies charge by the hour. 

Raking and using push mowers that require no gas or electricity, adding leaves to a compost, and leaving a layer of leaves as ground cover are healthy options for you, your lawn, and our planet.

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11 Comments

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  1. Informative article thanks. Nice to see my town of Maplewood NJ featured in this story! Update: on April 26, 2022 Maplewood enacted a full year ban on gas blowers. Neighboring South Orange NJ enacted a partial year ban (May 1-Sept 30) on Monday April 25, 2022.

  2. Wow, I am just amazed at peoples responses. If you have $$ to hire a service, great. My neighbors kids yell louder than any leaf blower in existence. We have use one to clear saw dust , tree pollen, spilled dirt, and more. That people have time to worry about such things is beyond me.

  3. I absolutely hate gas powered leaf blowers and I think they should be completely banned in every neighborhood. We have an electric one and it is much quieter, enough to not be a problem, and it also doesn’t emit the same irritating whine and pollute the air. Same with our electric lawnmower. Almost every day in our neighborhood we have to put up with the noisy, irritating whine of the gas powered leaf blowers, and crews use them way too liberally, when they aren’t even necessary.

  4. Lady who thinks kids are worse than blowers. Do some research on blowers and pollution you might be surprised why people are complaining. The garbage blown in the air is full of toxins from fertilizers and other garbage. You may not be so flippant in future, it’s the victims of lung diseases that suffer most.

  5. I live in a community with an HOA. The landscaping crew is here 5 days a week. They use exclusively gas powered everything. It goes on for hours.

    Today I actually had to reschedule a zoom meeting. Not only was it difficult for me to stay focused and distraction free but everyone in the meeting was effected as well. About 5 mins into it we all decided to regroup later. This was to me an unacceptable situation which I will share at our next association meeting.

    One commenter mentioned landscapers using blower too liberally and when unnecessary. My experience today was exactly that. After signing off of zoom I looked at what the gardener was doing. We back up to a large hill with no buildings on it. It’s basically grassland and is crowned with a a bunch of native trees. It’s full of wildlife: deer, jack rabbits, coyotes, all manner of birds, etc. It’s open wild space. I watched the landscaper leaf blow that hill for over an hour. Why? What? Are you kidding me? It was like watching someone leaf blowing the forest. Not only was it unnecessary, but operating a backpack leaf blower for an hour emits pollution comparable to driving a car from Los Angeles to Denver.

    So, to miss “kids in her neighborhood are louder and that people have time to worry about such things is beyond me” I say, not everyone is you. Today I worry about it because it actually robbed me and colleagues of time. Also, to have recently learn that in the state of California gas powered landscaping equipment and generators produce 141 tons of pollution every day was staggering to me. If you think this isn’t your problem, think again. We all suffer, everyone of us. Do the research, expand your mind, and for god’s sake, demonstrate some basic human compassion.

  6. OMG, JJ. Such a good response.

    I think it’s a complex issue, .. and a lot of it comes down to ‘if everyone used one’ .. occasional use wouldn’t be a big deal, but in a neighborhood (with or without an HOA that feels the need to manicure tightly) with many houses, .. there can easily exist circumstances during which for a significant part of the day, 5 days a week, there’s constant two-stroke engine noise.

    For some things, like chain sawing.. it’s just kind of a necessary evil (the sound; pollution is another thing). But, as JJ said, .. when we have people spending hours blowing leaves – not to any particular benefit – this is just wasteful.

    I’m still not quite sure why we have to do all this leaf removal in the first place? Isn’t it pretty much proven it’s good to return the nutrients to the ground.. to not have lawns.. (or at least, if we must have manicured ones, keep ’em minimal?)

  7. I live in a neighborhood with an HOA and it seems like the leaf blower people are here at least one full day a week and it’s nearly December and they’re still not finished. They actually work and crews of five or more. They sometimes appear to blow nothing but dust in the road when there’s hardly a leaf in sight. I have closed my windows and it still reaches 70 dB and above inside my house. There is no way that the crew is using a quiet models nor are they practicing the use of the Leaf blowers in a responsible way. I’ll never forget the day I saw five of them lined up behind a row of townhomes with backpack leaf blowers all using them simultaneously. Another time there were three of them on my patio using backpack style the gas powered leaf blowers, and my patio is tiny. Surely they did not need three leaf blowers in that tiny space. If you want to know why people can’t stand the noise this is why. Every day I can hear the leaf blowers as the same contractors work nearby The creed seems to be that not one dead leaf shall be left on any lawn. And if there is any leaves left they should use the equivalent of dynamite and that would be OK. In addition to the crew with the backpack leaf blowers one of them uses a machine in the street that can blow wind at 165 mph. They have an impressive array of a equipment, and I looked that up. The HOA thinks that they are are a fabulous landscaping company. They are so loud. I like the previous contractors much better. I am sure I would not complain about one person using a leaf blower for a couple of hours. That’s not what this is about.

  8. Tracy, That sounds like complete hell. I can’t stand them, but do not have it as bad as you. Our neighborhood consists of mostly small 1/4 acre lots. Almost everyone hires a yard service and most of them use industrial sized lawn equipment. The mowers are extremely loud and then they feel the need to blow off every grass clipping from any surface that is not lawn. Of course, it also necessitates a grass powered weed eater. There are no leaves because it is in SW Florida and the majority are palm trees. I can almost understand using a leaf blower in the fall if there are leaves, but weekly for grass clippings? And it’s all day, every day that someone is doing it. The houses are smashed together. We were in the pool on the 4th of July. One would think we were safe, nope, here comes the neighbors lawn service. We had to get out of the pool due to the excessive noise and the noxious fumes. And then there’s the monthly bush trimming with you guessed it a gas powered hedge trimmer, followed by the leaf blower. This can go on for hours. Yes, they should be banned. What should also be banned is the use of industrial sized equipment on postage stamp sized yards. Our homes are no longer our castles, they have turned into prisons.

  9. Unfortunately, our building where I have my business in North Jersey was bought by a new person in his 20s. He is a landscaper and his crew uses leaf blowers in our parking lot every 10 days, even if there is nothing to blow. When they pass by our big windows we hear the rocks bouncing of them. And they disregard our cars parked near by, they walk around the cars leaf blowing very close. If the rocks bounce of the windows, they will of course bounce of our cars. We wrote letters and told the landlord many times not to do it around cars, but they either forget or do it on purpose… and there is always a new excuse from the landlord.. We tried to talk with the crew, but they are oblivious, don’t want to listen, these guys work like on autopilot. I would ban all leaf blowers once and for all. Noise is always unexpected coming from leaf blowers, is very annoying, it delays business, ruins Pilates sessions, creates pollution, damages cars….

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