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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.
- 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
- 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.
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.
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.