Electric fans say plug-in lawn mowers edge gas motors in convenience and quiet

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The sticker shock is less, too, now that prices compare well to gas mowers

Ben Gratton mows his lawn with his electric mower. Gratton prefers his electric mower because it’s easier to take care of than his gas mower. (Photo by Heidi Reitmeier)

Ben Gratton is the kind of guy who takes his lawn seriously. He mows it all once in one direction and then covers the same territory from precisely a 45-degree angle from the first cut.

As the Parks Supervisor for the City of Longmont, Gratton takes pride in the 350 acres of parks his crews maintain all year, and he takes equal pride in the 4,000 square feet of his home yard.

It would be easy to assume that Gratton uses big gas-guzzling machines to maintain his pristine yard, but he does it all – front and back – on a single charge using his electric lawnmower. And he uses electric because it’s easier.

“Ultimately I’m a pretty lazy person,” Gratton said, without a hint of sarcasm. “And this is the easiest way to do it. I don’t have to go to the gas station and fill up my little cans. I come out, put the battery in the mower, push start and just go.”

Gratton is part of the growing trend in electric yard care: Yes, Gratton, like many, cares about the environment, but he cares more about how the evolution of the technology has made it easier for some, like Gratton, to use, maintain and sustain instead of gas mowers.

“I had this awesome Honda mower, and it was only a year old, and it was always flooding the carburetor,” he said. “And I would pull and pull and pull and it wouldn’t start.”

So he decided to try going electric and was pleasantly surprised with the results.

“The first month I had it, I loved it. I told everyone they should buy one,” Gratton said. “It’s easier to use. Easier to maintain and much lighter. It folds up and stores in your garage and it doesn’t smell like gasoline.”

Maintenance is significantly reduced for electric mowers and other equipment because there just aren’t that many moving parts, Gratton said. The one downside is that most electric stuff is made out of plastic which can break over time, but replacement parts, like wheels, guards and handles, are readily available and generally easy to fix.

Gratton was totally on board when Longmont started using electric and testing it at Roosevelt Park, a central downtown park that has an outdoor ice rink in the winter and 12 acres of park space. After three years, Gratton said he expects his crew to use electric machinery at many of the parks around town. In fact, the city has a rule mandating electric for all purchases of comparable equipment because of the environmental impact. And that impact is significant.

Clean lawn care grows a successful business

Kelly Giard heard a statistic from the Environmental Protection Agency back in 2003: 10-12 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from small engines, mostly from lawn care.

That was all he needed to know. Giard realized there was a niche in lawn care that would be attractive for homeowners wanting to limit their eco-footprint. In 2006, he started Clean Air Lawn Care in Fort Collins, which promoted environmentally friendly lawn care services for homeowners, including his all-electric fleet of lawnmowers, trimmers, edgers and blowers. Today, the business has grown with the technology in the industry, and he has multiple franchises throughout Colorado.

“The early electric mowers used NiCAD batteries that didn’t hold a charge very long and most of the batteries weren’t even removable,” Giard said. “Today, with lithium batteries, the power is comparable and they can go long enough that they are viable competition.”

Giard’s even found a way to overcome the fact that most of the electric power generated in Colorado comes from non-renewable sources. Giard uses solar panels on his trucks that charge the batteries for the smaller tools. The larger ride-on and stand-on mowers are powered by large batteries that charge overnight and can last a full workday, mowing 20-30 lawns measuring 4,000 square feet a day. “I don’t want to give the idea that we are perfect,” he said. “Everyone pollutes on some level, but we are doing our best to limit our impact.”

Giard adds that while the environment and ease are a big part of the equation, safety is another. “We see big savings in the health of our employees,” he said. “They are not exposed to exhaust and fumes all day.”

Giard said some customers do want to do something good for the environment, but many just want some peace and quiet.

“Electric is so quiet,” he said. “We could have a crew working in the front yard and you won’t even hear it inside.”

With all of these advantages, the one thing that has held electric back has been the price (for instance, think how a Tesla compares in price to other similar cars). But according to Consumer Reports, this year the cost of electric mowers has dropped and power has increased. Popular Mechanics also compared and found some good electric models that were less expensive than their gas counterparts. Their top-of-the-line in both categories were both just under $600.

“There really isn’t an argument anymore about electric vs. gas,” Giard said. “ It really just comes down to education of consumers.”

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