Forward Charge

You recycle. You compost. You buy local produce. Could you be ready to “green” your lawn with an emission-free (not to mention whisper-quiet) lawn mower? Today’s electric mowers have a number of advantages over gas-powered ones.

From the user’s perspective, the fact that these mowers don’t burn gas is literally a breath of fresh (odorless) air. It also means a smaller carbon footprint. In contrast, a gas-powered mower produces an estimated 80 pounds of carbon dioxide a year.

Here’s another user-friendly advancement: Electric mower manufacturers have cut the cord, so you won’t. Current models run on efficient and hard-working batteries. Just plug it in; once the battery is charged, you’re all set to mow. The duration of a charge varies by model and grass type—longer, rougher grass takes more energy to cut.  Each model gives an estimate of running time, from 2,500 to 12,000 square feet per charge. One maker, Neuton, has made its mower’s battery removable, so you can have a spare charged and ready should the other die mid-mow. Other models recharge quickly (within a couple of hours).

Electric mowers demand less overall maintenance than gas-powered mowers. Electric mowers don’t require you travel to the gas station or store flammable liquids in your garage. They do not need oil; they don’t contribute spills or dark slicks to your garage floor. Aside from charging the battery, sharpening the blade every couple years is the only care required. They eliminate from your schedule tune-ups, spark-plug changes, and running the gas out at the end of the season.

Finally, there’s just nothing melodic about the sound of a lawn mower. Among the many ear-splitting yard-care options (weed whackers, leaf blowers), battery-powered grass cutters offer a quiet pause. Gas-powered mowers shout at 90 decibels. With electric mowers, you hear only the sound of the blades whirring. Your neighbors won’t mind if you mow early in the morning or late in the evening.

What’s Not to Like?

The cons of an electric mower relate to the specifics of your individual yard. Battery-powered mowers are not a good choice for rough or long grass, and some makers caution against using their models on Bermuda grass. Because they use more power to cut rougher grass, they will need more frequent charging. Even with softer turf, mow often so that your lawn doesn’t become too unruly and hard to cut.

You wouldn’t use a hand mixer to make 75 cakes for a bake sale; similarly, your lawn’s size dictates what type of mower you should use. The best scenario for an electric mower is a small, flat yard. Most sources say that electric mowers work best for homeowners with lawns no larger than a third of an acre. Even manufacturers of electric-powered mowers agree that these mowers aren’t the best choice for yards with large, hilly, or rough terrain.

However, if your yard is large and you use a gas-powered riding mower, you may still find yourself behind a push mower for areas that the rider can’t access. A quiet, fume-free, lightweight electric mower may be the perfect tool for small spaces such as courtyards, orchards, side yards, or grassy paths between perennial borders. 

The Contenders

If you’re in the market for a battery-run mower, expect to spend from $350 to $475. 

The Black&Decker 24V Cordless Mulching Lawn Mower (Model CMM 1200) comes recommended for yards that measure up to a third of an acre (15,000 square feet). The Energy Star battery reaches full charge in 16 hours, and 60 to 70 percent charge in 4 hours. It mulches grass blades and can be used for leaf removal in the fall. This 76-pound mower has a 19-inch mowing deck.

A light 35.2 pounds, the Sunlawn EM-2 Electric Rechargeable Mower is easy to push. It mows for 75 minutes on a full charge—enough time to trim up 12,000 square feet. It cuts a 16-inch-wide swath with its 7 vertical blades and can be adjusted for specific grass types. The blades, made of flame-hardened steel, won’t have to be sharpened for five to eight years, according to the manufacturer.

The Neuton Mower has a removable battery, so you can get two and double your mowing time. One fully charged battery runs for 60 minutes. This 48-pound mower also offers a trimmer attachment for whacking longer grasses and weeds. Turn the trimmer head down and it becomes an edger. There’s also a mulching attachment.

The Brill Accu ASM380 weighs 29 pounds and has a 15-inch deck. It comes recommended for lawns that measure up to 2,500 square feet. The battery runs for 30 minutes, but a spare can be swapped in.

A Deeper Shade of Green

Nitpickers will surely point out that electric mowers do rely on fuel—the fuel that makes the electricity you use to charge the battery. If you want a purely person-powered machine, consider a push reel mower. Reel mowers feature blades that spin vertically rather than parallel to the ground. They slice the grass with a scissoring action, producing a clean cut. Kind to the ecosystem, push reel mowers are great for a system even closer to home: your cardiovascular system. A 140-pound person can burn 348 calories in an hour of push mowing. In fact, one of the surgeon general’s alternatives to formal exercise is mowing your lawn using a push mower.

The first reel mower was invented in 1827. The good news is that there are manufacturers who still make them. Look for Brill Luxus 33 and 38; Sunlawn LMM-35, LMM-40, and MM-1; American Lawn Mower Company products; Scott’s Classic reel mower; and Economy Push Reel Mower. As with any equipment, it’s a good idea to try it out before you buy it.

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