• Mark Lampman

Silence of the Lawns: Sustainability as Seen Through an Electric Mower's LED Lights

Updated: May 13, 2019

The ritual that is lawn mowing and its associated tasks is perhaps the only bastion of domesticated life that I don’t actively work to mitigate or eliminate. I value the opportunity to momentarily slip suburban life’s bonds to spend an hour or so convening with nature on my 1/3 of an acre estate. I enjoy the small victory that only a freshly cut lawn offers and I get a sense of superiority from deciding what branches and plants live or die.

What I don’t enjoy is oil changes, spark plug replacements, carburetor cleanings and driving to the gas station to fill up a gas can then hoping for the best on the drive home. I don’t like listening to my ear plugs for an hour as my mower chugs along or re-pulling the starter cord every time a child’s toy blocks my intended path. I hate that my weed eater is incapable of an easy pull despite the expensive care my repair shop provides. Worst of all is that my otherwise peaceful suburban existence is constantly under assault from the innumerable lawns that adorn homes and businesses throughout my Orlando preserve. Why is it that revving a motorcycle for over an hour every other week would draw every neighbor’s ire but no one thinks twice about the endless cacophony of mowers, weed eaters and leaf blowers that assault our suburban tranquility?

I decided just over a year ago when we moved into our new Central Florida home that this was a new dawn for my lawn care experience. I conducted exhaustive research to determine which electric mowers and their associated constellation of auxiliary equipment would best serve my needs. The two finalists were Lowe’s 80 volt Kobalt self-propelled mower and Home Depot’s 56 volt self propelled Ego brand mower. Both had great axillary equipment lineups with great ratings so the choice came down to the mowers themselves.

@Lowes @Kobalt
Kobalt's 80 volt self propelled mower

I initially bought the Kobalt primarily because of its enormous 80 volt battery. It was a great mower with plenty of power but I couldn’t help but stop by Home Depot to see how the 56 volt Ego matched up. My first impression upon seeing the mower was that Ego “gets it!” Their designers understood that getting rid of a gas engine opened up a brave new world. They designed the mower’s handle to easily collapse down and a frame that enable the mower to stand on end. This design meant the mower could be easily stored out of the way between mows or during the off season. They understood that they could take advantage of the mower’s quiet electric operation to mow earlier or later in the day just by adding LED headlights. Kobalt had built a great machine but their designers failed to exploit the opportunities getting rid of the need for oil, gas, spark plugs, air filters and carburetors creates. They swapped a gas engine for an electric motor and left everything else the same.

It is difficult to capture in written word the beauty of using all electric lawn care equipment. The mower starts effortlessly with just the press of a button and the clasp of the blade bale. I can listen to podcasts or just enjoy an ear plugs free stroll. No longer do I have to clear toys or branches from my path with one hand in order to avoid the hassle of restarting my gas engine. I don’t have to fill and transport a gas can that then haunts my garage. I will never again change a spark plug or clean a carburetor, drain oil or worry about these engines’ continued commitment to turning over on the first pull. My Ego just asks that I charge its 56 v battery and take care of it for at least the 5 years of its warranty and the 3 years of its battery’s warranty. The sum of my commitment is limited to battery charging and blade sharpening all for the cost of about $100 per year. The good news is that the mower will likely run just fine for many years after its warranty expires. Sure, a battery may someday need to be replaced and they aren’t cheap but neither are repair shops. I will also not miss the perpetual effort of shopping for, storing and installing or changing an array of carburetors, spark plugs, filters, oil and gas.

The battery is always the distinct point of conflict for anyone considering electric mowers but my experience has been nothing but positive. My 7.5 amp hour 56 volt battery can mow all of my 1/3 acre lawn on a good day and comes up just short on a bad day. My eventual acquisition of second smaller battery will allow me to easily complete my yard in one shot every time but right now I welcome the break from Florida’s sun and heat. I much prefer stopping to charge a battery over filling a gas can down the street.

The great second order effect of my personal electric lawn care revolution has been the subtle influence it has had on neighbors. Two adjoining families have already traded in their gas mowers for electric and more are sure to follow. I often don’t notice my neighbor mowing unless I see her out of the corner of my eye. She also takes advantage of how quiet her mower is to get her cutting done early before Florida’s heat get the chance to build. By contrast, I can easily hear my distant neighbor’s gas mower more than two hundred yards (183 meters) away and leaf blower noise is always blowing in from distant lands. What would my little corner of suburbia sound like if this electrification revolution spreads to every home?

The true selling point for electric lawn tools is the serenity they offer not the cleaner air quality they provide. Sure, gas powered mowers have a significant cumulative impact on air quality but that is too abstract of a point to consider and moved people to act. I have witnessed engineers debate the merits of electric lawn equipment in terms of kilo calories (energy) used by each power source and their pollution values as related to coal generated electricity at the plug vs gas powered emissions at the exhaust. These debates are great in the right circles but meaningful adoption only happens when people can easily appreciate the immediate benefits they will realize.

It is fair to characterize my infatuation with electric lawn equipment as unhealthy and unnatural. My wife slouches down in her seat and looks away anytime I slow down to get a better look at someone’s electric lawn equipment. I’m also known for sharing my unsolicited opinions with unsuspecting lawn care equipment shoppers at every opportunity. My problem is that electric lawn equipment and its quiet revolution serves as the perfect example of how sustainable development adds value and creates opportunities. The takeaways from something as simple as electric lawn care equipment can be extrapolated to much larger areas of opportunity such as transportation, energy generation, agriculture and urban development. I also enjoy highlighting a simple change people can make that can add meaningful value to their life, and make their community a little more enjoyable, healthy and comfortable, #TheLittleThings.

Author’s Notes:

- I would love for people to share pictures and stories about their lawn mowing ritual and the equipment they use or aspire to attain. Please reach out on any of the myriad of channels I have out there from Instagram and Twitter to facebook and even this page’s chat function.

- This article sets out the basics of why electric is more enjoyable, healthy and innovative than gas but future posts will talk about other little considered factors such as economic, health and social benefits. I want to talk about how lawn mowing companies can leverage a quiet and clean operating capability to differentiate themselves in a crowded field and perhaps even improve profit margins. I want to explore how local clean air initiatives could better improve their advertising’s impact by moving away from what’s important to them and toward what matters most to their constituents.

- I receive no remuneration from @Egopowerplus or @HomeDepot for my glowing review. There are a lot of great mowers out there to consider so by all means kick some tires and see what’s right for you. That said, be sure to check out Ego’s incredible new double battery mower specially designed for those with estates larger than 1/3 acre! Please share pictures and a short note about your electric lawn care equipment or quest to go electric.

International Readers’- Notes:

- The title “Silence of the Lawns” is a nod to the 1991 movie “Silence of the Lambs” starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins. The butterfly in the top set of three pictures is the Death’s-head Hawkmouth. This butterfly is featured prominently on the movie’s cover and in the story line.

- “Kick some tires” simply means to test something out. The term comes from people shopping for cars and checking tire quality by giving them a kick. The term is widely used as a figure of speech to convey the idea of examining nearly anything.

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