Gardening Tips - Leaf Blowers – good or bad?

2 min to read

Article by Doreen Coyne, a member of the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society

As promised, an article is on leaf blowers.

Most people have already bought or used their leaf blower this season or perhaps you are considering a new one for yourself or a relative as a Christmas present. This article reports the benefits and issues with leaf blowers.  I hope to arm you with information that helps you make a better decision for yourself and your neighbours.  Indeed, the issues with Leaf Blowers can also be true of gas-powered lawn mowers; so good to know in case that is on your Christmas list this year.

On the good side. Leaf blowers can make quick work of getting the leaves off your grass and into your garden beds and around the base of your trees and shrubs.  Or even into piles for putting into yard waste bags. ☹ The blowers can be fairly light weight and you can easily hold them or use the belt like strap to hang it from your shoulder or across your chest. They produce a great gust of wind that you can direct at the leaves and send them scurrying across the yard to their new home. Fast and efficient.

But.  That great gust of wind they blow is achieved with 2 main issues: Expulsion of gases into the air and high pitch noise that is damaging to your ears and your neighbours’ ears

1. Emissions:
Most leaf blowers are gas powered and are designed to be air-cooled. The engines can release 100% of their “tailgate” emissions directly into the environment. Generally, leaf blowers can create high levels of various organic compounds which are known to cause dizziness, headaches, asthma attacks, heart and lung disease, cancer and dementia. Many of them unfortunately burn fuel inefficiently and several studies have shown that leaf blowers can emit hydrocarbons and other pollutants at similar rates to a car engine idling or driving in the city.  And the great wind it produces – which can be 200 mph- can stir up contaminants and pollutants from the ground and send them circulating back into the air.

2. Noise:
Low frequency sound travels over long distances and penetrates walls and windows. I looked up a few mid-price leaf blower available in the local box stores. One that cost $200 was rated at 200MPH wind speed and 72 db(A). Another I looked at, priced at $400, had a lower wind speed of 145 MPH but displaced an even higher amount of air when blowing and with a sound rating of 75 db(A).  Some leaf blowers have much higher db(A) levels - reported at greater 95 db(A) at the operator’s ear and between 65-80 db(A) at 50 feet away from the source. All in excess of the recommended daytime sound standards set by the World Health Organization which are no more than 55db(A).  I can personally attest to hearing my neighbour running his even though I am 60+ feet away from his property line and wrapped up cozily within my home, no windows or doors open, and my TV turned on.

If you are looking to buy one, I’d urge you to check both its emission ratings and sound level ratings. Consider an electric or battery charged blower (and lawn mower) as they don’t have the same emissions even though they are still noisy. And make a low sound rating an important criteria for your purchase. Some are better than others on your ears having a lower db(A) rating. 

Also, spend some dollars for really good noise suppression headsets given the person doing the work is getting the maximum decibels delivered to their ears.