Ah, autumn. The crisp cool air — VROOM! — is matched only by the beauty of the — VROOM! — falling leaves ...
Oh forget it.
Will you please, please, please turn off that leaf blower?
Leaf blowers do more harm than good
Falling leaves are beautiful, but for some, they're something that simply must be cleaned up, and the easiest way to do that is with a leaf blower. Huge, directed gusts of wind blow those leaves out of the way. No need to bag or mulch or — heaven forbid — rake those leaves.
As with all things, however, there are costs for that convenience, and here are just a few of them:
1. Leaf blowers can be bad for the air. Edmunds.com conducted a comparison of two leaf blowers — the Ryobi 4-stroke leaf blower and the Echo 2-stroke leaf blower — and two different vehicles, a 2011 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor truck and a 2011 Fiat 500. You'd think it would be an easy guess as to what would win, right? Across the board, the leaf blowers emitted more harmful particles into the air than the vehicles did.
"To equal the hydrocarbon emissions of about a half-hour of yard work with this two-stroke leaf blower, you'd have to drive a Raptor for 3,887 miles," Edmunds.com writes, "or the distance from Northern Texas to Anchorage, Alaska."
Even from a cold start, the point at which vehicles often release most of their emissions, the leaf blowers, left sitting idle, emitted more carbon dioxide and hydrocarbons than the vehicles did. The article concludes that's it's likely better for the air and yourself to blow leaves using your pick-up truck than it is with a standard leaf blower.
On top of that, many leaf blowers can top 200 mph in wind speed, and they can stir up contaminants and pollutants from the ground, too, circulating them back into the air.
2. Leaf blowers can be bad for everyone's ears. Aside from their convenience and ease of use, the other thing that leaf blowers have a reputation for is being loud. Too loud, really. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracks leaf blowers at about 90 decibels, and about two hours of exposure to that level of noise can damage your hearing.
But the noise can also irritate and annoy those around the person using the blower. The decibel level may be reduced as the sound travels, but it can still cause damage if the noise is prolonged. Even at 800 feet away, the decibel level can be in the 50s, The Washington Post reports, and decibel levels at or above 65 can trigger adverse health effects, including an increase in blood pressure and heart rate.
A leaf blower's noise pollution can also be disruptive to neighbors, whether it be a school, an office or a home that includes people who work night shifts, babies or folks who work from home.
Do you even need to get rid of those leaves?
Increasingly, there are better leaf blowers out there, ones that don't make as much noise or use gasoline. Electricity- and battery-powered tend to have just as much get-up-and-blow as gasoline-powered blowers, making them good alternatives if you're still attached to the concept of blowing leaves off the lawn. Of course, these devices can require long extension cords or frequent charging, especially if a lawn is large.
Alternatively, you could mulch your leaves with a mower. Cutting the leaves up into small pieces can actually help your yard fight off weeds. You could also collect the leaves in the bagging attachment of your mower. However, gas-powered mowers aren't much better for the environment than gas-powered leaf blowers. That leaves the option of an electric mower, which requires a cord or a battery pack.
Of course, you could — if you're physically able — just rake your leaves.
It'll take a bit more work to use a rake, but you also don't need to get every single leaf off your lawn, either. Yes, a heavy layer of leaves left unattended over the winter can cause harm to your lawn, including snow mold and brown patches. If you want to get every leaf, perhaps you care more about aesthetics than you do about anything else. And that's fine, but noise can be an aspect of aesthetics, too, and there's nothing beautiful about a loud leaf blower first thing in the morning, or any time of day.