Straight Talk Articles
Gas or Electric: Weighing Your Mower (and Lawn) Options
Dear Pat and Brad, I’m seeing a lot of ads lately for electric lawn mowers. I want to save money and help the environment, but from what I’ve heard, a lot of electric mowers can be underpowered and the cordless ones lose their battery charge too quickly. Are there any electric mowers worth buying? – Eric
Until recently, corded and cordless electric mowers tended to be underpowered and some were poor quality (1). For cordless mowers, this fact was made worse by their sub-par battery life.
But today, with those problems largely solved,(2) the best electric mowers have the power and battery life to keep pace with a gas mower, depending on the size of your lawn.(3) A cordless electric mower with a large 56 volt battery can run for about an hour(4). Plug in electric mowers don’t have this limitation, but a long electric cord can be a challenge(5).
The catch is that these good electric mowers, especially the cordless rechargeable ones, tend to cost twice as much as an equivalent new gas model. You can recoup at least some of this on lower operating costs, since electricity is a less expensive fuel than gas. Electric engines generally require less maintenance than gas engines. An important cost consideration is that rechargable batteries typically need to be replaced after three to five years.(6) The cost savings also depend on the size of your lot: a small lot uses less gas so fuel cost savings are less significant.(7)
You’ll save a significant among of money on purchase price going with a corded mower over cordless, if you don’t mind the hassle of navigating around the cord.
There are other benefits of electric mowers besides lower fuel and maintenance costs. Electric mowers are quieter, and instant electric start. Electric mowers produce less tailpipe emissions, but the overall environmental impact depends on how the electricity is generated. The environmental benefits will be greater if the electricity is generated from renewable sources. Electricity from natural gas turbines is usually cleaner than electricity from coal plants.
Given all of these considerations, my advice is to weigh your priorities. If you are looking to buy new, have a small- to mid-size lot, prioritize environmental concerns and don’t mind navigating a cord or recharging batteries, you may want to read some reviews and find yourself a good electric mower.
If you don’t mind the noise, maintenance and other hassles of a gas mower, have a large lot, prefer not to invest a lot of initial money, and driving to the store to refill the gas can doesn’t bother you, then a gas mower may be your preference.
There’s also a third choice. If your goals are to save money and hassle while protecting the environment, you can minimize your need for a mower, or get rid of the need completely.
If you’re willing to keep your lawn mowed regularly and don’t mind breaking a sweat, consider a manual reel mower. Some models are more effective than you might think, they’re far less expensive than a good new electric mower, and they require little maintenance or storage space.
Another option is to keep the lawn but ditch the mower—hire out your lawncare to a service or the neighbor kid. While it may or may not put you ahead in dollars, it cuts out the need and costs for mower purchase, maintenance, repair, fuel and storage, and adds to the local economy. The value of this option is partly dependent on how much you value your time – do you find mowing therapeutic, or would you rather be something else on your Saturday like hiking, hanging out at the lake, or visiting the grand kids?
The most dramatic step is to reduce the footprint of your lawn or replace it completely, perhaps with water-efficient landscaping, a rock garden, a vegetable garden, or even artificial lawn. This could dramatically cut your water bill and the environmental impact of a lawn.
Any change you make, whether in mower or landscaping, will require a little research. But it’s great to know the option of an electric mower is more viable than ever!
This column was co-written by Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen of Collaborative Efficiency. For more information on home heating options, please visit the March 2019 more information page.