For most homeowners, battery-powered yard-care equipment now makes the most sense

I had a conversation the other day with someone who wants to buy an electric car. He shared with me what he’s learned about the range of these cars now. The best of them offer 400 miles or more on a charge, assuming flat roads and good weather. That’s not horrible — from where I live in the north suburbs of Indianapolis, I could drive to the Loop in Chicago and back on one charge with about 60 miles of charge left over. If I needed a charge along the way, there are four Tesla Supercharger stations between here and there (including the one across the street from my subdivision). In 15 minutes, a supercharger gives you 200 miles of driving.

Teslas Charging

But most electric cars, especially those with prices well below six figures, offer between 200 and 300 miles on a full charge. A handful offer less than 200 miles. Also, many of them don’t use Tesla’s charging port, so you’re far less likely to be able to charge them while on the road. One would serve well enough if you never strayed far from your city and charged the car at home every night. But you’d need to own or rent a gas-powered car for trips.

Thanks to middling range, time to recharge, multiple charge-port standards, and an insufficient network of charging stations, electric cars aren’t quite ready to replace cars with internal combustion engines.

But battery-powered yard-care equipment is ready to replace gasoline-powered counterparts for the average homeowner. My gas lawn mower died a few weeks ago and I didn’t hesitate to replace it with a battery electric mower. I bought this one, the entry-level Kobalt mower at Lowe’s, a big-box home improvement store here in the US. Kobalt is a Lowe’s house brand.

Photo courtesy Lowe’s

I have a small yard that I can mow in about 15 minutes. So far, I can mow it three times on one charge. The battery is easy to remove and carry, and charges overnight on household current.

I love how much quieter this mower is over any gas mower I ever owned. I also love that it requires so much less maintenance. With my gas mowers, I had two annual rituals: at the beginning of mowing season, change the oil, air filter, and fuel filter; at the end, run the mower until it is out of gas. With a battery mower, all of that maintenance goes away. The only maintenance they have in common is that the blade must be sharpened or replaced periodically.

There are a few downsides to electric yard equipment, though. First, batteries eventually die, and they’re relatively expensive to replace. For the Kobalt system, a new battery sets you back up to $200, almost 60 percent of what it costs to replace the mower, which comes with a battery. Conventional wisdom is that a mower battery lasts three to five years. For my aging Black & Decker battery weed trimmer, a new battery costs more than $100. A comparable new trimmer costs about $150 and comes with a battery. My battery has lasted more than 10 years, though!

The other downside is that some battery yard equipment is considerably more expensive to buy than gas equipment. The difference is most acute in riding mowers. Battery riding mowers start at $5,000, while gas riding mowers start at $2,500. The difference isn’t as great in push mowers — a gas mower equipped similarly to my $350 battery mower starts at around $275. On the other hand, among handheld yard tools, battery has supplanted gas except for heavy-duty models. When I bought my battery trimmer, it cost more than its gas equivalent. Today the least expensive gas trimmer I can find costs $200 and it’s meant for large yards and heavy use. A basic battery trimmer starts at around $60 and would work fine in my small yard.

Each manufacturer of battery yard equipment lets their batteries interchange among their various tools. When my battery-powered Black & Decker trimmer dies, I’ll probably replace it with a 40-volt Kobalt trimmer and share batteries with the mower.

This brings up the last downside — the potential for companies to stop making particular battery systems. My father owned a high-end battery-powered drill, but when his battery died after about 10 years, the company no longer manufactured batteries for that mount. Dad had to replace the whole drill. I’m encouraged that batteries for my 15-year-old Black & Decker trimmer are still readily available and still fit their newest equipment. Perhaps this will be the trend.

If I even own a house with a large yard again — and I don’t intend to — I can see buying a gas riding mower to save on that initial cost. But other than that, I’m done with gas-powered yard equipment. Battery-powered equipment is the way to go.

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Comments

32 responses to “For most homeowners, battery-powered yard-care equipment now makes the most sense”

  1. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    Most of my pals have been on the electric yard equipment train for well over ten years now, a lot of early adopters even before that. 15 years ago or so, the battery technology was just not there, altho you could easily do a city yard front and back; they just didn’t have a long service life and needed replacement every few years. My sister has a larger city corner lot in an older neighborhood, and even a while back they went to an electric snow blower, and it works just fine. The premium result is how quiet everything is, no “on its last legs” gas motor barely starting and then sounding like rocks going down a disposal at seven in the morning! Just a hum. And basically, they just always start I’m immediately, and no cans of gas hanging around in a hot garage.

    Of course, battery maintenance philosophy is prime here. People have never understood that just because you have a lithium ion battery, doesn’t mean you can plug it in for recharge anytime you want, for as little time as you want. Altho lithium ion batteries have no memory and can be recharged at any time, they must be recharged to total full when you do! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people plug smart phones in at the the coffee shop for fifteen minutes or so, just to get a “little more juice”, and half a year later, the phones only working for about half a day. I always shake my head.

    Another thing to consider is an American manufacturer like Toro. I spent years taking care of my parents property and it was a great thing to get 20-25 year old Toro lawnmowers, Easily
    worked on with parts still available by a Toro dealer within fifteen minutes of my house! I’ve always been a Japan-o-phile when it comes to all things mechanical, and would happily buy Honda yard equipment if available; but I’ve seen a lot of unhappy people who bought Chinese made house brands from places like Home Depot or Menards, and then can’t get parts in two years or so, or even have had catastrophic fallers of the equipment in a few years!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      My last lawn mower was the Lowe’s house brand Bolens. I knew it had to have been manufactured in East Bejerkistan or something but it came with a common Briggs & Stratton engine and a standard blade and blade mount, so I figured I was safe against parts unavailability. What I didn’t count on is unreliability. I’ve never had a mower fail so spectacularly and so suddenly, with no external cause. I lost a mower once when, while mowing tall grass, I ran over a softball (!!). When the blade hit it, that was the end of the poor engine.

      1. Andy Umbo Avatar
        Andy Umbo

        Briggs used to be the gold standard of small engines back in the day, but they’re not built in Wauwatosa Wisconsin any more, all south of the Mason Dixon Line. Can’t say Ive heard wonderful reports since they moved, and of course, Hondas making small engines now! Had a pal who worked for Milwaukee Tool for a while, and he couldn’t say enough good stuff about them, and I see they also have an electric lawn mower in the pipe line, I think it’s a grand! That’s a lot of dough for something that actually should be cheaper than a small gas fourstroke?

  2. Thomas Slatin Avatar

    My wife and I own a 10-acre farm up in Vermont. We gave some serious thought to jumping on the battery-powered tractor bandwagon recently. But after some research and calculations, we found that, unfortunately, battery power just wouldn’t be robust enough to maintain our property’s size. It’s a bummer because we are all for sustainable choices! Hoping the technology advances soon to cater to larger plots like ours. Hopefully we will see the day where a battery powered tractor will become commercially available that can run for eight hours between charges. :)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yes, for 10 acres, you’re still stuck with gas (or maybe diesel?). I wonder when battery technology will be ready for a property like yours.

      My little yard takes about 15-20 minutes to mow. It’s the smallest yard I’ve ever had. It’s fantastic not to be married to the mower for a couple hours every weekend all summer.

      1. tbm3fan Avatar
        tbm3fan

        The last time I mowed a lawn was May 1966 in Catonsville MD. In June we moved to the San Fernando Valley and everyone had dichondra in front of their house which you don’t mow. On the next move in 1968 everything in front of the house became native plant forever more. Oh, and the mower in Maryland was electric with a long cord.

    2. Daniel Brinneman Avatar

      How about using a solar powered that charges a battery on a lawnmower that stays within an electronic boundary?

  3. Marc Beebe Avatar

    Here in the land of $6/gallon (U.S.) gasoline electric power has been slow to catch on. There are many reasons for this, including the vast distances between points and the harsh weather conditions (I can watch my hybrid’s charge disappear overnight in our -40 Winters just from the cold). Some of the reasons are stupid, including a public that refuse to buy the right vehicle for their driving needs regardless (like Vancouver commuters crawling 10km to work at 0.5 kph in diesel 4x4s). But some of it is the government itself, which loves skimming 5% off the top of the oil industry’s obscene prices. In fact our Crown electric corporation just got turned down for a price hike on charger rates, which are already around 3X normal household rates. Meanwhile we pay the useless carbon tax which is no more than lip service to the environment because no alternative is available.
    And all the while our country burns to the ground.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yeah, nothing like the cold to drain a battery. I have to charge my batteries left in the garage every spring, regardless of their charge state at the end of the previous season.

      1. Daniel Brinneman Avatar

        Can’t wrap them in a fire-resistant blanket to keep them warm?

  4. Nancy Stewart Avatar
    Nancy Stewart

    I will be going out in a few minutes to mow about 6 acres on my big zero – turn mower …. one of my very favorite things to do. I find it relaxing, although sometimes have to remind myself to slow down so I don’t bounce off when I hit some bumps !!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I had a standard lawn tractor for almost 25 years when I had large yards, and I loved driving them around the yard. So peaceful. Felt like I could solve all of the world’s problems from that seat!

  5. brineb58 Avatar

    When I moved from Brooklyn to a house in NJ back in 1994, I decided I didn’t want to hassle with gas power tools. I bought a Craftsman Electric Mulching Mower that used a long cord. It’s still working and I use it to this day. It seems that electric trimmers don’t last more than a few years. I have a small yard so it’s no big deal to have the cord.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I mowed lawns for money as a teen in the 80s. I mostly used my dad’s mower but a few customers insisted I use their mower. One such customer had a corded electric mower and … I didn’t like messing with the cord. At all. I was constantly having to move it out of the way.

  6. Jim Hanes Avatar

    Re: Electric cars: Range goes way down if you are hauling things, like three more adults and their stuff (or towing). Try that run to Chicago and back with full seats and trunk–the area around West Lafayette has plenty of electric chargers thanks to Purdue U. Other towns? Not too many.
    The quietness and decreased vibration is a persuasive argument in favor of the electrics, but what of the toxic battery disposal problem? And the toxic mining in third world countries, by kids and the poorest, managed by another country, Red China, that is the enemy of Western countries?
    And yes, the corded electric mowers really stank, didn’t they?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Good perspective, Jim!

  7. Khürt Williams Avatar

    My wife’s 2013 Acura RDX gets an average of 22 mpg or 352 miles of range In a meeting tank of gas. The Kia EV6 is EPA-rated rated at up to 310 miles on a full charge. The EV range doesn’t need to be 1000 miles. When we drive from Princeton, New Jersey to Cleveland, Ohio (460 miles) we stop once in Pennsylvania to fill up and eat lunch. If we had the EV we would stop once at the same place (it has EV charging stations) to eat and charge up. Same amount of time.

    Gas powered leaf blowers are banned in Princeton. Too noisy.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I appreciate the real-world experience report!

  8. Khürt Williams Avatar

    What about the toxic fumes from ICE? What about the toxic byproducts from gasoline production? The production of gasoline generates various toxic byproducts such as benzene, toluene, xylene, sulfur compounds, volatile organic compounds, and particulate matter. These substances pose health and environmental risks. What about the environmental damage from oil spills?

    FYI. The third would is insulting. Instead of using the term “third world,” it’s more appropriate to refer to countries as “developing countries,” “low-income countries,” or “economically disadvantaged countries.” These terms are more respectful and accurately reflect the economic and social challenges that these nations may face.

    1. tbm3fan Avatar
      tbm3fan

      Those toxic byproducts, as you call them, are not toxic in the sense that they are dumped because the four you named are used. I use xylene as a solvent and as a slow paint thinner. The other two are used throughout the chemical industry as well. More than 48% of the world’s sulfur is produced by the petroleum and gas industries by converting S2O and H2S into elemental sulfur. They are not wasted nor dumped like waste from mining. All have important uses. In the end the only thing electric has over gas is no exhaust since the drilling/mining and the production of gasoline/batteries are net zeros with neither having much of an advantage over the other.

      1. Khürt Williams Avatar

        I’m glad we agree.

  9. Peter Miller Avatar
    Peter Miller

    In 2021 I bought an EGO self-propelled electric mower, having already had their string trimmer. (Most of the battery technology available today is imported.) Our “estate” is almost a half an acre with drainage ditch that cannot be mowed safely with a riding lawn mower. When the stars are aligned the battery will run about one hour and 90% of the yard will get mowed. When the grass is high, and the humidity is high the battery might last just 30 minutes. In this third year of operation the battery and charger are getting finicky — cleaning all the electrical contacts helps. But even if I had to charge the battery every 15 minutes I will not go back to a gas mower. Anybody else miss being able to buy a lawn mower at Sears: the mowers were on the floor and you could check the controls. At the big box stores and even the local hardware store the mowers are on a shelf.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Sounds like a lot of management of that little mower to handle your property. But clearly you’re good with making those tradeoffs! And: I used to buy ALL of my mowers at Sears.

      1. Peter Miller Avatar
        Peter Miller

        And after posting that yesterday morning — it was finicky. But got the lawn mowed before it thunderstormed. It would cost $$$$ to get a riding mower because I would need a shed. My neighborhood heroes were those who pushed a mower well into their late 70s.

  10. Daniel Brinneman Avatar

    I’ve been learning to fix lawnmowers, push and riding. It’s been fun. Something different to do than always working on computers. It feels like I’ve actually accomplished something and it’s good to see smiles on my customers’ faces.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I used to think it would be fun to learn how to fix small engines. Now I’m busy with too many other satisfying things. I’m glad you picked it up though!

      1. Daniel Brinneman Avatar

        Thanks, Jim.

  11. Mark McFadden Avatar
    Mark McFadden

    My gas mower quit at the beginning of the 2022 season and I got an electric and haven’t looked back. It takes a little while on my 1/3 acre property, but just plug the battery, push the button and go!
    As for electric vehicle, I got a Tesla last September, replacing my 23-year old Dodge SUV (I don’t miss the expensive fill-ups). I have a level 2 charger in my garage and can fully charge in 6 hours. My first long road trip will be in September from Oklahoma to Dayton and back, following the National Road for much of the trip (thanks to finding your blog, Jim!). I am not at all concerned about charging on the trip. While I will use Tesla Superchargers when available, I have an adapter to use other charging stations. I may have to stray towards I-70 to find charging, but I’m not going to sweat it.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Do you get through a whole mowing on one charge? I had 1/3 acre before this and didn’t go electric then because I worried about range.

      Your Tesla couldn’t be more different from your SUV!

      1. Mark McFadden Avatar
        Mark McFadden

        I should have clarified about the electric mowing. I use 40V 5ah batteries and go through 4-1/2 during a typical full mow. The batteries aren’t cheap, as others have mentioned. But mine are interchangeable with a weed trimmer and a small cultivator, so they do triple duty.

        As for the difference in vehicles, yes, night and day. Safety and technology are the big standouts. I opted for the long range version vs. the performance model; at my age (mid 60s), I have no reason to try to impress anyone. I get a very reduced electricity rate to charge during overnight hours. And I’ve been surprised how much I’ve been able to stuff in the trunk and folded down back seat when coming home from Lowe’s.

  12. J P Avatar

    I went electric with a string trimmer and with a small chain saw. I am still using gas for a leaf blower, snow blower and lawn mower. The snow blower is really old, and electric might be an option there. Gas engines that are only used occasionally are the most troublesome to maintain.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Your last point is exactly why I haven’t bought a snowblower. I would only need it a handful of times a year. But I might go electric…

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