May 22, 2015

Lawn Mower Saga: Gas vs. Electric

I live in a small (4 unit) condo that has a very low monthly fee, and a bit of a do-it-yourself ethos among the residents.

My first year here, the lawn care (previously handled by the guy I bought the condo from, who had been the long time association president) was arranged by the new president, mostly cousins or acquaintances. The lawn was often over-grown, and when it got cut, it was somewhat cursory.

My second year, I volunteered to cut the grass for a nominal fee, just to keep it somewhat under control. I'm a fan of the "broken windows" theory of crime prevention, and the sketchy lawn care was, I feared spreading to a general degradation of the condo value and safety. I got a few bucks per cut, although the president was a little concerned I was cutting too often; I told her just pay me whatever per month and I'd take care of it - and have over the years assumed general responsibility for the outdoors (cutting the grass, trimming, picking up litter, patching potholes). I used a beater gas mower that belonged to the association.

Last year, after five years, the old mower died, and rather than get it fixed, I invested in a low cost ($200) Troy Bilt mower, which I used last year, and which sat behind the unit (as did its predecessor) all winter. Last week, after I cut the lawn, the mower disappeared. I suspect somebody saw the old mower (which I had finally put out to the curb for town pick-up / junkers a week before) and realized there was probably a newish mower around back, and walked off with it.

Called the cops, filed a report, even had the model and engine serial number, but it's gone. Not worth filing an insurance claim (what with deductibles).

After sitting on the decision for a week, I finally went out and bought a new mower. I decided I would not leave the new mower sitting out unprotected; it either had to be locked up or brought in (to my basement, also my office). Not wanting to bring gas into the condo, I decided to go with an electric lawnmower; picking up a Kobalt 13A, 21" mower ($179) and a 100' extension cord. I did a small test cut today to (a) see how the mower worked, and (b) ensure that the cord could reach the entire condo. Looks good on both counts.

In general, the mower is very similar to the old gas model. A bit lighter than the gas mower (positive) but the need to work with / around the cord is a bit of a pain. The mower is a three way (mulcher / bagger / side exit) so no problems there. Although it feels like a lot less power and gets bogged down in thick grass, it seems to cut fine; I suspect moving slowly, cutting in thin strips, and keeping the blade sharp will be important.

And while I made this purchase for completely practical / pragmatic reasons (deciding that the hassle of a corded mower and bringing it in was less than the hassle of locking up a gas mower), there's an ecological upside as well. I've always known gas mowers to be problematic, in terms of pollution, but never really looked too deeply. Per National Geographic:
In 2009, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality found that an hour of gas-powered lawn mowing produces as much pollution as four hours of driving a car. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has also recognized the alarming amount of pollution generated by lawn mowers. In 2008, the EPA created rules to enforce manufacturers of lawn mowers and weed whackers to cut smog-forming emissions from their products by at least 35 percent starting in 2011.
So after a lifetime of using a regular old gas mower, I am now an electric mower. We'll see how it works, long term.

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