Backyard Battle: Gas vs. Electric Lawn Tools

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Gas or Electric Cordless: Which is Right for You?

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Wish you could cut the grass in the morning without waking neighbors? Ever consider a cordless electric mower? Read about the key decision points in choosing gas power versus cordless electric mowers and lawn tools.

Yes, the latest cordless electric lawn equipment—especially handheld tools such as hedge trimmers—has the potential to replace its gas counterparts. However, the choice depends on your situation. For example, if you’re a professional landscaper, gas power rules. For many home owners, however, if you’re not dealing with more than a couple of acres, cordless electric equipment makes more sense. Here are the key considerations, from power to weight to cost.

How Much Power?

How much power do you really need? The newest electric cordless mowers have plenty of power to blow through a typical lawn, plus many other benefits. Unlike a gas mower, the cordless electric mower even knows when things get a little heavy and adds power to compensate. Lithium-ion battery technology has improved over the past 10 years, which has increased the battery’s power output, amount of energy stored, and overall lifetime.

Now, if you’re a professional dealing with brush or you allow your lawn to grow tall and thick on a regular basis, you’ll still want gas-powered equipment. A gas mower can cut through thick or tall grass better than an cordless electric model. But electric has more than enough torque to get the job done for the regular home owner, as long as your battery is charged.

To try cordless battery-powered lawn equipment for the first time, start with the cordless hedge trimmer—it doesn’t need as much power as a gas engine provides and, as long as the blades are sharp, it can easily stand up to a gas-powered hedge trimmer. Frankly, for the home owner, we wouldn’t be surprised if gas tools are soon replaced entirely by their electric counterparts.

Duration of Use

Obviously, gas-powered equipment will run as long as you have gas. However, how much lawn can you mow in an hour? 

Today’s top cordless electric mowers will tackle an hour or two of cutting on a single charge—enough to tackle a half-acre lawn. This is more than sufficient for most small and midsize lawns. Today’s lithium-ion batteries have amazing charge efficiency—charge time has been reduced to 1/2 hour! (Remember the days of overnight charging?)

If you normally need to mow, blow, and weed-whack for hours at a time, gas-powered machines are the way to go. Gas-powered equipment runs longer due to the higher energy density of its fuel. To use cordless electric equipment on a bigger property, you could always buy a second battery as insurance. However, you certainly don’t want to be at the back of a large property and run out of battery juice, forcing you to go back to the garage or barn for another battery (or recharging). 

Ease of Maintenance

Convenience is where cordless electric mowers and gear really shine. Imagine: No more filling up with gasoline. No more dealing with oil changes, oil spills, filter cleanings, spark plugs, cable adjustments, and worry about other components. No more pulled rip cords. No more overheating or stalls. Gas mowers often have a lengthy start-up process that requires prepping, priming, and pulling to ignite the engine—which can take repeated tries with older mowers.

With cordless battery-powered equipment, the only part of the engine that needs maintenance is the lithium-ion battery. You may need to buy a new battery every few years. (You’ll know that it’s time to replace the battery when it holds less of a charge and runs for less time.) 

As for motors, some brands of battery-powered lawn equipment use something called brush motors. The brushes in these motors wear down over time and require maintenance. High-quality brands use brushless motors in all of their battery-powered products; as the name suggests, this equipment has no brushes and thus requires no brush maintenance.

With battery-powered equipment, you still need to sharpen lawn mower blades and keep the motor clean, but there is less of a mess and hassle with engine maintenance.

Emissions and Carbon Footprint

Would you rather smell freshly mowed grass or inhale exhaust fumes? Want to reduce your carbon footprint? If the smell of gas or a gas-powered engine bothers you and/or you want to limit your carbon footprint (the amount of CO2 that you add to the atmosphere), the best option for you is battery-powered equipment. It produces no smell or emissions, regardless of whether running or turned off. 

When you’re done using gas-powered equipment for the day or over the winter, you need a garage, shed, or barn in which to store it. This can be a problem if you live in an apartment, condo, or small house with no place to keep equipment separate from your living space. However, battery-powered lawn equipment can be brought inside your home and folds right up to fit in a closet, hallway, or bedroom safely—and with no smell. 

Keep in mind that you do have battery disposal with an electric mower and equipment. However, you can easily recycle your lithium-ion battery for free at your local recycling center (see www.call2recycle.org).

Noise Level

Want to mow your yard early in the morning or late at night without disturbing the neighbors? There’s really no contest on noise between gas and cordless electric-powered equipment. Gas-powered tools use combustion engines, which make noise when producing power. If you’re a contractor or live in a secluded area, this may not be an issue. On the other hand, if you live in the suburbs or in a heavily populated town or city, you might try using cordless battery-powered equipment, which is much quieter. The machines make very little noise when in operation and no noise when “idle.” Plus, no more earplugs!

Easier and Lighter

Are you tired of straining your arm when you try to start a gas engine? Cordless electric outdoor equipment has this advantage over gas-powered: The battery-powered machines have no pull cords. Imagine: Just press the “Start” button! If you have a hard time regularly starting gas-powered equipment, battery-powered lawn equipment is the perfect alternative. It will save your arm some trouble and allow you to get right down to business!  

Cordless electric mowers are now very lightweight and easy to maneuver, even with the battery. You may recall earlier attempts at cordless battery-powered lawn equipment, which had batteries that were extremely heavy and difficult to carry. New lithium-ion batteries are much lighter than their predecessors, allowing current battery-powered equipment to weigh about the same as its gas-powered equivalents. 

Your Investment

Gas-powered equipment can be slightly less expensive up front. However, there is more here than meets the eye. As cordless electric equipment requires nearly no maintenance (and no gas or oil), the costs may be a wash.  In addition, Consumer Reports has found that electric mowers are more reliable than their gas counterparts over a 10-year period; plenty can go wrong with gas mowers over time.

Note that there is the cost of a replacement lithium-ion battery with cordless electric equipment. A second (or third) battery is an investment that should be anticipated. Once again, it all goes back to the size of your property and what you want to do with battery-powered tools.

While it’s true that you may have to replace your battery before a gas-powered equivalent piece of equipment likely would wear out (assuming that you are taking good care of it), you can leverage your battery expense by applying it to multiple tasks. If battery-powered equipment is the right choice for you, look for a system that uses the same battery for multiple tools (like ECHO lawn tools).

Also, you don’t need a battery for every piece of equipment, since you’re not using them all at the same time—if you need a string trimmer and a hedge trimmer, your second tool can be bought without a battery at a significant discount. 

What’s Right for You?

At the end of the day, the choice between gas and cordless electric equipment really depends on you. As far as mowers go, both types are fairly equal in cutting for regular yards, with the gas mower needed for thicker or heavier jobs. That being said, the cordless electric mower is far easier to use and has several other benefits that may outweigh any upfront cost to you. 

About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprising that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann

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