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COLUMN: Powering through with new technology

Author Mark Cullen isn’t about to trade in his leaf rake for a noisy leaf blower anytime soon.
Author Mark Cullen isn’t about to trade in his leaf rake for a noisy leaf blower anytime soon.

I have a beef with two-cycle garden-power equipment, especially leaf blowers and weed whackers.

In my opinion, the noise levels and exhaust fumes of these powerful machines is excessive for the job they do. Their use in the densely populated urban environment is inexcusable and unsustainable.

You will notice that the professionals who use these machines generally wear hearing protection. But what about the passerby? Or the person trying to read the paper on their front porch while the blower/whacker user strolls by, head down, dust and debris sent sky-high. You will also notice that dogs are never in sight when these machines are in use. Maybe they are smarter than people.

Many people reading this will agree with me and others have moved on already and don’t really care.

So, what?

I am prepared to take a compromise position on this subject. Not that I have changed, but technology has.

We now have reasonable and practical alternatives to the two-cycle gas power engine.

1.     Lithium Ion. New rechargeable batteries are changing the way we maintain our gardens. A few years ago, when rechargeable batteries were first introduced, they had a reputation for not holding a charge for very long. Through the miracle of modern science and innovation we can finally turn down the volume and get the job done without making the whole neighbourhood go indoors. Lithium Ion batteries last longer and can be recharged many more times than the batteries of just a few years ago.

2.    More power. You can now buy a chain saw driven by a lithium ion rechargeable battery. I am told that they work quite well, though not for the seasoned forestry professional. That they exist and are rated quite highly tells me that we are moving in the right direction.

3.    Less energy needed. A lithium ion rechargeable battery costs a few nickels to recharge and will hold many more charges than the previous generation of rechargeables. There is no oil to mix with gas and fewer moving parts. Maintenance is less costly.

I am not so naïve to think that garden power equipment is going away any time soon. Which is why I am taking this compromise position on the issue. If you promise to replace your whiney two-cycle machines with new, cleaner, quieter technology, I promise to stop belly aching.

It is interesting to note that many professional landscape maintenance professionals are now using rechargeables. A recent article in trade magazine Landscape Trades featured International Landscaping, a landscaping company that has converted all their lawn and garden power equipment to rechargeables.

We cannot talk about replacing the noisiest culprits in the neighbourhood without also talking about the quiet ones. I don’t own a leaf blower but I own several rakes. And my ‘garden’ is 10 acres. Chances are, I spend marginally more time raking up leaves and dumping them in the compost come fall, than I would if I used a two-cycle machine. But the point is, when I do it, I don’t drive everyone in the house and neighbourhood mad. Besides, I enjoy the experience of raking.

And finally, should there ever be a Royal Commission or if your local municipality strikes a committee to look at the issue, here are my two cents worth:

-       Consider limiting the use of two-cycle machines to certain hours of the day.

-       Make sure noise levels are no greater than those allowed when I apply for a party permit for a street party. The decibels are outlined in the permit, generally, why not when a home owner or contractor uses a machine?

-       If a home owner insists that they need a two-cycle machine to do the work, have them apply for a permit, complete with limitations and regulations. Use the money collected to plant more street trees.

-       Choose a day when no one can use one of these machines. Friday? Saturday? Sunday? I don’t really care… but I would plan my relaxing time in the yard around the rule.


Mark Cullen is lawn & garden expert for Home Hardware, member of the Order of Canada, author and broadcaster. Get his free monthly newsletter at Look for his new best seller, ‘The New Canadian Garden' published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and Facebook.

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