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Leaf blower or rake and broom: where do you stand?

By Sally G. Miller (sallygOctober 12, 2011

Yard "blowers" are efficient and noisy and dusty. Rakes and brooms are environmentally friendly and slow and laborious.

Gardening picture

An election year is coming, and we're barraged with issues that polarize the voting public. Autumn approaches too; this season brings another potentially polarizing issue to the fore among homeowners- leaf blower versus rake and broom when tidying up the landscape. I've been tempted by the blower, but have held back. Others swear by it and would fight for the right. Where do you stand?

Objections to blowers

I haven't personally given much thought to the use of leaf blowers, but others have. What they've thought has them quite upset. Some people do get quite frothed up over blowers. They object strongly to the noise and dust of leaf blowers. Their collective concerns have resulted in limits or total bans on blower use. Consumer Reports lists over 80 jurisdictions in the U.S. with such ordinances or regulations. As you can imagine, these issues are hard-fought in their local governing bodies.

The anti-blower contingent cites noise studies by the EPA. Blower sound is described as particularly irritating, and loud enough to require that operators wear hearing protection. According to this chart, the 70 dB that many blowers create is 4 times as loud as the 50 dB of a quiet suburb. A dust mask is wise as well. Blowers raise dust containing a high proportion of minute, absorbable particles with disgusting components: petroleum waste, animal feces and mold, to name a few. Everything that collects on paved surfaces becomes airborne, when hit with a 140-mph plus blast from a blower.

Blower users blow back

In response, blower owners (and employers whose workers use blowers) can be equally vehement. Blowers are incredibly useful, and are efficient for cleaning paved surfaces and mulched beds. These tools were initially praised as "better for the environment." Their use halted the wasteful practice of hosing down surfaces with precious clean water. Blower manufacturers have made noise reduction one of their goals, and electric blowers are quieter still than gas powered monsters of earlier decades. Complaints over the possible health effects of blower dust are difficult to verify. And for landscape maintenance companies, the efficiency and thoroughness of the blower simply cannot be matched by manpower. Clients are uncompromising about pristine results and limited costs, they say. 

Leaves are starting to fall, and you'll be "voting" soon. Which method will you use?

Pro-blower: Consumer Reports gives help in choosing a blower. They say electrics are quieter and amply powerful for the task. Corded electrics are limited by the cord. Blowers that can vacuum as well  do some of the pick up for you. (I've personally looked more than once at the Black and Decker rechargeable-battery blower. It's one of a series small appliances they make that use the same battery.) If you blow, you'll want hearing protection and a dust mask. Limiting the hours of your blowing may be more appreciated by neighbors than you can imagine. 

Vote rake and broom: Rakes and brooms are easy to maintain and store. Congratulations on an environmentally friendly, cheap option. An internet search for rakes yielded a slew of candidates, including a $5.99 item from Sears. And a round of applause for a choice with minimal possible impact on your neighbors' enjoyment of their properties.  The noise level created by your activity will fall in the range of quiet suburb (50 dB), bird call (40 dB), and rustling leaves (20 dB). You might consider creative new choices in rake design, such as the Snake Rake ("Crooked by design") or the Amazing Rake. Gloves may be the only protection you need with this method of yard cleanup.  Dave's Garden subscribers find help in choosing blowers, rakes, brooms and any other kind of garden tool, in the Garden Shed Discussion Forum linked here.

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Noise pollution. infoplease accesed 10-8-2011

Noise Sources and Their Effects, , accessed 10-8-2011

Leaf Blowers Daily Dust Boost. Clean Air California accesed 10-8-2011

Leaf Blowers. Consumer Reports, accessed 10-8-2011

Leaf Blower Facts. Citizens for a Quieter Sacramento accessed 10-7-2011

Bizrate search "ergonomic leaf rake" accessed 10-7-2011

  About Sally G. Miller  
Sally G. MillerSally grew up playing in the Maryland woods, and would still do it often if life allowed! Graduate of University of Maryland, her degree is in Agriculture. Gardens and natural areas give her endless opportunity for learning and wonder. Naturally (pun intended) her garden style leans towards the casual, and her cultural methods towards organic. She likes to try new plants, and have "some of everything" in her indoor and outdoor gardens. Thanks go to her parents for passing along their love of gardening and nature, and her husband and kids for being patient when she gets lost in the garden. Follow her on Google.

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