10 May 2010

A Cut Above

Delaware Online

Cleaner models challenge the polluting gas mower

You've been recycling for years, switched out your lightbulbs and even bought a small fuel-efficient car. But if you've still got that old gas-powered mower in the garage, there's one more thing you can do for the environment: Replace it.

Mowers are among the worst household polluters, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Using an older model gas-powered lawnmower for one hour emits as much pollution as driving a sedan from Washington to Boston, said Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies.

The EPA estimates there are 44 million gasoline-powered mowers in the country. But the topic of pollution rarely comes up when customers come in the store, said Chris Babbitt, general manager of Burke Equipment Co., in Newark.

"It's usually other features they're more interested in," said Babbitt, referring to performance, size, ease of operation and safety. "Pricing's always a concern," he added.

Modern lawn equipment is usually more energy-efficient than earlier models, experts say. The EPA is helping: Standards for mowers that will go into effect next year set a 35 percent emissions reduction standard.

For those who want to go above and beyond, there are a few lines of cordless, battery-powered electric lawn equipment. Mowers are just the start: There are also battery-powered hedge trimmers, leaf blowers, even battery-powered chainsaws.

But "you do sacrifice power, there's no doubt about it," Babbitt said. A cordless electric mower might be good for a homeowner with less than an acre, who could finish cutting before the battery dies, he said.

The version with the cord provides more power, but "people don't like to be tethered. That's the bottom line," Babbitt said.

Neuton brand electric mowers, made by DR Power, sell for $400 and $500 at Suburban Lawn & Equipment in Newport. A "quality" gas mower sells for $350 to $400, said Grey Petruccelli, a member of the family that owns the store.

According to company literature, the Neuton's battery fully recharges in 12 hours, at the cost of 10 cents, and delivers an hour of mowing charge.

There's also the cordless electric Toro e-Cycler, which is listed on that company's Web page for $419.

Worx also makes some nice, affordable, battery powered hand-held lawn equipment, Petruccelli said.

For those with larger lawns to tend and more money to spend, there's an all-electric riding lawnmower called the Zeon, from Hustler Turf Equipment. It costs about $6,500, compared to a $4,000 gas-powered model, Petruccelli said. Its battery provides a charge of about 80 minutes.

"It sounds like a golf cart when you're riding it," Petruccelli said.

Environmental groups and local clean air agencies are working to motivate people to buy environmentally friendly lawn equipment. They're spurred, in part, by federal air quality standards, which many counties are out of compliance with.

Exchange programs are planned for this spring in Denver and Sacramento, Calif., among many other spots.

Last year, Together Green and Audubon Maryland-DC, as well as a Baltimore-area neighborhood association, sponsored "Cash for Lawn Guzzlers." It allowed people to turn in their gas mowers for $110 coupons toward push reel lawnmowers.

Delaware's Sustainable Energy Utility, which has run appliance rebate programs and encouraged other forms of energy efficiency, has no such offerings at this time, a spokeswoman said.

Of course, there's nothing more environmentally friendly than a manual reel mower, said Philip Socorso, manager of Foulk Lawn & Equipment in Wilmington.

But "there are very few good ones out there," he said. There's no easy way to sharpen the blades, except on a few high-end ones that are self-sharpening, he said.

Modern gas-powered models use less fuel, Petruccelli said. Honda's new lawnmower engines are "very green," he said, but he added that they have their limits. "You're still talking about a gas-powered machine."

Petruccelli noted that a New Jersey electric utility recently had a promotion in which the utility would credit ratepayers up to $250 for buying a cordless electric lawnmower.

In Delaware, Suburban Lawn & Equipment did a lot of business on this promotion, he said.

"If they could get something like that done over here, that would be pretty nice," Petruccelli said.

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