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How a small group of activists got gas-powered leaf blowers banned in D.C. (theatlantic.com)
197 points by glassworm 9 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 229 comments

For what it's worth a gas powered leaf blower puts out as much pollution in a day of work as a Ford Raptor will in 100,000 miles. Source: https://www.edmunds.com/car-reviews/features/emissions-test-...

I once made the mistake of sleeping with a window open the night before the lawn crew came through my apartment complex. A plume of 2-stroke exhaust is a particularly nauseating way to be woken up. It was bad enough that I grabbed my toothbrush and ran out the door and headed to work without a shower.

But hey! No leaves on the patio come Tuesday! #worthit

The problem pollutants for vehicles are NOx and particulate (particularly small particulate under 2.5 or 10 microns in diameter). This test found the truck produced a lot of NOx, and didn't test for particulate matter, so it's not really able to say what you want it to say.

Leaf blowers are two-stroke engines which have an entirely (and much worse) emissions profile compared to modern four stroke engines. E.g. you'll find things like benzene in their exhaust. Hence results like "waiting near a 2-stroke scooter on an intersection is orders of magnitudes more poisenous than waiting near a car".

Yet, 2 stroke scooters don't have to have the same emission controls as automobiles. This is because they have a small carbon footprint; as a class, they don't contribute that much to pollution.

Benzene may be more acutely poisonous than some other molecule which also has six carbon atoms, but from the planet's perspective, it's just six carbon atoms.

If you're breathing any exhaust, you're taking in CO. Less pungent smelling exhaust is not any better for you.

Maybe they could have required them to have catalytic converters.

Get too hot for use on a device like a leaf blower. Also would add non-negligible costs.

> Also would add non-negligible costs.

Well, yes. Doing things that are good for the environment and our health is going to cost more money than not doing those things.

Would making them 4 stroke engines make them burn significantly cleaner?

It would make them too heavy. Two stroke engines have a great power to weight ratio, which is pretty much the only reason that they are used.

It's fine. Even my weed trimmer is 4-stroke. Aircraft engines, which really need to have a great power to weight ratio, are normally 4-stroke.

For small things, the only place that seems to justify 2-stroke is a chainsaw. This is partly because weight matters much more, and partly because a chainsaw is held at many different angles. Oil flow in a 4-stroke engine is difficult when you can't rely on gravity going in any particular direction.

Given that the whole point of a leaf blower engine is to move air, I have to wonder if the best solution might be a turbine.

That's a great idea! Now if you'll just design an inexpensive turbine that won't fly apart catastrophically at 10,000-50,000 rpm, twist your hand off due to gyroscopic forces, and is easy-to-start w/o first spinning up to 5,000 rpm, we're set to go!

Best bet: electric corded (120 Volts AC) leaf blowers: cheap, powerful, reliable, light and easy to maintain. No danger of battery fire/explosion due to abuse/age.

The startup issue might be mostly solved these days with cheap lithium batteries and brushless dc motors. That said you still have the turbine issue and the fact that it'll be much much louder.

Not sure I buy that it would be too heavy, especially in the case of the backpack models.

Someone was proposing a sleeve valve design to fix the weight problem, but that was years back (when blowers first hit the level of nuisance), so I’m assuming that didn’t pan out...

Making them electric helps.

I just switched to an electric mower. It cost about the same as an decent mower, is lighter weight, always starts, is plenty powerful, and has about 45 minutes of charge on a swappable battery. I could buy more batteries if I wanted more runtime. I can also swap that battery with other equipment like string trimmers.

I've overhauled my last temperamental gas carb. The end of gas lawn gear is indeed in sight.

I think electric only makes sense for individuals that use these tools once a day at most. Running a lawn maintenance business on electric tools would probably be far more expensive and logistics-heavy.

For now you’d probably be right in some cases but not all. It’s certainly on the cusp of changing.

A petrol lawnmower still wins for long runtimes, though even that can be mitigated by having multiple batteries. It’s fair to say the electric upsides are marginal with mowers.

Whereas with hand tools like leaf blowers and line trimmers, the benefits are massive. Professional electric garden tools place the battery pack on a backpack so that the handheld component is light weight. They are quieter so no ear protection is needed, no sooty emissions so no face mask needed, and less vibration so it’s far less fatiguing for all-day use.

You blow up a lot of dust with a leaf blower, so a face mask is probably a good idea regardless

Perhaps a good idea if you’re blowing all day but I rarely feel the need and I have dust & pollen allergies.

Either way, with electric you’re not breathing in concentrated nitrous oxide and two-stroke oil soot. To deal with dust you’d only need a light and relatively comfortable fabric mask like they use in hospitals (or on Japanese public transport).

Agreed, probably not for business.

But the pros have $10,000 zero-radius, four-stroke machines made to run for 12 hours a day. Different beast.

I just switched to all electric lawn tools. I got the trimmer, chainsaw, and blower from the 80v Kobalt line. Like you say, plenty of power, much easier maintenance, and multiple batteries mean the runtime is not limited.

I dunno. My Sears lawn mower has lasted us 19 years so far with no maintenance except blade sharpening. And, one spark plug replacement.

I don't think you can find batteries that will last that long.

I had a 40v electric mower with 5A battery for $350 new a few years ago. Battery life got shorter every run, the stopped working after 2 years, replaced under 3 year warranty. Second battery life continues to get shorter.

New 5A batteries are $150. I had some 2A batteries from other lawn equipment but the mower eats through those in 10m, plus puts another charge cycle on them.

I finally got feud up and got a Honda self-propelled gas mower for $400 that should last 10 years. I think battery mower is great for tiny lawns, say 0.1 acres or less. Anything bigger and li-ion tech is going to be too expensive over the years.

Love the battery weedeacker and hedge trimmer though. The battery blower is great for blowing the porch or driveway, but for fall cleanup or gutters it's the same story; get a corded electric for that.

That's frustrating. What brand was it?

Maybe I've just been lucky, but I've had exactly the opposite experience. I've mowed a large lawn with a Li-ion battery-powered mower for four years and I can't detect any degradation in the batteries. Maybe you already know and do this, but I'll note that some basic battery temperature management will greatly prolong their life. Don't let them bake in the sun, don't store them or charge them in a hot garage, etc.

On the other hand, all of the gas-powered mowers I've ever used, even really expensive ones, were heavy, fiddly, stinky, obnoxious things that eventually drove me to use a reel mower for a short time before I went electric.

I do still have a gas-powered machine. It's a tiller with a four-stroke engine. It's new and high-quality, and it's a fucking pain in the ass. It's hard to start, loud, smells like shit when it's running and the fuel stinks up my garage. Unfortunately there are no electric tillers, but we'll get there some day.

It was a Kobalt. I think it may have been their first battery powered model. The Honda mower will evidently need maintenance (outside of oil and air filters which I can do) at some point too, but the nice thing is Northern Tool and Equipment has a shop and they are a Honda dealer, so they can fix it and have the Honda supply chain.

Thing that sketched me out about the Kobalt is that once it fails or the battery is discontinued, you're on your own. I opened the battery up and it had 20x 4v cells but they were so tightly wired and glued that replacing all 20 would have been a pain in the ass, plus would've run around $80 for the cells.

Tillers are another beast, you don't drive them around the yard, they drive you. At least in the North Carolina clay...

Yeah, we have a lot of clay here in Denver too. I have a 5 HP, and running it is hard manual labor, for me anyway.

Honda is the best, no doubt. I did a lot of research before I bought this damn thing, and reviews and recommendations kept leading back to Honda.

I've heard of problems with Kobalt Li-ion stuff before. It's too bad they're giving electric tools a bad name.

Which mower did you end up getting, if I might ask?

I got a mid-range Ryobi, because there is at least one string trimmer that uses the same power pack, and you can buy more of them. So far so good, but spring is coming so we'll see.

maybe this one: https://www.homedepot.com/p/RYOBI-20-in-40-Volt-Brushless-Li...

I considered a battery leaf blower a few years ago. It was as powerful as the average gas leaf blower.

The problem is that the batteries needed to sustain running the leaf blower at high speeds are very heavy.

I just shlep a cord through my yard, but that would not work if leaf blowing was my profession

I picked up an 80v leaf blower, and it's a bit unbalanced but definitely not too heavy to use. It's definitely been one of my happier purchases as far as lawn and yard tools go.

Yes! But 4-stroke engines have been having a hard time cracking the leaf blower & weed whacker markets. It would also not solve noise.

They could just ban gas-powered leaf blowers to prevent that.

That's what they did.


No personal attacks or shallow dismissals, please.


> gas powered leaf blower puts out as much pollution in a day of work as a Ford Raptor will in 100,000

This is not believable. Think of how many tankfuls of gas that will go through in 100,000 miles. Every atom of carbon going out the tail pipe is "pollution".

A day's use of a gas leaf blower has a vanishingly small carbon and NOx footprint compared to 100K miles of a fossil-fueled Ford truck.

The ban is on gas-powered leaf blowers. I’ve switched to all electric yard tools at home. No regrets; the tools are durable, can easily handle the whole job on a single charge, quiet enough that I feel comfortable letting my children assist (they can hear my instructions and generally what’s going on around them), and no gas engines to maintain.

Agreed. My Ego battery-powered leaf blower is one of my favorite tools. I use it to clean all around the outside of my house, especially the porches. In just a few minutes it will scour the dirt and cobwebs from every nook and crack, and it blows the dirt right out the thin outdoor carpet that covers my porch. It will clean my outdoor shelves of dust and grime, as long as I stand back far enough so that it doesn't take out my things on the shelves. I wear a dust mask.

I also have Ego's lawn mower and weed whacker. The mower is fucking amazing. It's so quiet that you often can't hear it inside the house, and easily powerful enough as long as I don't try to mow wet grass. I can do my entire ~3000 sq meter yard on two batteries, which take just a moment to switch out.

Same with the weed whacker. I have a second home in the mountains where I maintain the grounds solely with the weed whacker. I can throw it in my car with an extra battery or two, drive up there, and trim up the entire place in a couple hours. I feel like I'm living in the future.

Best part about electric blowers is you can use them inside safely. I love using my ego leaf blower for spring cleaning the wardrobes, and it’s a brilliant way to shift all the mess and crud from under your car seats.

Love my Ego tools. Bought the mower because I wanted to be able to stow it vertically for space.

Yes! This is my favorite way to dust. On a windy day I'll open some windows to allow a cross-breeze, and then blast my shit with the blower. I have to mind my distance, and be careful to secure lighter objects. It makes quick work of floors, under furniture if there's at least a little space, and my shelves full of bins.

You and I are now friends.

The real issue IMO is that the battery powered yard tools are infected by the same planned obsolescence as existing power tools. Most gas-powered yard tools last damn near forever even if you don't do maintenance on them. The battery powered ones are good for three years and then you're buying a new one. If you're lucky they still make the battery, but it costs as much a whole new tool.

Wish we could standardize modern rechargeable batteries the same way we did with old lead acid models.

Am I missing something? Most Bosch tools for instance use their universal battery packs, they fit nearly all old tools and it's a pretty safe bet that they will fit all the new ones too. There's plenty of 3rd party replacements on the market, but there's almost zero chance that you won't be able to buy a replacement battery for your bosch leaf blower in few years.

That's their standardised battery pack - it fits dozens of different tools: https://www.bosch-do-it.com/gb/en/diy/tools/battery-pack-pba...

I have two Ryobi drills and they have what look like standardized swappable batteries, but they are different voltages (12V and 18V). The connectors are different shapes, fortunately.

> If you're lucky they still make the battery, but it costs as much a whole new tool.

Aren't most companies working on a standardized battery (at least within their brand) so you can swap batteries between your drill, blower, trimmer, etc? It would seem that if that's the case, changing battery form factors would be a real bad idea.

(within their brand)

That's the kicker. I have DeWalt, Makita, and Rigid brand electric tools. They all have different, incompatible (yet same voltage/amp) batteries and chargers, each costing as much as the tool. At least gas goes in any gas tool.

I'd rather they be regulations on the amount of pollution (both air and noise) allowed.

I'm fine with regulation as long as zero is the amount of CO2 pollution allowed. We need to be in crisis mode now.

Yep, they do. Within their own brand. Just means when they switch from 18V to 20V, and then to whatever the next big thing is, you have to switch all of your tools to the new standard.

Lithium-Ion batteries have a much longer lifetime than the old NiMH batteries, though. Haven't had much issues with electric power tools in the last couple of years.

And I'm not sure I agree with your assessment of the reliability of gas powered tools. Our lawn mower needed repairs frequently...

The dratted carburetor... next time mine clogs again, I’m jumping to an electric. They’re finally wide and powerful enough that they’re better than gas for actually mowing.

All the major tool companies use battery platforms that have been stable for much of the decade. I've used Dewalt 20v Max tools since 2011 and never broken one. Ego's yard tools were introduced in 2013, and the battery interface has not changed since. I have their mower, leaf blower, and two weed whackers, operating for over four years with zero problems. I haven't even had to replace any batteries.

Meanwhile, my neighbor's expensive new gas-powered mower has been in the shop twice in the past few years. When it does work it's loud and smells like shit.

Many rechargeable battery packs are just assemblies of 18650 or similar cylindrical cells — if they just made the packs openable then it would be easy to replace and recycle the cells.

If only an "18650" was always the same! Despite the name, they're never exactly 18.0mm diameter by 65mm long. Some have protection circuits built in, some don't. Some have solder tabs, some have wired connections (2-pin or 3) and some fit into holders the way your garden variety AA battery does. Then there are a variety of capacities and charge curves. 18650 Li-Ion is not a standard the way that a AA alkaline is. The core can may be "standard" but by the time that gets packaged into a cell in a product, there are an infinite variety of options.

The cells are welded together with contact strips, you need a spot welder to rebuild a pack. Making cells removable isn’t economic, because vibration resistant electrical connections are not cheap.

> Making cells removable isn’t economic

I disagree. Until relatively recently all battery powered devices had removable batteries, which is why we have standard battery sizes in the first place. Welded and sealed proprietary battery packs are a backward step.

The keyword here is "cell", not pack. I have never seen individual cells being removable. Imagine the increased complexity/cost and decreased reliability if each of the 6 cells in a standard car batter was individually replaceable.

> I have never seen individual cells being removable

Sure you have. Any device with removable single-cell 'batteries' has removable cells.

> Imagine the increased complexity/cost and decreased reliability if each of the 6 cells in a standard car batter was individually replaceable.

Car batteries are already removable and replaceable, and come in standard sizes, which is precisely the point.

While I agree that it's reasonable to make 18650 based packs not officially user serviceable (because of the spot welding thing and because that would open up liability to repairs gone wrong), at least they should be made so the cells can be replaced by someone who has a spotwelder and some electrical knowledge. Basically give the pack housing a nondestructive way to be opened and resealed.

That way even if the manufacturer decides to switch battery pack standards in a few years, someone with the necessary knowledge can still get some 18650 cells and be fine.

As the years have worn on its gotten better. Still not great yet, and interoperability would be even better... but I have standardized on the 20V line from De Walt and have a number of hand, larger power, and yard tools that all use the same batteries. I buy a new battery or two every year and cycle out the oldest one (sell at steep discount on CL). Been doing that for 6 years now, and I don’t see them discontinuing the 20V line for years.

I'm on my third generation DeWalt, but I also switched over to the 20V Max line a few years back when my second-to-last 18V battery croaked and the replacement was $100. Was more economical to ditch the old drill.

I don't think this is true at all. A visit to Home Depot reveals a huge selection of battery powered tools, most of which are powered by one of four standard battery types, all of which have existed for quite a while. I have a whole bunch of Ryobi tools - and batteries from literally a decade ago, while an older chemistry (nicad instead of li-ion) are still compatible - and the reverse is also true.

I'm on my third generation of DeWalt drill. Not because the old ones don't work (in fact, the second generation is rather preferable to the third generation of the same model), but because the batteries are $100+ each now.

Sure. But the issue is professional gardeners -- including those who just have a pickup truck and and a few dozen clients. It's not just "handle a job on a full charge" since they need to work all day. The Stihl backpack batteries help a lot, but it's still going to be a lot of investment for a guy who just takes care of lawns for a living.

Yeah it totally sucks when you were accustomed to externalizing your business costs onto others but now you have to pass those costs on to your customers. I mean sucks for the customers, not for you (you earn the same) or for the people no longer paying those costs (with their hearing loss).

Me? I don't employ anyone to blow my leaves so I'm a winner in this transaction.

Well this is pretty much the model of most industries, and especially with energy, the oil gas and coal industries.

As for one person’s choice, I wish all my neighbors would make the same choice.

All you need is to have a battery that takes less time to charge than discharge during normal usage. Then you have one charging from the truck or local mains power while you're using the other and whenever it runs down the other is charged and you can swap them.

don't big truck have a power outlet from the engine? I think welders are plugged into the engine.

I'd share some concern about transition, in particular because I live in Arizona, but I guess things will be better in the long run.

And now guess how the trucks are powered? Now you use a cobustion engine to power an alternator to charge a battery. What is the net gain, if any?

It's a more efficient engine, with better particulate filters, a catalytic converter to reduce NOx emissions, and yearly emissions inspections to ensure all of the above is up to standards. It's a gain.

"More efficient" is not a binary thing. Taking an efficient engine that's capable of throwing two tons of steel down a highway at 100 mph and using it to charge a lithium ion battery is like killing an ant with a sledgehammer.

An F150 consumes ~2 litres of fuel an hour at idle and provides 400 watts of power through its outlet. A Bosch leaf blower is 2400 watt. Petrol powered leaf blowers do not use 12 liters of fuel an hour.

Sure, the emissions in some ways will be lower, but it's not an unambiguous gain and it's not anything close to an environmentally friendly way to run a leaf blower.

This is clearly a niche for PHEVs or BEVs.

> An F150 consumes ~2 litres of fuel an hour at idle

Where'd you get this number? AFAICT this is not true.


More like a little less than 1 liter for a 4.6L V8 motor.

Your link says 0.5-0.7 gallons for the 4.6L V8, which is 1.9-2.6 liters.

Ford is promising to produce a hybrid F150 that would upend your green calculus entirely.

> This is clearly a niche for PHEVs or BEVs.

(And yes it would, and that's great!)

Trucks don't use shitty two-stroke engines.

yes, less noise, and less pollution (by the economy of scale).

Same reason why EVs are a net win even if they are ultimately powered by coal.

My impression is that pollution scales roughly linearly with the size of a power plant, while power output scales exponentially.

I recently purchased an electric mower after my old gas powered one died -- repairing it was going to cost as much as just buying a new one.

It's so good. It has turned a dreadful experience into a long slightly noisy walk in my yard.

I used to have a number of minor breathing problems when mowing my lawn, mostly due to the exhaust. No longer having to deal with smelly, burning chemicals is absolutely awesome. I ended replacing almost all of my other yard tools with an electric equivalent as soon as I could.

This is a major change since I last tried electric (and especially battery powered) yard tools, which were flimsy, low powered and died quickly. The modern ones are quite good for most things and since I'm more inclined to use them, I end up dealing with easier to mow/chop/trim yard stuff than before.

Upon reflection, using the gas powered equipment today feels like barbarism.

OK, we added gas power to the title above.

>Noise, they have come to understand, is the secondhand smoke of this era.

Most of the author's points about sound come down to hand waving and weasel wording. He says hearing loss is "coming up fast on the list" of public health problems (a meaningless assertion), and then he never presents evidence that leaf blowers are a significant cause of this. He started with the conclusion (leaf blowers make an annoying sound), and then did his best to argue the sound that annoys him should be illegal.

On the other hand, he's right that 2 stroke engines are dirty as hell, and his statistics to that ends are a bit more convincing.

> Most of the author's points about sound come down to hand waving and weasel wording.

It's not complicated - people don't like loud annoying noises and air pollution.

No weasel words in that.

I understand the noise complaint, I work from home and I hear them all week as my various neighbor's gardeners arrive throughout each day. That said... I have an electric one that is awesome and it's much quieter than the 2-stroke I used to have. Leaf blowers do serve a purpose but the electric ones are a great improvement on noise and pollution.

Indeed leaf blowers produc one of the most distracting and annoying sounds when working from home

Ya, it's not as much of a problem at the office because you maybe hear one leaf blower all week. At home, it's 1-2 per day. When they come do my lawn, it's always while I'm on the phone.

But, it is possible to measure the intensity of sound and how much that contributes to hearing loss. CDC has a handy chart on the effects of noise here: https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/hearing_loss/what_noises_cause_hear... . The existence of other sources of noise loud enough to damage hearing does not preclude banning leaf blowers.

Sound pressure levels are dependent on distance. A leaf blower might expose you to 90dB if you're using it, but someone stood 10 metres away would only be exposed to 70dB, which is well below the threshold for damage.

exposed to 70dB, which is well below the threshold for damage.

70 dBA is at the threshold for hearing damage (65-70 dBA range). It's below the OSHA limit of 85 dBA, but that is not the threshold for hearing damage, it's the threshold for acceptable [0] hearing damage.

[0] where "acceptable" means that a person exposed to 85 dBA for an average of 40-hrs per week for 10 years can still understand conversational speech in an ideal environment.

Interesting. Is there any reliable way to tell db noise from headphones? For example, apple airpods on an iphone.

you could certainly buy a sound level meter and measure the output from your headphones at your usual volume setting. you would probably not like what you learned, though. as a rule of thumb, any sound that requires you to raise your voice to have a conversation over is loud enough to damage your hearing. most people don't like to listen to music at safe levels.

So basically you should be able to have a conversation with headphones on?

Or it is slightly different, since music in ear is more distracting than ambient music? (Ie. hear your own voice clearly with headphones on)

I often do a "can I hear my normal speaking voice?"check with headphones in as a way to see if they're quiet enough. But that might not be the right standard.

Watch the video. It's only a few minutes long and is a lot more precise.

I wish universities would ban leaf blowers. In addition to pollution, they kick up spores that contaminate people's experiments in the bio sciences. I know people who had to turn around and go back home to shower because they got blasted by a leaf blower walking to work.

Given that campuses are eager to ban smoking, which produces vastly less pollution by volume, leaf blowers should be a no brainer.

Why don't we use vacuums?

Not mentioned is that leaf blowers blow away the topsoil and little bugs that maintain it. The ground becomes hard and no longer water permeable (it’s why the suburban ground in California looks — and acts — like concrete.

My gardeners don’t use leaf blowers and people are always asking what chemicals I use to keep my garden looking so lush. I don’t use any of those either; the process is called “nature”.

> it’s why the suburban ground in California looks — and acts — like concrete.

Look, I am as fanatical about soil biome issues as anyone that you are going to find, but your assertion is overly simplistic. If you look at a soil type map for large parts of Sili Valley, you will see big chunks labeled "Adobe". As in clay. As in it doesn't percolate. As in naturally sparse in organic matter. As in gardening contractors in Milpitas own not rent jackhammers, and it has nothing to do with the long term effects of leaf blowers.

Yes, but the topsoil has been blown away exposing that clay.

You just have to look at the "nature strip" in front of my house compared to my neighbors on the same street. We're all on the same terrain. Mine is the only one with grass (and flowers despite people getting out of cars and treading on them).

Maybe blown away by wind and / or burned dry by the summer heat.

You seem out of touch with reality (I intend this in the gentlest way possible).

DC is far wetter than the populous places in California so I don’t think we are susceptible to this problem.

Good. I had a neighbor that spent multiple days each fall running them. Windy day? No problem, spend 6 hours making a pile and chasing the ones that blow off. Gutters clogged? Use a ladder and a leafblower to clean their gutters. It was ear piercing even inside my home. I asked they not do that, as it wasn't even efficient, and they shrugged me off. I was left with absolutely no recourse but to wear earplugs for a few days. I wish they'd ban those awful things nationwide.

Glorious day! I wish they would ban them where I live.

I detest noise, but judging by the popularity of Harley's I must be in the minority.

We are in the minority but there are places where motorcycles aren't welcome. The trailer park I live in during the week is one of them. It's a pleasure to arrive home M-F to a pastoral environment where the smell of lemon blossoms accompanies the birds chirping, but then there's this shock when I go home to the mortgaged place on a golf course with daily lawn mowers, blowers, and straight piped Harleys.

There could be a middle ground: Allow lawn care only one day a week. That's what the $FAR_TOO_EXPENSIVE place down the road does.

Either your weather must be a lot more predictable than ours, or you'd have to be fine with mowing in a downpour if it has to be done on a predetermined day.

I wonder if a simple "You can only mow on Mondays unless there's adverse weather conditions, in which case mow on Tuesday" could be effective.

Or, heaven forbid, skip a week.

Let's also add a time stipulation: all lawn care must be between the hours of 13:00 and 17:00. No loud noises in the morning and the evenings.

If we could band together and get motorcyles banned I would be ecstatic. Loud mufflers of any kind, really.

Motorcycles do not have to be loud. Many riders believe that loud pipes make them safer, but I haven't seen data to back that up. I've owned bikes for years, commuted to work on them (when I've had office-based jobs), and mostly my neighbors are surprised to find out that I ride them, because I don't sit outside and rev them up in the mornings before leaving, or gun them up to high RPMs while leaving the neighborhood.

Motorcycles can be far more efficient than cars, so fight the noise, fight the obnoxious riders.. but not the vehicle.

  Many riders believe that loud
  pipes make them safer
I've always been sceptical of how earnestly anyone believes this, because I've never seen anyone with loud pipes dressed [1] to attract motorists' attention visually.

[1] https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Police_Motorcycles.J...

Exactly. If you only use the safety measures that improve your social status, maybe it's not safety you care about.

Really my objection is to the loud noise. If Harley Davidson makes a silent electric one, I'll rescind my call to ban them.

So I can't have my fuel-saving super-efficient quiet vehicle because you're upset with the people who buy a Harley specifically to be loud?

Banning motorcycles will not fix loud noises. They'll just buy loud trucks and cars and/or "upgrade" them to be loud.

I watch for other motorcycles because motorcyclists wave at each other as they pass. Around here (Colorado) it's maybe 1/20 motorcycles that are louder than a car under normal conditions. Probably 1/12 or so that are louder than a car when they're driving like an asshole.

I honestly encounter loud cars more often than motorcycles, usually when some idiot thinks I pulled up to the light on my motorcycle to race them in their civic. (When I'm just on my way to or from the damn grocery store)

Though if you're looking for the loudest thing on the road, I'll grant that it's usually some 60 year old dude on a Harley.

If Harley Davidson made an electric bike, then people would start buying aftermarket noise makers that play the Harley sound at 140dB.

Cars are already piping fake engine noises through their speaker systems [1], so this idea isn’t that far away.

1: https://www.caranddriver.com/features/a15117726/faking-it-en...

I think you're right. The sound seems to be part of the appeal, for whatever reason.

Harley Davidson does make an electric bike, and it's also incredibly loud.

Stock Harleys aren't that loud. What you hear is after market open pipes that are poorly regulated in most states and rarely ticketed in those that do regulate them.

The motorcycles in Europe have drastic noise limitations, most as on the same level with your average car while consuming less fuel and polluting less. No ban is needed here.

> No ban is needed here.

Actual enforcement would go a long way though...

I'm fine with that. I just hate the loud noises. Harley's get a lot of the blame, but there's plenty of crotch rockets that are loud as well.

You couldn't hear my motorcycle over the sound of your own engine idling, I guarantee it.

The problem is not motorcycles. The problem is people who think loud vehicles of any kind compensate for their shortcomings.


Personal attacks will get you banned here. Please review https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and post civilly and substantively, or not at all.

This entire thread paints everyone who's not in lockstep as "evil"(TM).

I was responding in kind.

Even if that's true, breaking the site guidelines is not ok.

Be "they"!

What is wrong with using a rake to pick up leaves? Leafblowers are loud, dirty, they raise huge clouds of dust, they stink of gasoline, and at the end of the day, blowing leaves into a pile isn't even faster than raking them together. Using a leafblower is a sign of entitled loutishness.

> Using a leafblower is a sign of entitled loutishness.

You were fine up until here. Insulting people for wanting to use an easier option isn't a great look.

This is absolutely about selfishness. Growing up in the suburbs, every Saturday at 10 AM and every weekday at 8 AM, the leafblowers would start. They wouldn't be done until the early afternoon. And most of the people who people used them when they weren't home, and would just hire contractors to blow their lawns several times a week, while disturbing their neighbors.

Living in the world with other people means respect to others as much as tolerance.

If they waited until 8 on weekdays and 10 on weekends they did their part in waiting until most people were awake.

Dogs bark, lawn mowers cut grass, motorcycles or trucks have engines that are a cut above the rest in noise. People throw the odd celebration.

Get over it. You're not the only person in this world.

I don’t think it’s wrong to comment on people who care more about convenience and cost then the externalities they’re creating (air and noise pollution).

“Selfish” is not a protected class.

Especially on this website, where you can find a substantial number of people working from home in upscale developments.

Also this: the leafblower ban was voted on and passed. The majority of Washingtonians thinks that running your petrol toy in public is so rude and bothersome that the practice needs a city ordinance banning it.

Your comparison doesn't actually hold. Working from home, while more convenient, actually decreases the externalities we pass on to others.

I am in the "screw even bothering with leaf raking for anything but recreation" camp but I think that is essentially the longstanding state of progress when it comes to efficiency. It often pays off but not without costs and it shouldn't be done to extremes. We don't use x-rays to fit shoes anymore for instance.


I find it unfortunate this is how you classify people attempting to better their local environment they exist in.

I find it unfortunate that people who are trying to take care of their property with the limited time, money, and possibly mobility issues (i have medical issues where 16 hours raking my yard being dropped to 4 b/c of a gas blower makes a lot of difference) are being treated as evil incarnate.

Talking to environmentalists who have no appreciation for nuance, is like being gay and talking to a evangelical thinking I'm destined for hell.

I have an electric lawn mower. I drive a hybrid. I recycle.

Environmentalism isn't a pissing match, nor is it a purity test.

This culture of sneering down on people is why so many working class people become contrary at environmentalism.

It's self-righteous, snobbery and elitism as it's finest

Yeah, this is absolutely a selfish act. Completely ignoring that most, if not all, of your neighbors will be annoyed by the sound just because it's easier for you is the very definition of selfishness.

The person using the leaf blower isn't the selfish one here.

I don’t think you understand the meaning of that word then. Using a loud leaf blower with complete disregard for those around you is selfish.

Alright, we'll fight the leaf blowers, and you'll fight people making us feel bad on the internet. Planeteers, let our powers combine!

It takes me 2 days at 8 hours a day to pick up my yard with a rake.

It takes me a half day with a leaf blower.

Between October and Feb I may have to pick up leaves 3 or 4 times to keep it from killing my grass or at the very least not be a bad neighbor and allow my leaves to blow over into the yard of people who just picked up theirs

I have a kid to take care of, other house upkeep to do, a 40-50 hour a week job.

This whole thread is filled with young, urban kids who have never been responsible for property

Yes, it's the suburbanite problem of too much house, too much yard. There's too much of everything to keep in presentable condition.

One solution would be to hire outside help to keep the excess of stuff clean, but that may be expensive. There's another solution, to cut down on the amount of stuff. When I was a kid the lawn would take 30 minutes to mow with a push lawnmower, and maybe 45 minutes for raking. Once a week. On Saturdays, because Sundays is quiet day.

Washington told its citizens to either earn enough and keep quiet or downsize to keep quiet. It's a good start.

It's time that other peoples' ostentatiousness stopped spilling over in my domain. Leafblowers are just one symptom. SUVs are another.

I'd rather have all the problems of the suburbs time 10 than live in then be ping ponged between the classist snobs that live in well off areas in urban centers and the high crime areas of those not so well off, with all your pollution and your asthma that you're breathing in day in and day out in concentrated ways, while taking my kid out to throw a ball or to walk my dog means i need to hop in a car and go to a park 5 miles away.

Portlandia isn't for everyone.

Nah, when I was a kid, I lived in a house in the suburbs with a front and back yard, and my mom always used a rake to take care of the leaves. We never even owned a leaf blower.

I should also mention -

Leaf blowers are a god send for people with medical problems that 8+ hours of raking would seriously harm them or be impossible for them.

A rake only works on grass. But if you have taller bushes and other types of plants it's pretty much impossible with anything else except a leafblower.

Also, good luck raking on the side a small, but steep, hill - you can't even stand on the hill without lots of pain and damaging the surface. But you can use a leafblower from the top.

i.e. just because you have a limited experience in the world, doesn't mean others do too.

Do those need to be leaf-free? I mean I thought the point was lawns, with less labor than a rake. But on land far too steep for lawn, can't you just leave things alone?

(I own exactly 2 pot-plants, FWIW.)

It's not too steep for a lawn though. (It's tough to mow, but not impossible.)

Plus even if you have flowers and such you don't want lots of leaves there.

How do you mow lawn on a slope you can't even reach with a rake? Maybe with a goat? :)

And, in my limited understanding of horticulture, I thought leaves happened later in the year than flowers. Don't they blow off or turn into fertiliser before spring?

you spend time making a garden, and then tell me if you want leaves blocking the sunlight and suffocating everything you spent time planting.

You can rake from the bottom then, downhill. The reach of a rake, foot-to-rake is ~4 meters, that's as far as a leafblower goes too.

What's wrong with leaving the leaves where they land?

I do prefer when the council blows away the leaves on the bike paths because it gives you better grip.

Blowing leaves is faster - why would a service use leaf blowers if it wasn't less work.

And of course, that's the big issue here. By taking more time, raking makes cleaning the yard more expensive. When it comes to people in houses, that makes yard care more of an expense, which means some people will have to spend more time doing it rather than hiring a service. When it comes to condos or rentals where it's included, it makes rent more expensive.

But hey, some louts won't have to put up with the sound of a leafblower for a few minutes a week. Who cares if everyone is worse off?

Services use leaf blowers because it's less work and because they don't give a shit about the externalities they create.

It's more than just sound. Leaf blowers mostly use dirty, dirty two-stroke engines. Tons of emissions--which, regardless of the smell, we should be minimizing--and an awful stink.

If you can afford a house, you can rake the lawn and sweep the driveway. Or, as the article notes, even in Totalitarian Hellscape Washington you can buy a battery-powered leaf blower. What a horrible horrible sacrifice you must make.

I own a house.

I have medical problems limiting just how much I can exert myself. This wasn't true when i initially bought the home.

Raking leaves, is a 3-5 times event that could take me about 16 hours (an entire weekend) each time.

Blowing the leaves takes about 5-6 hours.

I had an electric blower for a long time and honestly, it only shaved off maybe a 10th of my time b/c it simply wasn't strong enough.

I recycle, i drive a hybrid, i compost and garden, i have an electric mower.

But for some people who spout endlessly about "externalizes", it's like there's no end to minimizing my foot print until i just up and commit suicide. You all sit back with your high and mighty judgements and half of you are just kids who've never been responsible for anything but yourselves, or dorky urbanites who have half a putting green for a yard in high crime areas. Or hell..both things at once.

Have you considered an electric leaf blower?

i have one. It works about a 1/4 as well as a gas one.

Using a rake takes me 2 days to rake my yard. (about 16 hours)

An electric blower, 1.5 days (roughly 10-12 hours)

A gas blower takes me about 4 hours.

I have 2 medical conditions going on right now and can't pay someone $200 every single time i need my yard picked up. I spend enough in medical bills right now.

If you email me (email in profile), I would like to help you find a solution considering your constraints.

Two stroke engines that power these things are dirty as fuck. Sucks to be the worker running these things, I'm super sure they are compensated appropriately and provided the necessary protection gear. Let alone anyone outside within 100 feet.

Two stroke engines should be outlawed entirely. There is no reason for them to still be sold with batteries having advanced as much as they have.

Hand held tools and scooters can be electric, small outboard motors for marine applications can be four stroke or propane fired.

If you're carrying your tool in to somewhere remote for a day's work, filthy old two stroke is the easiest, most energy dense power source. As opposed to a truck load of batteries.

Wait, what. This is about the yard crew and their hand tools. Everyone has electric at home, and the power cord has been invented.

Yard crews can also carry batteries and chargers for hand tools. I know because I’ve helped setup a trailer charging system, powered by solar, for a local landscaping contractor. The only tool they use that is fossil powered is a propane riding mower (which is clean burning). I am working on building them an electric riding mower with reclaimed Tesla modules from an S.

That's great! I'm thinking more of people hiking in to build e.g. remote huts.

I live in DC and am unaware of anyone here needing to pack gas-powered tools in order to build huts in the wilderness.

You're worried for all those people backpacking into remote wilderness to blow leaves.


I agree this edge case might require less efficient two stroke systems, but is a rare edge case.

In the first world, two stroke is obsolete in every form.

Chainsaws used in forestry is one use case that is still common in many countries, first world or not. But your point is valid.

See parent comment, which references scooters and outboard motors

4-stroke leaf blowers are readily available.

Palo Alto, CA has banned gas-powered leaf blowers since 2005.[1]

[1] https://www.cityofpaloalto.org/news/displaynews.asp?NewsID=6...

Instead of outright banning them, why not require a strict maximum dB level rating (in other words as tested by an independent lab).

Personally I’m in favor of limiting noise output rather than outright banning.

Otherwise it’s tyrannical for a minority to tell the majority what they may and may not do.

Then it’s much harder to enforce. It goes from ‘oi no leafblowers mate’ to getting an independent official with a calibrated tool and all sorts of faff.

Plus the article is more about pollution than noise so limiting noise doesn’t help with that does it.

By banning 2-cycle leafblowers and encouraging people to switch to electric powered they're knocking out two problems at once--the awful noise and the ridiculous amount of nasty stuff 2-cycle motors spew all over into our environments.

The majority can still have their electric leafblowers.

>The acoustic study found that in a densely settled neighborhood, a gas-powered blower rated at, say, 75 decibels of noisiness can affect up to 15 times as many households as a battery-powered blower with the same 75-decibel rating.

The motor of engine is part of the noise, the other is the fans pushing air through, their speed and pitch affect noise levels too, so even an electric leaf blower can be loud and uncomfortable.

Yeah, but not the same kind of loud and uncomfortable, as anyone who has actually heard these things in person knows immediately.

Ah I see, now you get to arbitrarily decide what noise is annoying for others, because only one kind bothers you.

>Otherwise it’s tyrannical for a minority to tell the majority what they may and may not do.

Your liberty to blow leaves ends where damage to my hearing and breathing begins. When the minority is imposing direct negative health effects on the majority, it's not tyranny to prevent them from harming everyone else.

There’s also the dust from the ground, which, at best, contains allergens and can also cause asthma attacks. In cities, it will also contain carcinogens that were shed by cars, giving them another chance to be inhaled.

So, if you want to design a quiet, outdoor HEPA vacuum, go for it!

This was addressed in the article; the overall sound output was much more dense in the equivalent two stroke versus a battery powered options at 75dB.

The lower frequencies generated in the two stroke options output link to human biological issues over time as well as the distance traveling issue of the sound at the heart of the article.

It would amount to the same thing. The noise is an inherent part of the design of the two stroke engine.

Isn't the tyranny the leaf blowers creating noise for everybody around them?

The amount of pollution they make is horrible, but my actual disdain for them is that when just a dusting of snow is on the ground, two or three guys with leaf blowers are clearing the town sidewalks at 6 AM. The noise wakes my wife and child, and it goes on for about twenty minutes straight.

I have used a light, wide broom for the same purpose. I use technology, and I am not a Luddite, but leaf blowers don't seem to have enough pluses for me to think otherwise. You still have to strap on a leaf blower, and wave the blower, wear earmuffs (or go deaf), procure and fill it with fuel, and haul it back to your truck or shed.

Leaf blowers were the annoying soundtrack of Westwood near UCLA when I lived there from 1966-1983. By the time I left, they were buzzing everywhere from before dawn to dusk. I cannot even imagine what Westwood sounds like now, 36 years later....

One more thing: leaf blower noise pollution is inversely proportional to the socioeconomic position of LA neighborhoods (except for Beverly Hills, which banned gas-powered blowers in 1976).

I don't know how I feel about bans like this that also ban stopgap solutions.

I've never used one personally, but it sounds like a LiquidPiston engine would solve every problem this writer discuss.


A few weeks ago I saw someone leaf blowing snow on the sidewalk in Alexandria, or at least trying to. One of the most absurd things I've ever seen.

I've done it. When we get a dusting of light powder and the pavement isn't warm enough to melt the base layer, it's totally fair game for blowing. As long as I'm using a warm battery that's been in the house, the blower makes quick work of it.

In this case a stiff-bristled 24" push broom works quite well and is cheap, easy and quiet if your driveway isn't too long.

Why not just leave it? If you can drive through it, it's fine. I love it when there's a solid base layer of snow or ice. The roads and yard don't turn into slush every time the sun comes out, and shoveling is easier when I don't have to be careful about picking up a load of gravel with the snow. The first big snowfall is always the worst for this reason.

Maybe they'd heard of a snow blower, and thought it was basically the same thing.


I think they had basically no experience with snow removal and tried to "improvise" a solution. There were plenty of people who cracked their windshields by following the meme advice "boil water and pour it over your winshield to de-ice it quickly. Meanwhile northerners know you have to scrape it. It is clever but wrong as an approach.

Boiling water would be a huge risk, yes. On the other hand, cool/tepid water can make things a lot easier.

I've always hated them. We once stuck tied a fan onto a broom to ridicule the neighour.

But a few years ago I got one as a fire management tool, after seeing Parks workers use them for that purpose along the roadside. They're an awesome way to train a burn, and useful if it starts to get away from you.

How the hell am I supposed to get rid of my gas-powered leafs now?

Also, aren't all leaf's technically gas powered?

My Nissan Leaf is definitely not gas powered.

I've often thought that a great product would be a leaf powered leaf blower/vacuum. Chop the leaves and burn them in a turbine that runs the vacuum sucking them up. Yes, technical problems - so solve them and bring me this product!

Has anyone here done commercial lawncare? I mowed cemeteries and churches for 5 years. Electric tools might work for a tiny suburban plot but try doing even a single cemetery with them. We only used leaf blowers at the cemeteries a few times a year (Memorial day, etc.) but there is no way an electric blower would last long enough.

D.C. has Arlington Cemetery too, so I'm not sure what they'll do. Maybe they have an exception.

This raises the larger issue of our culture’s expectation that acres of manicured lawn is a reasonable thing to expect.

Once that seed of skepticism seeps in, you really reel at the sheer mass of wasted time and money which this country spends on manicuring lawns.

Power density for batteries has been changing immensely, especially at the consumer level.

There are products now where you could easily get through a work day by swapping out for a charged battery two or three times. The extra batteries are a bit of a cost, but in a professional context could pay for themselves with saved gasoline.

Arlington is across the river in Virginia.

Presumably, those large cemeteries will have mains voltage somewhere, so you'd charge one or two batteries while using another.

When I lived in Seattle, it blew my mind that your society had second-class citizens driving around, cutting lawns and blowing leaves. It seemed so absurd to me, but sense to a lot of people, and was legit a mainstream thing.

Noise pollution in cities is an insidious problem. I'm happy to see that DC managed to reduce it somewhat. Although, 3 more years to wait is a bit of a kicker.

Decent 4 stroke ones are pretty clean and quiet IME, maybe just ban the 2 stroke cheapos.

Why burn gas to push leaves around at all though?

The same reason most people are sticking with their gas powered cars for now, I guess.

I saw someone blowing snow in New York with a leaf blower the other day...

LA banned them many years ago but will not enforce the law.

Effective 2022. So I haven't been hearing things.

Leaf removal, whether performed with a gas-powered leaf blower or a rake, will contribute to soil nutrient depletion in the long term.


And not removing them completely removes your control over the landscaping, because they will kill everything under them by suffocating them and blocking light from reaching it.

Most people in suburban areas end up with tooo many leaves to compost or to try to mulch with a lawn mower.

>to teach us, the widespread degradation and depletion of soil and other resources leads to a civilization’s collapse.

This is why I can't ever take this hippy dippy shit seriously. Because I pick up my leaves society is going to collapse? Okkayyy....

You and billions of others are doing it.

Yet people act surprised when articles about insect and worm population collapse come up.

Billions of people are picking up leaves?

The total area of ‘yards’ where leaves are picked up is so utterly insignificant that I wonder if you have ever been outside. In any case, the article is about D.C. and, regrettably, there will never be a shortage of worms in the capitol.

Have you ever looked at any sort of public grounds? Because your home isn’t the only place on earth with leaves and I don’t know where you got the idea.

Public parks, office perimeters, college campuses, busy roadsides, and yes, home lawns are all locations where people gather up leaves to burn them or send them off to the garbage. These are spaces in which billions of people spend all day and expect to be “cleaned” of leaves, so yes, the impact is significant.

You clearly live in an urban area. You can see them on maps represented as little dots. Sometimes little blobs. All the other 'empty' parts of the map? Well, this may come as a surprise, but it consists of millions of acres of forests, trees, and wilderness.

You could nuke every city in America and the 'worm' population wouldn't even notice.

It's amusingly myopic to worry about the leaves in an urban area where, most likely, all the trees have been cut down and replaced with buildings and asphalt. Real honestly, nobody cares what the soil is like in an urban/suburban area as (a) the 'soil' was most likely carted in from somewhere else to begin with and (b) the plants and trees one finds in a suburban/urban area aren't native anyway.

I really don't care about the leaves or lack thereof on your 'college campus.' But, I find it astounding that, very often on HN, there is this absolute lack of awareness of how BIG this country and is. Some posts come across as if the author's only interaction with the 'real world' is watching BBC nature documentaries and picnicking in the 'public park.' No offense intended.

I grew up in rural America, and you're obviously not. :)

I'm very used to people around me gathering up acres of leaves to burn.

Your argument is exactly the same as what's used by climate change deniers. America has forests, yeah. But half the country is dedicated to agriculture and towns. A lot of the untouched land is fairly mountainous or lacking in deciduous trees, i.e., not great territory for worms and insects.

It's bizarre how people still deny obvious human actions having affects on populations of the little creatures below us. We know that their populations are dropping faster every year. Spraying poison and depriving the ground of nutrients are pretty strong candidates for causes.

billions of people are not using leaf blowers....

we can't even properly feed the billions of us on this planet and you think everyone has their own leaf blower - much less suburban or rural property in which to use it?

Look, these things are horrible for the environment... no doubt.

But in my opinion, two-stroke gas leaf blowers and lawnmowers are the best engines to take apart and learn engine repair on -- repair and maintenance being cornerstones of mechanical engineering. I love doing small-engine repair and these were my gateway drug.

Plus... the smell of mixed grass trimmings and gas is something magical. (Wait, is that weird?)

Mulch 'em! (It's noisy too but they're full of nutrients!) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9OhxKlrWwc



Wow, how did we get all the way there from here?

> Eschew flamebait. Don't introduce flamewar topics unless you have something genuinely new to say. Avoid unrelated controversies and generic tangents.


This is just socialism, thinking your hearing and breathing is more important than efficient landscaping. If leaf blowers were really that bad the market would have eliminated them.

Consider adding a /s ^^;

But somehow automobiles are OK.

Bah! The whining of electric yard tools is no better. If you don't have a hill just get a tradition reel mower. Instead of a weedwhacker get a scythe. Instead of a leaf blower, buy a rake. Healthiest lawn tools on the market!

No need to ban them, just tax their use at a level that pays the costs. Want to use a two stroke blower instead of electric? OK, $20 per hour tax.

Same with light bulbs.

What, exactly, are the costs associated with destroying the hearing of everyone within 500 feet? With waking all the sleeping children within that range? With disturbing the concentration of everyone working from home in that range?

A tax that reflects the actual externalities of the usage would be functionally the same as a ban and impossible to actually manage.

And how do you propose to levy and collect that tax?

So just ban them for poor people then?

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