Thankful for No Leaf Blowers

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Ours was very nice. We came up to Minneapolis, where my younger son and older brother both live, and had Thanksgiving at my brother’s house. There was a fine feast, including three kinds of homemade pie: apple, pumpkin, and pecan.

There’s snow on the ground in Minneapolis, which means no one is outside using their leaf blowers. For this I am grateful.

leafblower-guys-meme

I have been thinking a lot about leaf blowers in recent weeks.

We have a neighbor on the other side of the alley, just a couple houses down. She’s a widow, a very nice woman. Every Sunday her son visits and takes care of various chores for her. This is all good except that starting some time in September, the son gets out his leaf blower and scrupulously eliminates every single leaf to be found in his mother’s backyard.

leaf-blower-again

He does this EVERY SINGLE Sunday. Always right around the time when Judy and I like to sit on the back porch, drink coffee, and read the newspaper. And despite the small size of his mother’s yard, it seems to take him a very long time to finish. He is very zealous in his pursuit of leaves, like Inspector Javert in his pursuit of Jean Valjean. Not a single leaf can remain at large.

leaf-blower-evil
NOOOOOOOOOOO!

Perhaps he was traumatized by leaves as a child, I don’t know.

I hate leaf blowers. Actually, I only hate the gas-powered leaf blowers with two stroke engines. They are unbearably noisy – 90 to 102 decibels. The EPA says that 85 decibels is enough to damage someone’s hearing.

lego-leafblower
Et tu, Lego?

They are also incredibly inefficient and toxic to the environment.Β A gas-powered leaf blower generates in an hour as much emissions as a car driving for 100 miles. About one third of the fuel isn’t fully combusted and so it comes out in concentrated doses of nasty carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and nitrous oxides. This isn’t good for anybody, least of all the people blowing around the leaves.

dead_rising_leaf_blower_holding
Why do some men feel so strongly about their leaf blowers?

My own personal view is that for a small back yard, a rake should be adequate for gathering up the leaves. But even if you really do need or want a blower, there are now perfectly good electric blowers now on the market. These are much quieter and more efficient in their use of energy.

stop-leafblowing

Really, gardeners should view leaves as a free resource. They can be added to the compost pile or used as mulch. It’s true that some leaves, like oak and maple, can make a heavy mat or are slow to break down. These are best shredded before use. The people who did my spring clean up this year had their own grinder and shredded almost every bit of my garden waste, leaves and all.

But back to our neighbor and her son. I haven’t said anything to either of them so far. The season is just about over, so I’m considering several strategies for next fall. Some possibilities are:

  • Rake her backyard myself on Saturday, before the son visits;
  • Hand the son an ad for an electric leaf blower and sing the praises of this marvelous new product (too subtle?);
  • Buy an electric leaf blower myself and lend it to the son whenever he comes over.
  • Launch an anti-leaf blower crusade culminating in their prohibition by our local government and a public Bonfire of the Leaf Blowers.

What would you do?

70 Comments on “Thankful for No Leaf Blowers

  1. Perhaps your first option? I would recommend talking to him but I tried that with my next door neighbor and he just laughed at me. I was polite too! He is extremely fond of his weed whacker, leaf blower and his homemade giant lawnmower (I think NASA had to approve it). Every Saturday he uses the weed whacker first, then the lawnmower and then the leaf blower to make sure not a single blade of cut grass is left on his driveway or sidewalks. Every other evening he gets out the leaf blower to clean off the driveway once home from work. I can’t leave my windows open in the summer after 3 pm due to the obnoxious noise and the smell. In the fall, he will actually spend 4-5 hours each Saturday blowing the leaves to the curb. I have a theory why he is so fond of these machines but it’s not for polite company.

    I wish you good luck with your neighbor. I’m thinking of moving before next spring.

    • I confess to having a weed whacker of my own, but it’s battery-powered and fairly quiet. I’m glad I don’t live near your neighbor.

  2. Timely post. Our neighbor had a crew of two who started mid morning today and were still blowing away at 4:30 when it got dark. They didn’t finish so we have more to look forward to tomorrow. Last weekend, another neighbor had a crew over there most of a day to do his yard. I don’t know what would work because I’m guessing it depends on personalities. I wish you good luck on your noise pollution if you wish me the same. πŸ™‚

  3. This reminded me of living in a condominium in Palo Alto, CA in the 1980s. Each Saturday around noon the leaf blower brigade would start up and carry on for at least 20 minutes. It was so annoying, a loud buzzing, disturbing the peace. My first experience with leaf blowers and I’ve loathed them ever since. Being contrary, I wondered why they weren’t leaf vacuums, so at least they could be dumped on a compost pile or a garden bed.

  4. I can empathize. My neighbor’s mow-n-blow crew goes at the leaves with a gusto once a week, and they sometimes blow dirt all over the clothes on my clothesline. I’ve not said anything to my neighbor, however, because she’s a pretty nice gal.

    I also had no idea that gas leaf blowers’ fuel isn’t fully combusted and polluted so much. Yuk.

  5. Good timing: Black Friday is the day that hordes of shoppers venture forth to acquire every possible mode of electronic or gas engined device. Would a protest march do any good?

  6. Leaf blowers are a nightmare, and I didn’t realise the fuel isn’t fully combusted… even worse.. People who use leaf blowers seem to go into a trance and cannot stop! Good luck with your neighbor.

  7. Oh yes , I loathe leaf blowers. Notice that the blower-operator uses hearing protection. The rest of us don’t. There are weekend days that these public nuisances are running for 2 or three hours between all the neighbors and their mow-blow guys. And it’s not just in fall anymore. All year. They use the damn things all year.

  8. Your post had me laughing and nodding in agreement. We live so far away from other homes now that when Hubby collects and mulches leaves in one go with his special (gas-powered) tool, I don’t wince and worry about the disturbance much. Winter and respite are almost here!!

  9. Oh, I know exactly how you feel! I have no suggestions for peacemaking, though, as I am confrontation averse. Our next door neighbor invariably mows his grass when we want to sit out on our patio, too. Ben recently acquired a trio of rechargeable, battery-operated garden tools, including a cool folding mower, an edger, and a blower. He has happily (and much more quietly) done the yard cleanup for the last several months. You can still hear the machines, but they are so much more tolerable, and don’t emit the pollutants. If we had a smaller garden or fewer trees ourselves, I’d happily rake them, but in addition to our leaves, all my neighbors’ leaves come to our house to die.

  10. I know what you mean. We have a townhouse behind us. Being a townhouse their lawn/garden maintained by the townhouse committee. It’s not only leaf-blower but all sorts of other mechanical things they use to clean the townhouses; lawns; blow leaves; trim trees; you name…continues from spring and till the snow comes. Horrible sound. Start a campaign to ban the gas-powered leaf blower.

  11. The last option sounds the funniest, but maybe raking up the leaves yourself would be interesting, just to see how the son reacts! We are fortunate here on the one hand: there are strict local regulations about when you can make a noise outdoors – 7am to 10pm with (depending where you live) up to two hours lunch time ‘quiet’! Yes, we live in the back of beyond, but apparently the cities also have ceratin rules too.On the other hand, we live next to the woods and have a lot of trees ourselves too, so a leaf blower is almost a necessity. We use it sparingly though, and I have a small electric one for a quick tidy up round the front door! πŸ™‚

  12. Oh definitely the last option is the way to go. A great post Jason, you made me laugh but I am with you on this. I have a neighbour with one, not a leaf is allowed to settle in his garden. I think he suffers from OCD, if he is not leaf blowing he is using some other noisy power tool to beat his poor garden into submission.

    • Perhaps we should visit our neighbors as they are using their power tools and shout as loud as we can: “YOU KNOW, SOME PEOPLE GARDEN FOR THE PEACE AND QUIET!!!”

  13. We have a neighbour who likes his noisy power tools – they’re fired up every weekend in summer … Anyway, have you tried telling your neighbour how loud the leaf blower sounds from your garden? If he realised perhaps the son would find another way to clear leaves. Offering to rake them up instead is the generous option but you have enough on your plate, I’m sure!

  14. I have an electric blower that I use to blow the leaves into one area and then I use the vacuum option to suck them up and shred them for mulch. I never have worried if leaves remain on the ground until spring. BUT, I have a neighbor who hires someone to remove every last leaf in her yard and she has been complaining for over a month because the folks she hires do not come until all the leaves have fallen. And they had better get every leaf!!! I think it is part of a compulsive disorder and I would blog about it but she reads my blog. We do have a noise ordinance here and there is a decibel limit, but it is pretty high. On Sunday, you cannot make noise before 9:00 am. I once called the police about my crazy next door neighbor, retired, home all day, who decided to cut his lawn in the dark at 9:30 at night. Us old folks get a little cuckoo sometimes and maybe Momma insists that her son come clean up the yard. Should you speak to her?

    • I may. I do think there is an unhealthy compulsion to have the yard immaculate, without a leaf or twig. Why not just put down artificial turf?

  15. It is annoying to have someone doing noisy outside work when you just want to relax and enjoy being out in your own garden. Saturday seems to be mowing and blowing day here too. I have a cute little battery powered blower that I use that doesn’t seem to be too loud. I only use it to blow off the patio, walk and driveway. It isn’t powerful enough to do leaves piled up in the garden. I rather enjoy raking. Things look so nice once they have been raked. It also doesn’t seem to disperse the soil quite as bad. Peace.

  16. I hear you – we have an electric leaf blower and, even though it may not be as offensive as a gas model, I still HATE it. We have quite a lot of lawn so we purchased a leaf catcher that attaches to the back of the riding mower which does an amazing job of collecting leaves in the lawn – my compost pile is VERY happy! – but we still have to deal with the sections that the catcher can’t get into (not the beds, though, we leave the leaves on them). I much prefer using a rake but my husband is all about reducing the amount of effort. I actually think the blower is a pain to use – it’s heavy, loud, you can’t really control where the leaves go and I bet if we did a side by side test, there would barely be any difference in terms of timing.

  17. I’m with you! We have fewer neighbors now, so less problems with yard crews, but when we lived in the suburbs it was almost sun up to sun down every day. I thought I was going to lose my mind. There was never a day I could plan an outdoor lunch in my beautiful garden because the air was always full of dust and smoke.

    • Crazy, isn’t it? What’s the point of owning property if you can’t go outside to enjoy it? I think part of the problem is that many people don’t even use their yards or gardens.

  18. I so agree with you. Even at the hospital where my husband just had a knee operation they were out at first light blowing leaves even when the wind was so strong it was blowing the leaves in the opposite direction. They don’t even seem a very efficient piece of kit to me.

  19. I do own a battery-operated leaf blower but only use it to blow leaves off the driveway and walkway, which takes less than 10 minutes (which is just about the same time that the battery starts dying, LOL). It became a necessity when I stupidly installed a white (!!) paver driveway and discovered that wet autumn leaves quickly stained it. Your neighbor situation is tricky, though; frankly I doubt that any of the latter three approaches will result in a change. In our area people have been trying to get leaf blowers banned for 40 years and have only succeeded in a very few villages putting restrictions on the days and hours when they can be used.

    For instance in Huntington they can’t be used before 8 am or after 7 pm on weekdays, or before 9 am or after 5 pm on weekends (basically it’s a noise ordinance). There is a max decibel level (70) in the law but it is not enforced because the town doesn’t monitor it. And since most lawn services operate within the allowed hours anyhow, the law does nothing.

  20. I agree with everything you’ve said but I have to use them at work. We have a field / meadow that is acres in size and raking it used to take 6 men weeks to do. Without leaf blowers I wouldn’t be able to still do the job I did at 18.
    And I’m not so sure about the electric ones. Most of our electricity is still generated by using coal to make steam, and it’s far from a clean fuel.

    • OK, I guess I’m talking about small urban and suburban yards. And electricity may not be clean (some is from coal, some from gas, a growing share from renewables, etc.), but it is cleaner than two stroke gasoline engines.

  21. If you had an electric leaf blower, offering to lend it to the son might do the trick. Perhaps he doesn’t like all the noise either and would leap at the chance to use a less offensive machine.

    Anyway, I totally sympathize. Most my neighbors have mow-blow-go crews service their properties from spring to fall. After every cut, they use a LOUD string trimmer to edge all the beds/walks/driveways and then a LOUD leaf blower to clear all the hard surfaces. Since some of these crews have 2-3 guys, sometimes there are multiple LOUD machines going at once.

    It creates a real racket. And since I work from home, I’m around to hear it all the time.

    I think most of the homeowners who go off to work during the day never think about the noise (or pollution) since all is quiet by the time they get home.

    FWIW, I did recently purchase a battery-powered leaf blower (http://www.homedepot.com/p/EGO-110-mph-530-CFM-Variable-Speed-Turbo-56-Volt-Lithium-ion-Cordless-Electric-Blower-LB5302/206584690). I don’t need it much since my property is not heavily wooded, but I do like using it push the leaves off the lawn and into the beds where they will hopefully decompose into mulch and enrich the soil. Raking was always one of my least-favorite outdoor activities.

    The battery blowers are much quieter and of course less stinky than the gas models.

    • I know what you mean about the mow-blow-go crews. I really wonder why people don’t just buy a condo if they want nothing to do with their own yards.

  22. Earplugs and a loud-hailer. Yell at the neighbour’s son and wear earplugs while doing it.
    Sorry you’ve got to go through this… I’ve never heard a leaf-blower but if it’s as loud as you say, I can imagine it’s hellish. Particularly on what should be a quiet sunday.

  23. Ha! We have several neighbors who use lawn services now. Fortunately, they mostly come during the day, midweek, so it’s not a hindrance for our weekend entertaining or peace. I didn’t realize the gas models were that bad–wow! Pretty soon, we’ll be hearing the snowblowers … no! Say it ain’t so! Actually, one of those will be ours–we decided a few years ago that we were too old to shovel heavy Wisconsin snow all winter long, so we invested in a decent snowblower. But, ya, when it’s pleasant outside, who wants to hear the constant hum of a gas leaf blower all weekend long! Good luck with your campaign! πŸ˜‰

    • A snowblower I think is another story. They get used much less frequently, and there’s no question that they are much easier than shoveling by hand. We’re thinking of getting one for this winter.

  24. We have an electric leaf blower which is also a vacuum and shredder. I find that we can control where the leaves go much better by raking the leaves and now just use the machine to pick up and shred the leaves, prior to collecting them in a pile in the woodland to rot down for leaf mould. I also don’t think it is any faster blowing the leaves into a pile, I can rake them just as quickly. Hope you get some peace soon!

  25. Hello Jason, this is such a contentious issue isn’t it? The intrusive noise, fumes and pollution of using leaf blowers. I’ll only tolerate leaf blowers for clearing paths in the name of safety, anything else should be raked, lawn-mowered or left. We live in a heavily forested area and there is just no point in using leaf blowers yet the odd person still persists. Sometimes, I wish I could control the wind to send a well-timed gust to people abusing leaf blowers. I’m hoping this is a fashion trend and they will fall out of favour, but it may take some time.

    • I don’t know about this being a fashion trend, but I hope that at least the gas-powered blowers will be replaced with battery-powered. Controlling the wind is a good idea, maybe we could get NASA to work on that.

  26. You’re completely right Jason. I hate them too for the noise and smell. Fortunately these gas leaf blowers are not widely used here.

  27. Oh, I despise, HATE, loathe, and abhor leaf blowers. I suspect if you raked on Saturday, there would still be stray leaves for the son to attack on Sunday. Perhaps you could blare loud music outside every time he cranks it up, put sand in the tank, or borrow it and accidentally run it over with your car.

  28. Your last option is the way I’d go! You had me laughing, although these things are a nightmare, we have a few around here too, again, small gardens that could be raked far more quickly.xxx

  29. A poison dart frog and a small arrow should do the trick. A quick zip to the jugular and he’s down for the count – forever. I despise leaf blowers.

  30. I agree wholeheartedly! I watched a leaf blower work all morning blowing leaves in a small yard. It was quite comical because the wind was blowing about 20 mph that day and he created a tornado of sorts with all the leaves. When he quit, it looked exactly the same as when he started. Definitely made me wonder about his mental state.
    Some neighborhoods have “rules” about these obnoxious toys so you might check into that. I would probably ask the lady if I could rake her yard. I hate to see good leaves go to waste.

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