Gas-Powered Leaf Blowers Illegal in Many Cities
Leaf blowers are one of many annoying loud-noise producers in quiet neighborhoods, especially early in the morning. Gas powered leaf blowers are the worst. Thankfully, and due to sustained citizen protest, many cities across the nation have passed ordinances that either make gas-powered leaf blowers illegal or restrict their use.
This is a boon to those of us who work from home, for whom shutting windows and doors is not enough to block out the incredible noise produced by these machines. Not only is this type of leaf blower noisy, but it also puts out more carbon emissions than a car driving 100 miles . . . only all in one small space. Here are the facts.
Leaf Blowers Cause Noise Pollution
According to community action group, Citizen for a Quieter Sacramento, leaf blower noise "interferes with communication, sleep, and work. The U.S. EPA says noise degrades quality of life by impairing communication and social interaction; reducing the accuracy of work, particularly complex tasks; and creating stressful levels of frustration and aggravation that last even when the noise has ceased."
(This is certainly true in my case. I had to leave my apartment to go for a walk this morning when the gardener used his high-powered leaf blower. Now I have a headache, which is unusual for me.)
Sacramento's city plan states that the maximum noise level of any machine used in a residential neighborhood must be 60 decibels. At the time their restrictions were passed, gas-powered leaf blowers measured 70-75 decibels from 50 feet away (much more close up). In neighborhoods where gardeners all do their work on the same day the noise level can be extremely high, with several gas-powered leaf blowers, lawn mowers, and chain saws going all at once up and down the street.
Acoustics experts have stated that this particular type of noise is especially irritating because of its pitch, changing amplitude, and the inability of the hearer to control it. The often toxic dust raised also endangers residents and the gardeners themselves, in addition to impairing their hearing over time.
Two Types of Air Pollution
According to the Lung Association, a leaf blower causes as much air pollution as 17 cars. It includes lead and elemental carbon picked up off the sidewalks and streets, both toxic to the human body. And it includes gas exhaust that releases carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide into the air, also both toxic. The US Environmental Protection Agency advises citizens to avoid the use of leaf blowers altogether, if they can.
The California Air Quality Management Board was concerned enough that it developed an annual program in 2002, still ongoing, to help gardeners exchange gas-powered leaf blowers for electrical ones. In spite of its popularity, there are other alternatives better than any kind of leaf blower, as you will see.
"Nationwide, two states, Arizona and New Jersey, have considered laws at the state level, and five other states have at least one city with a leaf blower ordinance."
- California Air Resources Board, Report to the California Legislature, 10/29/99
History of Leaf Blowers
Leaf blowers were first introduced into the United States in the 1950s, originally as part of a chemical spraying operation. Manufacturers soon discovered that users were removing the chemical part of the machine and just using the blowers. They quickly capitalized on that observation, and by 1990 were selling over 800,000 leaf blowers in the United States alone. Now the number is more like 1.5 million blowers.
Even before 1990 cities had begun banning the use of leaf blowers, because of the level of noise they produced. Carmel, California (in 1975) and Beverly Hills, California (in 1978) were the first to ban. Another 80 cities across the nation had ordinances either banning the equipment outright, or restricting usage or noise levels. Even states have considered banning them (Hawaii, Arizona, and New Jersey).
Leaf Blower Ordinances
Since then, over 400 cities in California alone have banned or restricted the use of gas-powered leaf blowers in residential neighborhoods, according to Noise Free America. In most cases, bans appear to have been successful, with enforcement that depends on citizens reporting gardeners who use noisy leaf blowers.
In 1998 the City of Los Angeles passed an ordinance with the following wording:
"No gas-powered blower shall be used within 500 feet of a residence at anytime. Both the user of such a blower as well as the individual who contracted for the services of the user if any, shall be subject to the requirements of and penalty provisions for this ordinance. Violation of the provisions of this subsection shall be punishable as an infraction in an amount not to exceed One Hundred Dollars($100)."
Ordinances that restrict, rather than forbid use, usually require equipment with noise levels below 65 decibels (check the rating on the machine), with all sound-suppression parts intact, and run only during the main working hours of the day. Gardeners are not allowed to blow debris onto a neighbor's property and blowers cannot be strong enough to blow debris into residents' windows or doors.
Guidelines for Using Leaf Blowers . . . If you Must Use Them
There are viable alternatives to using gas-powered leaf blowers. Until a gardener is able to switch over, however, the California Landscape Contractors Association and Outdoor Power Equipment Institute offer these guidelines for blower use:
- Wear eye and ear protection and avoid loose clothing, scarves or neck chains when using a blower.
- Check the equipment's muffler, air intakes and air filters before operation to make sure they are working properly.
Operate leaf blowers in residential areas only at reasonable hours (check local ordinances for time limit restrictions); never early in the morning, late at night or on Sundays.
Limit the number of leaf blowers being used at once on small residential sites. This will keep the sound generated to a minimum.
Minimize the high-pitched whine by running the blower at the lowest possible throttle speed to do the job. Lower speeds reduce sound and give the operator maximum control. Full throttle is seldom necessary.
Use the full nozzle extension so the air stream is directed close to the ground to minimize dust.
Pay close attention to the generation of dust. In dusty conditions, use mister attachments to slightly dampen surfaces. To clean an excessively dusty area, use a shovel to pick up the large debris and do your final cleanup with water.
Keep debris away from neighbors' yards, the street, vehicles, people or pets. Don't use leaf blowers to move large debris piles from one spot to another.
Clean up after using blowers. Dispose of debris in trash receptacles or haul it away.
- Don't wait for complaints to change your behaviors.
If you are a resident of an apartment or condo complex where a gardener persists in using a loud, gas-powered leaf blower, you might suggest to the landlord the following addendum to their contract with the gardeners:
"All landscaping contractors, gardeners or groundskeepers that work on this property are now required to use electric (cordless or corded) leaf blowers. Outlets are available throughout the property. For every month that use of gas-powered leaf blowers persists, $25 will be deducted from the contract payment."
Alternatives to Gas-Powered Leaf Blowers
There are three main problems with gas-powered leaf blowers: Noise, air pollution from dust, and air pollution from exhaust fumes. Most city ordinances were passed in response to the noise. The following solutions resolve one or more of these issues.
Electric Leaf Blowers: Electric leaf blowers resolve part of the air pollution and some of the noise problem. By replacing the need to use gas, they remove the toxic pollutants resulting from gas exhaust. They are also somewhat quieter. They do use electricity, however, and are limited by the length of the electric cord, typically 100 ft. Hence, they raise the electric bill and are only good for small landscapes, not large ones.
Electric Leaf Vacuum/Mulchers: The air from some leaf blowers is directional and can be reversed to become a vacuum, instead. This kind of blower/vacuum has an attachment that catches and mulches leaves as they are sucked up. It gives great control over placement of leaves, eliminates both air pollution problems, and is reportedly 50-70% quieter than gas-powered leaf blowers.
Lawnmowers: Many lawnmowers also have the ability to mulch and vacuum leaves and small yard debris. There are both electric and hand propulsion mowers that do not pollute the air, are much quieter than leaf blowers, and are often cheaper too. One company is making a specially shaped, large bag for leaf collection that fits all motorized lawn mowers.
Rake and Broom: This solution resolves all three issues. It's the quietest of the alternatives and gives good control over placement of leaves. It also provides good exercise for arms, back, and chest muscles. It does take longer in most cases, and you have to (or want to) be in shape. According to the Sacramento report, "a grandmother" tested the actual time it takes to clear leaves with a rake and broom and said there is no difference. This solution is great for small landscapes, but not large ones.
Yard Sweepers: Hand-powered sweepers with a debris catch basin are quiet and pollution free. They take less energy than the rake and broom method, but are equally as effective. Most can be used on both concrete and grass. Home Depot sells a Gleason brand sweeper, and Ace Hardware sells sweepers too, as does Amazon.
If you live in an apartment and have to contend with gardeners who use loud, gas-powered equipment, try sending your manager a copy of the city noise ordinance, along with this article or another like it. That way they won't have just a complaint from you, but will also have valuable information they can use to resolve the problem.