Switching to an electric lawn mower could decrease some pollution as much, or more, than switching to an electric car from a gasoline powered vehicle. That is a crazy claim to make about a tiny engine that you run only a handful of times per year, and yet, that is exactly what happens. Small engines in the U.S. have minimal emission regulations and thus they have minimal emission controls. On the other hand, cars have had decent emission regulations for decades which has lead to a huge disparity in pollution between the two types of engines.
Lawn Mower Pollution vs. Car Pollution:
Prior to 2012, lawn mowers had even lower regulations than they do now, and let’s face it, most of our mowers are pre-2012 models. Here is the exhaust breakdown for lawn mower models 2011 and older:
- One hour of lawn mower use equals the same amount of NOx and HC (nitrogen oxide and hydrocarbons) emissions as driving a car 257 miles.
- One hour of lawn mower use equals the same amount of CO (carbon monoxide) emissions as driving a car 401 miles.
You may be using a lot more gasoline in your car, but because of emissions controls your car pollutes much, much less per hour of use.
One Year of Lawn Mower Pollution:
To give an annual apples-to-apples comparison, we need to know how much cars and lawn mowers are used in a year. For lawn mowers, we will assume 30 hours of use per year. As a high school and college student I ran a lawn mowing business in the Midwest. I can tell you that for Midwestern lawns, 30 hours is a little low for a lawn with a sprinkler system, and a little high for a lawn allowed to go dormant during the hottest weeks of summer. I’ll use 30 hours for my calculations, but you can easily re-run the calculations based on your usage.
According to the Department of Transportation, the average miles driven per person in the U.S. was 13,476 for 2015.
- 30 hours per year of lawn mower use equates to the same NOx and HC pollution as driving a car 7,710 miles.
- 30 hours per year of lawn mower use equates to the same CO pollution as driving a car 12,030 miles.
The average combined pollution is 9,870 miles. If you are not a big driver, your lawn mower emissions could easily be higher than your car emissions, and that isn’t even counting your string trimmer exhaust.
Emissions Reduction per Dollar Spent:
Now this is where we get to the really fun stuff. Decreasing the emissions noted above reduces pollution, strengthens national security, and wipes out hundreds of thousands of occurrences of childhood asthma. For all the info on those claims, backed up by high quality sources, see my electric vehicle page.
Everyone I know is aware of at least one person who has, or did have, childhood asthma. If you have ever seen a child having an asthma attack and felt the complete helplessness to do anything about it, this is your chance. Make the switch to electric motors from gas powered engines and some of those asthma attacks will never happen at all. According to the Children’s Health Study, which was performed at the University of Southern California, NOx, and CO are two of the main contributors to childhood asthma. Not only will you be making a big difference in air quality, you will be making that impact very efficiently in terms of dollars spent, just take a look at the per dollar efficiency when compared to buying an electric vehicle.
A used Nissan Leaf electric car can be found in the used car market for less than $11,000. A brand new electric push mower can be had for $350. Considering that the average gas powered lawn mower saves 9,870 miles worth of car pollution per year and the average annual car miles driven is 13,476, switching to an electric lawn mower will reduce emissions equivalent to 73% of the reductions achieved by switching to an electric car. 73% of the cost of the used Leaf mentioned above is $8,030. Dividing $8,030 by $350 we find that you would have to spend 22 times more money on an electric vehicle than on a lawn mower to achieve the same reductions in emissions.
Conclusion and Caveats:
NOx and CO reductions are hugely important for air quality that affects us all. At $350, lawnmowers decrease pollution for a relatively small amount of money compared to buying an electric car. Electric mowers make the same impact in NOx and CO emissions reductions as an electric vehicle for 95% fewer dollars. All of this is to say, electric mowers and string trimmer should be adopted quickly and are a great gateway purchase toward a low emissions lifestyle. However, once you have upgraded to electric lawn care, don’t overlook the benefits of electric cars. While mowers decrease pollutants in general, electric vehicles are still the top way to decrease your carbon footprint (CO2) which makes a much larger impact on global warming than any of the pollutants addressed in this article. So, switch to electric lawn care now, and the next time you are looking for a car, keep electrics on your radar!
The Next Step
Want to learn how to switch to clean energy even if you live in an apartment? This article shares an ideal way for anyone to access clean energy. If you are inspired to learn about other ways you can increase your clean energy usage, check out the how-to pages: Easy, Intermediate, and Total Commitment.
At ButItJustMightWork, we strive to make your life more fun, more convenient and more affordable with clean energy.