Saturday, September 1, 2018

Moving to battery-powered tools

Reduce the use of power tools

One action we can take to have more sustainable and climate-wise landscapes is to modify the arrangement of landscape elements and the interface between those elements to minimize the need for power tools. This can be accomplished in many ways. If we use plants that are appropriate for the size of the space in the landscape, they won't need to be trimmed back over and over. In addition, if there is still some lawn, the edges of the mowed spaces should consist of gentle curves and no vertical elements right next to them so that the mower can make one sweep around the edge and not have to come back with an edger or string trimmer to finish the job. If there are raised beds or buildings that are next to mowed areas, install a narrow mulched path or a row of pavers set into the ground at about an inch above the level of the lawn between the lawn and the vertical structure so the wheels of the mower can run outside of the lawn edge on the mulch or the pavers.

That being said, in many landscapes power tools are required for adequate maintenance. The sustainable and climate-wise action is to replace polluting, gas-powered tools with those powered by batteries.

When you switch to battery-powered tools, purchase those that are compatible so the batteries can used in all of the tools. It takes about 30 minutes to charge a battery with this particular type of fast charger. The time of use for a battery is more than an hour of actual run-time, depending upon the tool, the power setting for any given tool, and the job at hand.

There are several advantages:
- Battery-powered tools are much quieter. There are some communities across the country that have banned noisy gas-powered leaf-blowers and other noisy tools.
- Gas-powered tools generate quite a bit of heat, which makes it uncomfortable for the users. Battery-powered tools do not.
- Battery-powered motors are easier to maintain. 2-cycle, gas-powered motors, which are used in most homeowner tools, use both gas and oil, which has to be drained after each use and run dry in order to prevent gumming up the carburetor. Ethanol in modern gas also causes deterioration of fuel lines and other plastic parts it comes in contact with. This is especially important if the tools are not used frequently and during the off-season periods.
- The EPA estimates that fuel spills associated with the use of landscaping power tools totals millions of gallons each year across the U.S. and has caused significant pollution of our aquifers and our waterways. National Emissions from Lawn and Garden Equipment 
- Battery-powered tools emit no fumes locally. Recharging the batteries uses electricity, so depending upon the main sources of power for the local grid, there may be some pollutants released to provide that energy. The regulations in place for power plants means that there will be much less pollution than the than those released by typical landscaping equipment. In addition, many utilities are using more renewable energy sources, so even less pollution will be emitted per kilowatt hour in the future.
- Starting a battery-powered tool is much easier. After inserting the battery, just push the power button and then use the trigger. The pull starter used on gas-powered tools takes strength and coordination, which limits the usefulness for those without good arm and shoulder strength.
- If you choose tools that use high-powered, 80-volt batteries, the tools are as powerful as the 2-cycle, gas-fueled ones, if not more so, and give longer working cycles between charges.
- If you choose a series of tools that use the same battery type, then you can keep charged batteries on hand for large jobs, because each tool uses the same battery, so several tools can be used with only one battery type--but a spare battery or two is useful to prevent work stoppage for charging.

Consumer Reports:  5 Green Reasons to Choose Battery-Powered Lawn Tools

We made the switch.

My husband did all the research and began acquiring a new set of tools to maintain our 1.5-acre landscape. Some tools are used more than others, but we were impressed with the chain saw after Hurricane Irma took down a bunch of trees out back. Fortunately the trees didn't damage our house or our neighbor's house, but it's been a huge job to clear out the tree debris.
The string trimmer in action. Hurricane Irma took down 8 trees on our heavily wooded lot, creating a big mess and a good test for the new chainsaw. It worked very well. We brought a spare battery for each work session, so it could be changed quickly as needed.

Switching to battery-powered tools is an easy action item to more climate-wise landscaping. All of my husband's gas powered tools were 10 to 15 years old and becoming harder to maintain, so switching was a no-brainer. He made the transition over a two month period, but you can gradually replace them, if you don't want the immediate financial impact. At the time of the purchases, Lowe's had a free spare battery rebate offer, so that worked out nicely.

After more than a year of regular use of the blower, string trimmer, hedge trimmer, and in the case of the chainsaw—heavy use—my husband is very happy with the change. Update: In October 2022, these power tools are still operating well.
I hope you are working on becoming more climate-wise in your landscaping efforts. We are all citizens of our only planet.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

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