July 30, 2018
“Our lawnmower broke,” my daughter Paige was on the phone, calling from her new home in Texas that she and her long-time boyfriend, John, just moved into last month. Like many first-time homeowners, John and Paige have big dreams and a dinky budget.
“The one you guys just bought?” I asked. They’d gotten a deal on a basic electric-corded mower the week before.
“Our yard was too much for it,” she said, dispirited. “John ran it into a tall patch of grass and the motor burned out. The repair will take three to four weeks; by then the grass will be up to our chins.”
By the time Paige and John got the keys to their single-story brick ranch house, the yard hadn’t been mowed for several weeks. The third-of-an acre lot looked more like the Tallgrass Prairie than a yard in suburbia. All I could think was, “What are the neighbors saying?”
Then, pop, an idea. I’d been wondering what to get Paige and John as a housewarming gift. A new top-of-the-line lawnmower and edger would cut (sorry) several ways: it would let me get them something they couldn’t yet afford, help them maintain their big yard, and keep them from being a pox on the hood. (I have a reputation to maintain, after all.)
Only one problem: I didn’t know the first thing about buying a lawnmower. John, however, a mechanical engineer working toward his doctorate in environmental engineering was just the guy to sort through the mechanical mumbo jumbo.
The push mower options are gas powered, the most common; electric corded, which comes with a cord you have to maneuver like you do with a vacuum cleaner; and electric-battery powered, green, clean but more expensive.
“Growing up we had a gas mower,” John said. But like many consumers today, he wanted something greener and just as powerful. “Those emissions can’t be good for you or the environment.” That led him to buy the electric-corded mower, which ultimately didn’t hack it.
“So … if you could have any lawnmower,” I said. And the shopping began.
A look at the 2018 Consumer Reports showed the highest-rated battery-powered push mower was an Ego. At $499 — twice the price of what they’d paid for the corded Sears Craftsman mower (RIP), which the store let them return — the reviews said it was “worth the splurge” if you had a large or hilly yard. And it’s cutting power equaled the top-rated gas mower’s.
John got excited as only an engineer can about the 56-volt arc-lithium battery with triple-cell technology.
Because we didn’t want to let any more grass grow under their feet, I had an Ego self-propelled mower and string trimmer express shipped to their house. Happy Housewarming.
On its maiden voyage, the Ego ploughed through the embarrassingly overgrown lawn that in some areas had grown to eight inches. Paige and John took turns mowing and edging. After an hour and a half, the lawnmower’s battery needed to recharge, and so did they. Twenty minutes later, the mower and they were ready to finish the yard.
How’d it go? I asked, calling for a report. “The lawn looks like the White House lawn,” Paige said, “and the neighbors are happy, too.”
“Oh?” I perk up.
John explained: “The first words I spoke to one of our neighbors was when she rolled down her car window and said, ‘Are you mowing? That is the quietest lawnmower I’ve ever heard.’”
Good mowers make good neighbors.
After Paige and John had stress-tested their new yard tools, I called Ego for some more scoop, and learned this about the new generation of power yard tools:
- Popularity. Five years ago sales of cordless yard tools accounted for less than 15% of the market, said Joe Turoff, spokesman for Ego. Today, the sales of lithium-battery-powered mowers, blowers and string trimmers combined is approaching 25 percent of the market and is the fastest-growing segment.
- Power. One reason for the growth is that lithium-battery technology keeps getting better. Until recently, electric-battery mowers didn’t measure up to their gas counterparts. “We didn’t want to bring a mower to market until it could deliver the same power as the best out there,” said Turoff, whose electric-battery yard tools hit stores in 2014. Indeed, Consumer Reports says they cut as well as any gas mower.
- Performance. Gas mowers have been market leaders because they rate high on performance, but they’re loud and smelly. The new generation of lithium-battery yard tools are clean, green and quiet. You can’t hear them through a closed window. “We use the same kind of battery as the Tesla,” said Turoff, adding that their batteries can withstand heat, water and being dropped.
- Endurance. Lithium-battery powered motors run out of juice after about an hour to an hour and a half, said Turoff. The battery will fully recharge in 60 minutes, and is good for up to 20,000 recharges over its life, so can last decades.”
- Other plusses. The self-propelled model had a “transportation mode,” which Paige appreciated. “It took itself up the hill like a little robot,” she said. The handle also folds up, so the equipment takes up less space in the garage.
- Disposal. Though you won’t be tossing it for a while, when a lithium battery does die, you can’t just drop it in the trash. Like lead batteries, lithium batteries need to be disposed of at a home improvement store.
CAPTION: Making the cut – At her new home, the author’s daughter test drives the next generation of lithium-battery-powered mowers, which are greener, cleaner and quieter. Photo by John Pederson.