The Miser's Guide to a Better Planet

By Darryl McMahon


A perfect miser probably doesn't have a lawn, they would use this kind of growing space for a garden to grow their own fruits and vegetables. However, most of us do have these small pastoral remnants, and that makes mowing the lawn a weekly chore, at least when it isn't under snow. Generally, we need a tool to do the job, the size of the tool depending on the size of the lawn. So what tool do we buy for the job? (Prices for this column are based on prices in two advertising flyers received April 1999 at my house, and visits to 2 local stores. All prices quoted are for new items, quantity 1, no taxes included, rounded to the nearest dollar. No allowance is made for interest charges. Naturally, a good miser may find a better buy on a used item.)

For those of us with a small lawn, and the desire for a light work-out, there are push-mowers (normally a reel-type). These range in price from $129 to $209, with a mid-range unit costing about $149. No fuel costs, as you provide the power. Maintenance consists of sharpening the blades, probably about twice a year. Due to the effort involved, these are not very popular in North America, especially when powered units can be had for about the same price. Units may last up to 20 years, very little on them to break or wear out. Average annual cost: about $8. Winter storage: hang it on the wall.

For those of us with typical suburban lawns, power units are more common, and the variety of gasoline-powered units available is dizzying. Units range from $148 to over $700, with a popular mulching type costing $297, using 3.5 to 7 hp engines. Add in $7 for a gasoline container, and $5 to fill it and $3 for a container of lawnmower oil, and you are ready to start pulling that rope starter. Typical life is 5-6 years, with one shop tune-up because you could not get it to start at the beginning of its fourth season ($60), including an oil change, a replacement muffler, a replacement spark plug. Let's assume you will replace another spark plug yourself while you own the unit and a container of gasoline per year. Blade should be sharpened once a year, but usually is not because sharpening the blade is tricky when there is gasoline in the mower's tank and oil in the crankcase. Average annual cost: about $67. Winter storage: takes up floor space, can't be hung up unless gasoline and oil are removed.

Then there are electric mowers. The number of models available is slightly more than the push mowers, but much less than the gasoline-gulpers. These cost from $138 to $234, with a mulching type costing $198. Add in $12 for an extension cord (25 meters, outdoor rated, medium duty). No gasoline, no oil changes, no spark plug, no tune-ups, maintenance consists of cleaning the unit and sharpening the blade. With no oil or gasoline to spill out, you might even sharpen the blade on this unit. Units normally last about 10 years. Electricity cost will be in the order of $0.10 per mowing, let's say $2.50 per year. Average annual cost: about $24. Winter storage: fold handles flat, and hang it on a wall. Some don't like the inconvenience of working with the cord, however, that only takes a few minutes to get used to, in my experience. Cordless versions are now available, but cost almost as much as the high-end gasoline machines ($519). That's a lot of dollars to get rid of a $12 cord.

The push mower is the winner on economics, with the electric coming out on top for reduced effort and cost. The gas mower is an environmental loser, as well as the most expensive type to own and operate. The small gasoline engine does not have any emissions controls on it, so it can produce more air pollution in an hour of operation than a new gasoline car does in weeks of operation, and its roar is sure to annoy neighbours on a Sunday morning. The slow use of gasoline leads to the evaporation and release of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Save yourself some money, aggravation, and the air. Use a push mower if that is viable in your circumstances, otherwise, get an electric mower. And do yourself a favour - sharpen the blades. Your mower will work more efficiently, and your lawn will look barbered, not butchered.