Multiple Gas Leaf Blowers

Visitor Question: What should you do when your quiet urban/suburban community allows landscaping services to operate two or more gas power blowers along with other gas power equipment for as much as an hour and more? This happens weekly by several other services, which create what appears to be repeated daily excessive noise pollution with air pollution.

Editors Reply: Our answer, which we will discuss below, is that this depends on the political atmosphere and culture of your suburb. Some suburbs are really intense and competitive about the look of the landscaping, and they have a very specific look that they favor. Others are becoming open to and even embracing the idea of sustainability.

It will be easier for you to get relief if your suburb has expressed some interest in sustainability through establishing a sustainability commission, enthusiastically encouraging recycling, urging residents to buy green power, or embracing green dining, for instance.

In those communities, which are growing in number, you should talk with the sustainability commission or whatever activists have been involved in your particular suburb. Some of these may not live in your suburb, and even if they do, they may be at work during the time that the lawn services are interrupting peace and quiet for the sake of not leaving a single leaf out of place. So they may not have thought about this issue.

Point out that the gas-powered blowers are completely unnecessary, although all commercial lawn services that we have observed in our own communities use them. At our own homes though, we use good old-fashioned leaf rakes, and battery-powered trimmers and lawn mowers that are very quiet. Sustainability folks will be interested in eliminating the use of gasoline for lawn trimming and leaf blowing.

As you rightly point out also, the fumes really contribute to air pollution. (By the way, you and our other readers might be interested in our interview with landscape architect Jay Womack, in which he talks about the consequences of having a grass lawn at all.) So sustainability advocates will be your allies in fighting for some sort of limit or ban on the gas leaf blowers.

Speaking of a limit or ban, you will have to figure out what you are fighting for. It seems to us to be quite reasonable to say that one lawn service cannot use more than one blower on a property at a time. Otherwise, your suburb might place a ban on their use at certain times of the day. Maybe the gold standard would be to ban the use of gasoline-powered blowers at any time, with an exception for home owners using their own equipment. We are not aware of model ordinances for this purpose, but a few internet searches might turn up some examples.

We completely agree with you that the noise of these high-powered blowers (and gasoline-powered lawn mowers for that matter) can be quite jarring. If your suburb has a noise ordinance, you could ask the person at city hall that enforces that ordinance to check out the decibel level when the lawn services are active. They will have to measure that decibel level themselves, so you will need to provide information about what time the lawn service usually arrives.

Now we will shift gears and assume that your suburb has not expressed any interest in sustainability and that you do not have a noise ordinance or that your city refuses to investigate a noise complaint. In that case, your best bet is to appeal to the home owners who are hiring these lawn services and ask the property owners to put some pressure on their contractors to use less noisy and less polluting equipment. They are unlikely to stop using a lawn service if they are accustomed to that convenience, but maybe you can convince them to use contractors that are not such polluters.

Lastly, you could ask your suburb to invest in its own leaf vacuum or contract with a leaf vacuuming service already in business in your metro area. Typically home owners rake their leaves to the curb, and the vacuum comes along and sweeps them up quickly (but not necessarily quietly) on a publicized date or week. This practice does eliminate the problem of multiple dates for the noise and air pollution.

We hope this gives you a few ideas, although we have not personally experienced any city or suburb that has successfully dealt with this issue other than through a leaf vacuuming program.

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