Gas powered lawn and garden equipment are environmental disasters.  Here are some ugly statistics from the EPA.

  • Gas lawn mowers create 5 percent of U.S. air pollution; and even higher percentage in metropolitan areas.
  • Garden equipment engines emit high levels of carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, and nitrogen oxide.
  • Gas mowers consume 800 million gallons of gas per year.
  • Gardeners spill 17 million gallons of fuel each year while refueling lawn equipment - more than the oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez. 

Now believe that last one if you want, but I have heard 100,000 gallons spilled in the U.S. just from mowers - sounds more realistic - but whatever the volume, spilled fuel contaminates groundwater and evaporates into the air leaving volatile organic compounds that create ozone when exposed to heat and sunlight.

Electric equipment has many advantages over the gas powered models.  In addition to the lack of emissions and noticeably quieter operation, they are generally cheaper than equivalent gas models, lighter in weight, require very little maintenance and are more reliable.  But then there is that cord and its considerable nuisance value.  And when an electric unit fails it is very difficult to find anyone to service it.

Rechargeable battery models eliminate the need to drag a cord around but the foibles of batteries to power for everything from laptops to screwdrivers is well documented.

The biggest problem with electric gardening equipment, however, is the Tim Allen factor.  They lack power.  An electric chain saw, for example, will cut up downed branches and is terrific for heavy pruning.  But should you need to fell a full-sized tree, bring your lunch, your dinner, and pajamas.  Or borrow or rent the biggest gas saw you can lift.

Now there is an alternative power source for yard equipment which eliminates many of the problems inherent in both electric and gas models.  A young company named LEHR recently patented a limited variety of garden helpers that run on propane. 

Propane produces 70 percent less hydrocarbons and 96 percent fewer toxins and carcinogens than gasoline and the 16.4 oz. canisters that power the tools are readily available, will not spill, and are themselves made of totally recyclable steel.  A canister provides two hours of run time for the equipment.

At present LEHR only offers a string trimmer and a blower but the trimmer is essentially a power handle.  The working end can be swapped out with universal tools such as tiller heads and pruners.  The LEHR tools are available at ACE, True Value, and other hardware stores and marketed under the Craftsman label by Sears.

LEHR maintains that its products match gasoline equipment for power, but trimmers and pruners are not particularly power sensitive anyway.   Tim Allen certainly uses a gas blower but I'll trade a little power for less weight any day.

The string trimmer costs around $200 and attachments, if they aren't already in your garage, sell for $50 to $75 each.

Late last year the EPA issued new standards for garden equipment which will take effect in 2010 and 2011.  The LEHR equipment meets these new standards and recently received the agencies Clear Air Technology Award.