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Leaf Blower Noise! What Noise?
Are leaf blowers really that noisy? Oh, I know what
you're thinking. Of course they are. Right?
Sure, there are still some older blowers in service that
are quite noisy, but today's new blowers are very
different. All are quieter than they used to be. Many
are as much as 75% quieter than blowers manufactured a
As Vice President of Engineering and new
to the lawn care industry in 1994, I was made aware of
the leaf blower noise issue developing around the
country. I was asked by ECHO’s marketing and sales
department to look into the possibility of reducing leaf
blower sound levels in response to this complaint. An
alternative had to be created for those irritated by
noisy blowers while continuing to provide a professional
grade tool essential to the proper care and grooming of
personal property as well as public parks, golf courses,
parking lots and other commercial spaces.
Because I advocate the use of
"Quiet" leaf blowers in lieu of an outright blower ban, I am considered by some to be the enemy.
Nothing could be further from the truth. ECHO Inc. has
spent millions of dollars and I personally have worked
tirelessly to create quiet leaf blowers and make their
availability known for more than 15 years. We have
deliberately and continuously addressed the issue of
leaf blower noise on all our products in order to satisfy
the needs of those on both sides of the issue.
My goal is to solve the noise problem and I can report now
that success is being achieved. A total solution is on
the horizon. Cities all over the country are realizing
that banning all leaf blowers will not work and that
banning only the loud blowers will.
I make this point because there are still those that
want to ban all gasoline powered leaf blowers. I
believe this is because these people do not have the up-to-date
information they need to realize that modern leaf
blowers are no longer overly noisy. My goal
here is to explain why this is true. I do so in a straight forward way
with links to supporting documentation from credible
Several people have asked how much time can be saved
using a leaf blower over a broom. The following two
videos document the time difference for removing leaves
from the same yard using a broom and an ECHO PB-760LNT.
Both videos are shown at four times normal speed.
The indicator in the lower left hand corner displays the
actual time in minutes that it took to do a 210 foot
long driveway and a relatively large courtyard for a
total footage of 5540 sq. ft. The broom took 57
minutes while it only took the blower 6.5 minutes.
The broom took more than eight times longer. (57 / 6.5)
can see from the picture below, the PB-760LNT has the
power and performance necessary to remove wet leaves.
CHO Inc. has
been the leader in the effort to provide environmentally
friendly leaf blowers. Today, Echo's "Quiet 1" is
the benchmark to which all other manufacturers compare
their new leaf blowers. It was the very first
quiet leaf blower at 65 dB(A)1, which has
been on the market since 1995. The design contains
sound absorbing materials that have eliminated the whine
typical of older blowers. A new concept muffler
was introduced to lessen exhaust sounds and a patented
sound attenuator was added to the air intake system.
Even special plastics were employed to deaden any rattle
that might be caused by engine vibration. The air
impeller (fan) and cowling were redesigned to reduce
airflow sound while maintaining top efficiency and
Electric blowers do not have the same performance
as gasoline powered leaf blowers. The
limitation comes in the available power. Electric
blowers rely on 120 volts and 20 amps from a household
outlet or portable generator. Mathematically, there is
no way they can obtain the wattage necessary to move the
amount of air that can be blown from a gasoline powered
unit. For this reason, the professional landscaper will
not use electric. Another limitation is in the length
of power cord. As the cord becomes longer, the
electrical resistance increases and therefore the voltage drops.
This reduces the power even more. If the voltage drops too far,
damage will occur in the motor.
You might think that Electric blowers are very quiet because they have
no engine. It seems logical, but
electric blowers generate a very high pitched scream,
similar to a shop vacuum. The reason is that the
motor must turn a multi-bladed fan very fast to move any
reasonable amount of air and therefore it generates a
siren type sound, which is very irritating. Quiet
gasoline powered blowers have a unique fan configuration
that prevents this type of sound. Very low
performance battery powered electric blowers may not
most alternating current electric blowers do.
Click on the following link to see test
results comparing a quiet gasoline powered leaf blower
to electric blowers:
Are electric leaf blowers quieter than gas?
nti-leaf blower activists tend to
argue that sound is not the only thing they do not like
about blowers. Some say that leaf blowers are bad
for the environment. Not any more. This
argument is unfounded. The EPA has mandated that
all small engines, similar in size to leaf blowers, must
meet strict exhaust emission requirements. For
some engines, hydrocarbon emissions have been reduced by
90%. Many designs have changed so radically that
completely new engine concepts have been introduced.
nly the EPA has the authority to regulate exhaust
emissions from small engines in the United States.
The State of California has its own Emission Standard,
but it has been submitted to and approved by the EPA as
a replacement to the Federal Standard in California.
All other States or subdivisions thereof are preempted
from controlling emissions, including through the means
of banning. See the
section 209 of the Federal Clean Air Act to read the
A statement by the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI)
to Solana Beach, CA concerning compliance is available
at the following site:
OPEI letter to
It is possible, however, for a local government to
require leaf blowers to meet the lowest applicable level
of the phase-in period for exhaust emissions (built
after January 2005). See
EPA Exhaust Requirements for
phase in levels and effective year.
T hose who use EPA limits to justify that
leaf blowers are much worse for the environment than are
automobiles are just plain wrong. Automobiles cannot
be compared directly to leaf blowers using published
emission limits without first converting to like units.
The EPA measures emissions by "hydrocarbons per mile"
for the automobile and "hydrocarbons per
horsepower-hour" for small off road engines.
Comparisons must be calculated after converting
hydrocarbon emissions to "Total Kilograms per week", for
example. To put this in perspective, think in terms of
The most common use for a leaf blower is to remove
debris from a sidewalk and driveway after mowing the
lawn and trimming the hedges. Most people work in their
yard once a week and they use handheld equipment for
about 1/2 hour. Of that, about 10 minutes is spent
blowing grass clippings. The same household most likely
has a car which is driven to work five days a week. A
typical number of miles per week is 245 miles.
Using this method, a week's worth of automobile
driving for a typical homeowner vs. a week's
worth of leaf blower use is 30 times worse for the
environment. An SUV is 45 times worse than a
leaf blower. You can easily calculate what happens if
two people in the household drive to work separately.
Well, what about the contractor that services 10 or 15
yards per day or 75 households per week? Clearly, 75
households will likely have 75 automobiles and the
comparison remains valid.
What about during the leaf season. Okay, this lasts for
a month or two in the fall. The blower may be used for
an hour, maybe three times over a two month period.
Average the extra usage over the entire year and the
overall impact is minimal.
To see a detailed comparison of Automobiles to Small
Engines prepared by Rob Stegall, Sr. Director Design
Engineering, Echo Inc., click the following link:
Comparison, Cars vs. Blowers . Mr. Stegall's
chart includes string trimmers, hedge clippers and leaf
Mr. Stegall is a respected industry expert when it comes
to understanding Emission Standards with over 25 years
experience working with handheld engines. From 1990 to
the present, Rob has worked closely with the California
Air Resources Board (CARB), United States Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA), Environment Canada and the
European Union during the development of Small Off Road
Engine Emission Standards.
t one time hydrocarbons, or unburned fuel in the
considered the evil source of environmental
catastrophe. It caused smog, sometimes called “ozone”.
Automobile manufacturers have done a lot over the years
to reduce this constituent of exhaust gasses. The leaf
blower engine has also been improved. Hydrocarbon
emission has been reduced by 90%. See "Graph,
certified Emission Levels".
Diesel engines run clean with respect to unburned
hydrocarbons because these
engines run on excess air. Unburned hydrocarbons are
uncommon, unless the engine is malfunctioning. You can
tell when they are because they will emit a black smoke
from the exhaust.
In terms of hydrocarbons, we all know that automobiles
are running cleaner than they used to by magnitudes, but what about
greenhouse gasses? What about CO2?
Have you ever given any thought to what happens to the
fuel that is burned in an automobile, a diesel
semi-truck, or a leaf blower? It oxidizes.
That means oxygen combines with the two elements found
in fuel, namely hydrogen and carbon. The reason
fuel is called a hydrocarbon is because it
consists of hydrogen and carbon. Every ounce of it turns
into an airborne gas. Hydrogen combines with
oxygen to form water (H2O) and carbon
oxidizes to form carbon dioxide (CO2
). CO2 is the greenhouse gas everyone
is talking about.
Aspen, Colorado wanted to know what was causing
greenhouse gasses in their community. Where is the CO2
coming from? They found that 555,660 tons of CO2
were emitted from the transportation sector. That
represents 66% of all the CO2 emissions in
Aspen in 2004. The other major contributor is the power
Those arguing that leaf blowers are worse than
automobiles when it comes to Greenhouse Gasses (CO2
), are totally incorrect. How many cars in your
household are used to drive to work? How many
gallons of gasoline do you burn in a week, one tank full
(18 gallons)? Two tanks (36 gallons)? How
much do you burn in a leaf blower in a week, 10 ounces?
20 ounces? A gallon, by the way, is 128 ounces.
The average automobile is 230 times worse than a leaf
blower when it comes to the emission of greenhouse
To say that leaf blowers pollute more than automobiles
is an irresponsible, uninformed and absurd statement.
Ten ounces of fuel through a leaf blower generates about
the same amount of CO2 as that found in
a couple cases of beer.
To learn more about the greenhouse gasses, see the
following web sites:
S ome people feel that one's health might be at risk
because of the leaf blower. Since they move air at
high velocity, doesn't it stand to reason that they
would also generate a lot of dust?
The issue of health risk is often
misrepresented as it relates to the leaf blower.
According to the EPA, the particulate matter that is
potentially harmful to someone’s health is known as
PM-10 and PM-2.5. These numbers represent the particle
size, which is 10 microns and 2.5 microns respectively.
A micron is a meter divided by one million (1/1,000,000
meter). PM-10 has a diameter of 0.00001 meter
(0.0004 inches or one-seventh
the width of a human hair). They are similar in size to
the dust you see in a ray of sun light, right within
your own living room. For the most part, PM-10 is
otherwise invisible. Leaf blowers deal with a much
larger sized particle, one that falls back to the earth
within a few feet of the nozzle.
originate from a variety of mobile and stationary
sources (diesel trucks, woodstoves, power plants, etc.),
their chemical and physical compositions vary widely.
Particulate matter can be directly emitted or can be
formed in the atmosphere when gaseous pollutants such as
SO2 and NOx react to form fine particles.
Gasoline powered leaf blower engines do not produce
these chemicals, however, diesel engines do.
As for leaf blowers
raising this particle into the air, PM-10 is already in
the air. Because it is so small and lightweight, the
wind keeps these particles suspended. The brown haze
you see over a city is comprised of these particles.
learn more about PM-10 at the following sites:
The Board of Health, which
drafted the town’s (Greenwich's) current noise ordinance
in 1984, and amended it in 2004 and 2006 to address the
use of leaf blowers, has the power to amend it again and
present it to the RTM for approval. However, that seems
unlikely since the board’s Leaf Blower Research
Subcommittee recently concluded that leaf blower noise,
although annoying, “does not pose a threat to public
health,” said Caroline Baisley, Greenwich director of
Baisley said the
subcommittee, comprised of three doctors, found “there’s
no conclusive, well-grounded scientific data providing
medical evidence of the health risks associated
specifically with leaf blower use — and therefore
recommended that no changes be made to the ordinance.”
Dr. Steele conducted a yearlong study of leaf blowers for the
California legislature. Click to see
Report to California
Legislature on Leaf Blowers. She and
her staff concluded that there is no scientific evidence
that leaf blowers are any more detrimental to the
environmental than the alternatives. Under certain
conditions, brooms are likely to lift more dust than
blowers. They can dislodge caked dirt and generate
dust that leaf blowers would normally leave behind.
Excessive dust can be generated if
the blower is misused,
but to prevent this from happening, Echo has created a
training manual that explains what to avoid when using a
leaf blower. Under normal conditions, very little
dust is raised, especially when used to move leaves or
grass clippings from a yard or driveway.
Mr. Patrick Cunningham of the Arizona Department of
Environmental Quality (ADEQ) agrees that leaf blowers
should not be used on "unstable ground". A state
wide law has been developed that will disallow the use
of leaf blowers on any surface that has been disturbed
from its naturally compacted condition and has not been
stabilized by some form of landscaping, such as
pavement, decorative rock, chemical stabilizer or grass.
Click to see
Arizona Bill SB 1552. Click to see Arizona
This law will also require
any persons operating leaf blowers
for remuneration to successfully complete, at least once
every three years, training on how to operate a leaf
blower in a manner designed to minimize the generation
of fugitive dust emissions.
T he San Joaquin Valley Air
Pollution Control District commissioned Dennis Fitz of
the University of California at Riverside to study the
potential for leaf blowers to generate dust. His
results show that the amount they generate is
insignificant. Comparing data compiled in the San
Joaquin Valley, daily driving of automobiles generates
100 times more dust than leaf blowers. He also
proved that brooms in fact do generate more dust as was
Daily amounts of dust entrained in
the air within San Joaquin Valley per a Modesto Bee
D octors have opinions too. They usually
live in exclusive communities and in some cases have
joined forces with anti-leaf blower activists to lend
their title to the cause. It is a powerful tactic.
Understand, however, that they are only offering
their personal opinion. It is not a medical opinion.
They have no proof that their health claims are true.
There are no tests, reports or scientific documents to
back up their opinion.
One activist tells that her doctor friend claims that
leaf blowers cause asthma attacks. Asthma attacks are caused by allergies, irritants
and stress. According to Children's Hospital Boston,
asthma causing irritants include such things
as cigarette smoke, chemicals, weather conditions, colds
and other respiratory illnesses. Pollen can be
a primary trigger and one can’t hide from pollen. Nowhere
can you find a reputable medical document that blames
asthma on leaf blowers.
Any material that is lifted into
the air by a leaf blower is localized and will not
impact anyone at a reasonable distance away. Air
velocity dissipates rapidly with distance. You can blow
a piece of lint or a mosquito off your hand, but I doubt
if you can blow one off your big toe.
perators must realize that improper use of a leaf
blower is no longer acceptable or tolerated. If
they are not courteous and thoughtful, someone may try
to take away this useful tool. Some operators are
inconsiderate, but more likely, they are unaware that
they are misusing the leaf blower.
Horticulturists would likely not use a leaf blower,
choosing instead to gather lawn and garden refuse by
hand to create compost for fertilizing plants. To
these artists, time may not be as important as is the
care and treatment of delicate plants. But
leaf blower operators and landscape contractors are interested
mostly in making money. Leaf blower
operators are not usually horticulturists or gardeners,
rather they are laborers. These well meaning, hard
working people are more interested in pleasing the boss
and that means doing a clean and professional job
The solution to this is education. Leaf blower
operators need training in the proper way to use a leaf
blower. Both ECHO Inc. and the Outdoor Power
Equipment Institute in Alexandria, VA have developed
bilingual pamphlets that outline how leaf blowers should
be used. They tell how not to generate
dust through proper nozzle positioning and throttle
control. They point out that it is irresponsible to
use blowers on loose dirt, gravel drives and dust
covered surfaces. Guidelines are given concerning
the operation of leaf blowers in residential areas or
when bystanders are present. It recommends
acceptable hours of use. And, it offers
suggestions as to when and why older blowers should be
replaced by new quieter versions. Some cities license
operators and require training in order to qualify.
One interesting fact is
that the leaf blower is very easy to use. Some even
have a super friendly spring assist starting system.
One no longer must be a he-man in order to jerk the
engine over during the starting sequence. As a result,
anyone and everyone with a need to move leaves or debris
efficiently can pick one up and instantly feel like a
seasoned leaf blower operator.
everyone is aware that there is a right way and a wrong
way to use leaf blowers. The industry is well aware of
this lack of understanding among some operators and has
a Standard (B175.2-2012), which guides manufacturers on
how to inform operators of the proper way to use them.
Taken directly from the
ANSI Standard are the following guidelines:
13.3 Additional Operating Recommendations for Blowers
13.3.1 Operate power
equipment only at reasonable hours--not early in the
morning or late at night when people might be disturbed.
Comply with times listed in local ordinances.
13.3.2 To reduce sound
levels, limit the number of pieces of equipment used at
any one time.
13.3.3 Operate blowers at
the lowest possible engine speed to do the job.
13.3.4 Use rakes and
brooms to loosen debris before blowing.
13.3.5 In dusty
conditions, slightly dampen surfaces or use mister
water is available.
water by using blowers instead of hoses for many lawn
and garden applications, including areas such as
gutters, screens, patios, grills, porches, and gardens.
13.3.7 Avoid blowing
debris towards people, pets, open windows, or cars when
13.3.8 Use the full blower
nozzle extension when blowing.
13.3.9 After using blowers
and other equipment, CLEAN UP! Dispose of debris in
I f you
would like to help prevent a leaf blower ban in your
city, you need
to familiarize yourself with the issues and then take
the initiative to organize a group of stakeholders that
present a united front and give written and oral testimony before your
A ctivists that work to eliminate the leaf blower from
the landscape contractor's trailer should make eliminating the irritating noise
his or her goal, not the leaf blower or its use. Leaf blowers have
changed in recent years and new designs are no longer
Current emission standards have eliminated
the pollution problem that was once associated with two stroke
Finally, entrained dust particles can be
minimized with proper use techniques. They are
explained in the training manuals made available by Echo
Inc. and the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute.
communities have tried to control leaf blowers with some
kind of ordinance. Some have even tried to ban
them. This doesn't
If an ordinance is written, most communities expect
the police to issue citations to violators. Police
argue that they have more important things to do.
Click to see
Monica Daily Press article.
What do you think would take precedence for a
policeman, a domestic disturbance or a person using a
leaf blower? Do you really think they would chase
down a leaf blower operator before they would respond to
a traffic accident or a break-in or even a dog barking
at children. All these blower operators are doing
is earning money to feed their families. Besides,
violators of leaf blower bans are hard to catch.
After receiving a complaint, the operator is likely
long gone before the police arrive.
For 20 years, Santa Monica has
struggled with no success enforcing a leaf blower ban.
In October 2010, the responsibility of enforcement
transferred from the police to the Office of
Sustainability and the Environment (OSE). You can read
for yourself their
report of March, 2011
where it states that 1173 violations were reported over
a six month period ending April 2011. No citations were
issued, only warning letters.
They say that 500 violations were
resolved without issuing a citation because these people
agreed to stop using the leaf blower. Faced with the
possibility of receiving a citation resulting in a $250
fine, what would you say?
Six months later, Stephanie McNeal
reported that residents have seen no measurable
improvement in the number of leaf blowers being used.
Do you suppose some of the 500 agreeable violators
mentioned above are still using leaf blowers? During
the six months preceding October 2011, according to Ms.
McNeal, only four citations were issued. I wouldn’t
want to be a city council member in Santa Monica if 1173
citations were handed out.
The time and money Santa Monica is
spending to control an unenforceable ban is unbelievable
at a time like this, in a desperate economy. Does the
City Council not care that they are imposing a financial
hardship on their constituents? Landscape
contractors that abide by the ban have had to raise
their prices by 15%.
Contractors honoring a ban find that they can no
longer service yards profitably. Alternatives are
too slow and often force them to go out of business.
Some are willing to pay the fine if caught using a
blower since it is less expensive than using a broom or
The Department of Public Services for the
City of Coronado, CA conducted a test comparing brooms
to leaf blowers. Click to see
Report to Coronado City
Council. To clean the
perimeter sidewalk of a downtown park with a broom took
80 minutes where it took only 6 minutes to clean it with
a blower. If you had a blower and broom on your
trailer, regardless of the local ordinance, what would
you use if you were expected to clean up behind yourself
after cutting the grass.
Menlo Park, CA has rescinded their leaf blower ban
after years of homeowner complaints, police frustration and enforcement expense.
Present code allows the use of blowers that are 65 dB(A)
They have made using a leaf blower a criminal offence,
I suspect because contractors and homeowners are
ignoring their ban. The City Council approved having the police issue
Misdemeanors upon first encounters. That means
they can be fined $1000 and be put in jail for six
months. Does that sound reasonable to you?
Manhattan Beach Misdemeanor
I f the issue is sound,
and it usually is, why single out the leaf blower as the
bad boy on the block. Do not lawn mowers, string
trimmers, power sweepers and hedge clippers also disturb
your tranquility? A more effective choice over a leaf
blower ban would be to reduce the number of hours in a
day during which all lawn care products may be
used. This should be your first choice toward
eliminating noise concerns.
But if more is required, keep in mind that the operator or landscape contractor will
voluntarily comply with whatever action is taken to
control leaf blowers, except for a ban. Do what
Burlingame, CA has done. Work directly with leaf
blower users to determine what a workable alternative
is. You can read about their program by clicking
What has worked
in the past is where they are required to use only leaf
blowers that measure 65 dB(A)1 or less. New
blowers are now marked with their sound level,
eliminating the need for enforcement officers to do any
sound testing. Click to see a
Label. They only need to approach a
contractor's trailer when they see one and check their
leaf blowers for compliance. Operators will buy
quiet blowers and will use them voluntarily to
avoid a citation under these conditions. Leaf blower
noise in cities mandating quiet blowers has been reduced
to where it is no longer an irritation.
It is also a good idea to require that operators have
some form of training to alert them to leaf blower
issues and the impact of improper use. Some cities have
gone so far as to require operators to be certified.
The EPA and CARB mandated that
hydrocarbon exhaust emission from small hand held
engines must be reduced by as much as 90%. A good
approach to legally reducing exhaust pollution is to
require that all leaf blowers used be manufactured after
January 1, 2005. Click to see
EPA Exhaust Requirements. This is the date when
exhaust emission has reached its lowest allowable level
per a phase in period. An EPA required label on the
engine will tell you if it complies. Click to see
Allowing quiet, state-of-the-art leaf blowers will
satisfy the concerns and needs of both the noise
sensitive resident and the cost conscious landscaper.
Click to see
M r. Larry N. Will was Vice President of Engineering
at Echo Inc., Lake Zurich, IL from 1994 until his
retirement in 2002. In this capacity, he oversaw the
development of the first "Quiet" leaf blower that
reduced leaf blower sound by 75%. As a member of the
Hand Held Products Committee for the Outdoor Power
Equipment Institute (OPEI), he was instrumental in
creating the Flash presentation and pamphlet that
was published by OPEI, entitled "Leaf Blowers, A Guide
to Safe and Courteous Use".
For more than 14 years following
retirement, Mr. Will
has addressed leaf blower concerns throughout the United
States and Canada as a Consultant to more than
and state legislative bodies. He shares his expertise
and experience wherever consideration is being given to
leaf blower controls. His intent is to provide
information about products presently being manufactured
so an informed decision can be made.
As a leaf blower expert in design,
manufacture, application and use, he is in a unique position to
supply up-to-date and accurate data and facts. In
recognition of his expertise he has be interviewed by
several leading news organizations including The
Atlantic, The New Yorker, The Guardian and on camera for
CBS News Sunday Morning. He was also called upon to make
a presentation before the National Academy of
Engineering in Washington DC. He
knows emission and other compliance requirements and the
results from any and all pertinent studies that have
been conducted. In addition to the OPEI manual,
Mr. Will wrote the Echo Inc leaf blower training manual
and can help others do the same when local conditions
Mr. Will is always available at no
charge to answer questions by phone or email.