Battery vs. Gas-Powered Equipment War

By Rodney Ross | Special To The Carolinian

Spring is in full bloom and for many people who are first time homeowners will now have the opportunity to buy into their first lawn care toolset.  Today, there are just as many, if not more, cordless electric varieties as there are gas powered options to choose from. The question is, which is right for you. The answer is as always, it depends.

Depending on your zip code, it is almost impossible to not receive a swath of dogma suggesting that we must become carbon neutral in order to save the earth. My opinion may be biased but the data suggests that this is complete marketing. If we wanted to become carbon neutral, we would stop launching rockets into space, abandon air flight, and even the process of procuring plastic from fossil fuels to make a so called eco-friendly tool, is lost in the smoke stack factory that mass produces everything that is supposed to save the environment. Does that mean that we should not find benefit in the use of battery operated tools?  Of course not. It simply implies that your reason for using green technology has more to do with it being a right fit for what you need it to do versus the misconception that it is somehow saving the earth from carbon emissions.

That aside, let’s compare the benefits and limitations of both battery operated equipment and gas. What is great about battery operated lawn tools like mowers and line trimmers is that there is no fuel and oil to mix.  For the most part, many of the reputable brands make a solid platform with their lawn equipment. If you already have other battery operated power tools like drills, a circular saw, impact drivers, and jigsaws, the great thing about the really good brands is that their batteries are interchangeable. This means, you can take the battery from your circular saw, and use it on your line trimmer and vice versa.

You also do not have to suffer through the smell of exhaust. If you are sensitive to fumes, battery operated tools are a game changer.  They are also quieter, but the noise is still audible enough to hear indoors.  Cordless lawn care tools allow the user to use their equipment just like any traditional gas powered device.  The first iteration of electric equipment required you to be tethered to a long extension cord that often got in the way.  This is not a problem with battery operated equipment. The balance of things like line trimmers can be a bit tricky to master. However, the size of batteries are improving, as well as how these pieces carry the weight.

What limits battery operated equipment is the limitation of time of peak performance. Optimal power is incredibly finite if you are working on a property that is a half an acre or larger. Although battery operated equipment has enough power to get the job done, it is still not as powerful as energy dense gas. This means that your mower may have a tendency to lag when stressed with a thick brush whereas a gas mower would simply power on through it.

The fix for that is simply buy more batteries, but the batteries are not cheap. At the time of this article, the batteries could cost in excess of two hundred dollars per battery.  In many cases, a battery is actually packaged with the tool. The question is, how many times are you willing to buy the same tool or a different one, just to gain access to owning another battery and charger.

Another discrepancy with battery powered equipment is the egregiously long time it takes for the battery to reach full capacity. Something else to consider is that if you use a non standard brand, you have to question if the company will allow future iterations of the equipment to be backwards compatible with the batteries you invest in today.  In two to three years of ownership, and needing a battery replacement, would you be willing to invest another twelve hundred dollars to upgrade to the new system simply because that manufacturer no longer produces that particular battery.

Getting back to the battery’s run time. That is only an issue for people with large landscapes to tackle or perhaps someone doing landscaping on a commercial basis. The gas powered equipment will run more efficiently and take less time to tackle large tasks, however, the cost of running fuel based equipment can dwarf the cost of using batteries depending on how the equipment is being used. For example, once your yard is tamed, if you are consistent with manicuring your yard, the battery run equipment will not have to run as hard or as long. The same could be said with the gas powered equipment. 

The benefit of using a gas powered mower or trimmer is that even if you run out of fuel, your down time is limited to how long it takes you to grab your gas can and pour more fuel.  It can take hours for standard batteries to recharge.  Another issue is that you do not want to leave battery operated equipment outside to get rained on.  Your electric operated equipment does not like to get wet either, and may not function as well or at all after being introduced to water. Pay close attention to the user manual of how water and potential shock can happen when attempting to use electric brushless motors while wet.

The great thing about gas operated equipment is that it is fairly consistent.  Ten years from now, you can still use the equipment, regardless of how technology attempts to reinvent the landscaping wheel.  Simply pour a one to one ratio of gas and oil into the tank, or alternatively buy it already mixed, and then pull a cord.

Sometimes pulling the cord does not work, and to that, the battery operated equipment is the clear winner.  As soon as you put the battery in, that equipment is ready to go.  If your gas powered equipment is maintained properly, failed starts are few. Another thing to consider with gas operated equipment is the maintenance.  To extend the life of your equipment, you will have to periodically change the spark plugs, air filters, and clean out the carburetor.  This is in addition to keeping gas and oil on hand in case you run out during operation.  With the battery option, you only have to store batteries and the chargers. That is another issue in itself.  Where are you going to hang and store all the batteries and the chargers without having cords running everywhere?  And since the cost of electricity seems to be on a sliding scale that no one can figure out, how much cost does it add to your monthly bill?

Both tools and their adaptations are  more than capable of getting the job done.  For now, gas powered equipment has the edge on power and the ability to get the job done with little downtime. Batteries are expensive and you would need multiple batteries to tackle large properties, but it does not matter  when you have someone who is willing to pay the cost either way.

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