About the author

Stuart Silverstein is assistant editor at FairWarning.

6 comments to “California Throttles Down Pollution from Small Engines”

  1. John

    The possibility of “mission creep” in the efforts to limit small non-road engines should be examined to implement effective solutions that both address issues of air quality and secondarily, but apparently most important to some, noise pollution.

    With Respect to Noise Pollution
    As it relates to “leaf blowers”, a switch to electric will not reduce the noise, as the extreme volume generated by a “leaf blower” is due to high windspeed from the nozzle, it is effectively a motorized whistle.
    Similarly, much of the noise of a “lawn mower” is due to the high speed of the spinning blades (which will not be resolved by electric power). As an example, look at a shop fan, which are electric but are very noisy. Or look at helicopters which are much noiser than planes, not because of a difference in motor but because of a difference in locomotion, i.e. the rotors (blades).

    Similarly, a “weed whacker” is loud because it is effectively a lined rotor like a helicopter blade.
    Now, that’s not to say it wont be ANY quieter if electric—it–will, just not what seems to be anticipated.
    An available solution that both reduces emissions and motor noise while still preserving the power and portability of gas-powered tools is using a “4 stroke motor” rather than “2 stroke motor”. Many manufacturers have began offering “4 stroke” options on smaller equipment like “leaf blowers” and “weed whackers”, an option previously only available on larger equipment (mower and larger).

    The Reason for Gas Powered Tools – (ICE – Internal Combustion Engines)
    Portability AND long operating life with on demand power is a prime advantage that ICE offer over a corded tool. Portability and power is especially important when such tools as a line trimmer are used for clearing brush far from houses and on inclined terrain where cords prove to be a nuisance.
    Perhaps an incentive to manufacturers is the better approach to take. That is, battery tools have made immense progress, especially for drills and small saw, however batteries still do not provide the level of consistent power at anywhere near the same price that small ICE tools provide. Given that many of these ICE tools are used by small business people and homeowners with less means it would seem that companies offering immature technology would benefit at the expense of small business and homeowners, as these people would become forced early adopters and have no choice but to buy tools of a higher price. So possibly it is best to look at incentive programs and encourage the market and technological research to make the decision to purchase a battery tool not one of a mandate but because it is the better tool. Were not there yet, but we can be, and it is always better to guide than to force.

    Be Cautious of Comparison of Made to Small Motors
    Many articles now cite xyz car (almost always a new model) and compare it to an unnamed “top selling” piece of equipment but fail to specify what it means when they “ran it an hour”, as persons familiar with lawn equipment could attest you seldom “run” yard equipment for a sustained time but rather have it “idled” and apply power in extremely short intermittent increments. By way of analogy, ones washing machine may run for an hour cycle but it does not run the water for an hour. Rather the machine runs the water for a few minutes and the majority of the time on a wash cycle is spent agitating the water and detergent.

    Refocus Efforts to Implement Solutions to Core Issues.
    Noise pollution is often overlooked and worthy of attention. A leaf blower is indisputably the noisiest of tools in the discussion. And despite all the ratings for emissions there is almost no monitoring or requirements for tools to meet any noise standards EVEN THOUGH hearing loss has reached epidemic proportions and its cause and source is undisputable and not disputed, unlike emissions and air quality which there exists reasonable debate at which industries are the worst offenders and which chemicals or of the highest concern. For emphasis, the majority of hearing loss now comes from environmental noise, i.e. machines including but not limited to speakers (headphones) and machinery.
    I am glad to see that many people are also bothered by the noise issue, but its important to realize that any policy directed at eliminating combustion engines will do little to reduce the noise of the machines in question. Noise reduction in these machines must come from creative engineering as the noise that they generate is due to their non-exhaust output.

  2. Lane

    I live in Lodi, CA. The gas powered leaf blowers have literally changed the life quality and livability of my neighborhood. These howling, godawful, pollution spewing machines run from sun up, to sun down. I’m trying to determine who I can lobby, or if there is any help in sight. The local government refuses to address it. Any insight would be appreciated, thanks

  3. seguefisch

    I’m for an outright ban. What about noise pollution and air quality in the vicinity? The dust that leaf blowers kick up can be truly toxic and truly horrendous. Lawnmowers? Gee it would be nice if someone could make those things quieter! And what are Californians doing with lawns in the first place? It’s a desert!

  4. Leslie Nelson Inman

    Excellent information. We need these machines out of our yards, gardens and cities as soon as possible. Not only for air quality, but for sanity. They roam the streets of Atlanta, Georgia with NO restrictions. No one is questioning or even having a conversation about the omnipresent leaf blower and edger gangs that have taken over our neighorhoods. We have so little nature left… and then whatever green spaces we do have left we are manicuring them within an inch of their lives and leaving no peace for the nature-loving people, the birds and the wildlife.

  5. Alan Kandel

    In the case of leaf blowers, an outright ban on such for uses outside of leaf blowing would do much and go far to remove pollutants from the air. In terms of incentivizing use of outdoor vacuums, would that be going too far in terms of asking for as much? I don’t think so.

    As for my own lawn-grooming history, I swapped my internal-combustion-engine-powered lawn mower years ago, stopped using a gas-powered edger and have always used a broom and dustpan to sweep up and discard yard clippings and dirt left behind from the mowing and edging. The lawn-mower trade-in was through an arrangement made possible through the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. Through said exchange I was provided with a voucher to purchase an electric-powered lawnmower with rechargeable battery. I have so far had to replace the rechargeable battery once. I have a fairly large yard and the battery holds a sufficient amount of charge to mow the entire yard and then some.

    Going this route for me was a no-brainer.

  6. Joel Amromin

    Good report, Stu. The sooner they can eliminate the combustion issues, too, the better. Not only are they a health and environment hazarx, but they create terrrible noise pollution that would be largely eliminated by going to electric devices or (image this) things like rakes and brooms.

Leave a comment