BY PAT KEEGAN AND BRAD THIESSEN
Soon the grass will turn green, flowers will sprout up and birds will sing. With the arrival of spring, you will likely start seeing ads for lawn mowers. What’s the best option to select?
Electric mowers keeping pace
Until recently, corded and cordless electric mowers tended to be underpowered. For cordless mowers, this fact was made worse by their sub-par battery life.
But today, with those problems largely solved, the best electric mowers have the power and battery life to keep pace with a gas mower, depending on the size of your lawn.
A cordless, electric mower with a large 56-volt battery can run for about one hour. Plug-in electric mowers don’t have this limitation but using a long electrical cord can be challenging.
Quality electric mowers, especially the cordless, rechargeable ones, tend to cost twice as much as a new equivalent gas model. But you can recoup some of the expense with cheaper operating costs, since electricity is a less expensive fuel than gas, and electric engines generally require less maintenance than gas engines.
Another important cost consideration is that rechargeable batteries typically need to be replaced after three to five years. The cost savings also depend on the size of your lot. A small lot uses less gas, so fuel cost savings are less significant.
You can also save some money on the purchase price with a corded mower if you don’t mind the hassle of navigating around the cord.
Weigh your priorities
There are additional benefits of electric mowers besides lower fuel and maintenance costs. Electric mowers are much quieter than gas mowers and they start instantly. Electric mowers produce fewer tailpipe emissions, but the overall environmental impact depends on how the electricity you’re using to charge the mower is generated. The environmental benefits will be greater if the electricity is generated from renewable energy sources.
Given all these considerations, weigh your priorities. If you are looking to buy new, have a small- to mid-size lot, prioritize environmental concerns and don’t mind navigating a cord or recharging batteries, an electric mower could be the right choice for you.
If you don’t mind the noise, maintenance and other hassles of a gas mower, have a large lot and prefer not to invest in the upfront purchase price, a gas mower may be a better option.
Less conventional options
If you’re willing to keep your lawn mowed regularly and don’t mind breaking a sweat, consider a manual reel mower. Some models are more effective than you might think, and they’re far less expensive and require little maintenance or storage space.
The most dramatic step you could take is replacing your lawn completely, perhaps with water-efficient landscaping, a rock garden, a vegetable garden or even an artificial lawn. This could dramatically cut your water bill and the environmental impact of a lawn.
Any change you make, whether in mowing or landscaping, will require a little research. But it’s great to know the option of an electric mower is more viable than ever!
Landscaping for energy efficiency
Spring’s arrival has many people thinking about landscaping plans. If your goal is energy efficiency, now is the time to start thinking about what types of trees and shrubs to plant once the temperatures warm up. Carefully positioned trees around a home can save as much as 25 percent of household energy consumption for heating and cooling.
Trees at the top
Before planning a tree, call 8-1-1 so underground pipes, wires and conduit can be identified. Make sure the tree is the proper distance from power lines, typically at least 20 feet – today and in the future when it exponentially grows.
Planted in the right place, within 5 to 10 years, a fast-growing shade tree can reduce outside air temperatures near walls and roofs by as much as 6 degrees on sunny days. Surface temperatures immediately under the canopy of a mature shade tree can be up to 25 degrees cooler than surrounding shingles or siding exposed to direct sunlight.
Deciduous trees – ones that lose leaves in the fall – are great options for seasonal summer shade. Tall varieties planted to the south of a home can help diffuse sunlight, providing roof shading and also let in the winter sunlight.
Shorter varieties of deciduous trees can be planted near exposed west-facing windows to help shade homes on sultry summer afternoons. Mass plantings of evergreens on a north or northwestern section of a yard can form a windbreak, shielding the home from frigid winter winds.
A slow-growing tree will generally live longer than a fast-growing tree. Slow-growing trees often have deeper roots and stronger branches, making them less prone to breakage by windstorms or heavy snow.
Trees, shrubs and groundcover plants can also shade the ground and pavement around the home. This reduces heat radiation and cools the air before it reaches your home’s walls and windows.
To ensure lasting performance of energy-saving landscaping, use plant species that are adapted to Iowa’s climate.
Planting trees requires specific care and steps to ensure a successful outcome. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach horticulturists can help answer your questions about how to best handle planting new trees. Contact the ISU Hortline at 515-294-3108 or firstname.lastname@example.org.