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Product Review 2: Leaf Blowers

THE JOYS OF OWNING A LEAF BLOWER IN THE AUTUMN; Or, How to Select the Right Leaf Blower for the Job – Sept. 2001

WESTFIELD, NJ: “The vibrant hues of foliage and the crisp smells of Autumn bring with them an associated surge of joy in the breast of the happy homeowner,” reports Keith Petersen of The Eardly T. Petersen Company in Westfield. “This is due to the eager anticipation of removing the leaves that soon begin to, first, dot the lawn with colorful accents and then, ultimately, blanket it with a textured quilt of Nature’s own making. The joy is heightened by the fact that, no sooner has the leaf removal process been completed, there is another, subsequent opportunity to engage in the happy process again. This wonderful cycle of joy, anticipation, joy and anticipation, etc. can extend for quite a number of weeks – rendering the fortunate homeowner almost deliriously happy.”

“For those that are not willing to enjoy life in the Autumn to the same capacity,” states Mr. Petersen, “there is the avenue of mechanized leaf removal – which is to say, using a leaf blower. It is for these unfortunate, cold-hearted types that this little primer on selecting the proper leaf blower is written.” Mr. Petersen rearranged his tongue from out of his cheek and continued:

Leaf blowers are available for homeowner use in three basic types: (1) the hand-held blower (2) the backpack blower and (3) the ground blower. Each blower has its own capabilities and advantages, and each type of machine is, essentially, aimed towards a particular type of usage.

The hand-held blower has traditionally been the most popular for home use – although that has been steadily changing for quite a few years. Such a unit provides the lowest initial price for the cost-conscious homeowner. Hand-held blowers are manufactured either as electric or gasoline-powered. The electric units are the cheapest, provide the least airflow (leaf blowing power) and, generally speaking, are simply disposed of when something goes wrong (nobody fixes `em). A traditional complaint with electric-powered leaf blowers is, also, the fact that one is “married” to the cord – thus, the extension cord determines distance from the electrical receptacle that one can work. As well, it can get to be aggravating to uncoil and then recoil the cord at each instance in which the blower is used. Regularly, a homeowner with an electric will opt at some point to replace it with a gas-powered unit.

The hand-held gas blower is quite a bit more powerful than the electric models. In addition, its use is greatly enhanced by its total mobility – just take it and go! There are no cords with which to fuss. Such units use two-cycle engines which are lightweight and require very low maintenance. Just ensure that the model selected can be serviced by a servicing OPE (Outdoor Power Equipment) Dealer – if such a unit is bought at a “highway” store there will likely be no parts availability and no one to service it. As well, the better, premium-brand units are much more reliable – they start readily and do the job with no problems. Such a blower is extremely useful throughout the year in removing grass clippings after the lawn cutting and edging process, cleaning the patio or deck, etc., making it a handy tool to have around.

The backpack blower offers greatly increased efficiency over the hand- held blower. On a rough scale, a good hand-held gas blower will produce almost 300 cubic feet of air per minute (CFM); whereas, a good backpack unit will produce an average of 800 cubic feet of air per minute. The leading manufacturer of professional OPE utilizing two- cycle engines (line trimmers, blowers, chain saws, etc.) is Echo, and this company has just re-engineered their premium model to produce an unprecedented 1000 CFM at the blower housing – an almost unbelievable amount of air volume and efficiency. No other backpack leaf blower in this weight range can produce this efficiency level. Such high-powered backpack blowers make very short work of leaf removal under almost any conditions.

The traditional heavyweight – and the traditional leaf blower of choice for removing quantities of leaves off of average to larger-sized properties – is the ground blower. A unit like this is used by walking behind it somewhat like walking behind a lawnmower. The primary advantage to using such a blower is that, with a properly designed unit, the tremendous air volume that the machine produces will remove the largest amount of leaves in the shortest possible time. A good-quality walk behind (ground) leaf blower will produce 1500 CFM or more (up to about 2500 CFM), typically utilizing engines that range from 5 hp all the way up to 13 hp.

These types of blowers simply move leaves faster and farther than any other method. The better machines will discharge air either to the side or to the front. This latter design enables, for example, blowing leaves directly ahead of the operator down a driveway or sidewalk; or, cleaning the leaves away from shrub beds without “driving” the machine into the garden to accomplish this result. A good-quality unit is made of 12-gauge steel and the frame is continuously welded to produce what amounts to an indestructible housing. Such units use large diameter steel fans, reinforced steel handles and air tires. Air tires are important because a well-made ground blower has some weight to it, and, in distinction to solid-rubber tires which make it difficult to push the ground blower in uneven or rooted areas, air (pneumatic) tires allow the machine to “float” over the lawn making it easy to maneuver.

Currently, one manufacturer, Little Wonder, makes a line of ground blowers that break the discharge air into two, separate air streams. This entirely eliminates a historic “blowback” problem with ground leaf blowers whereby the top section of a leaf pile recirculates back towards the operator, resulting in having to go over the ground more than once. With the two air streams on the Little Wonder, however, the lower stream digs and lifts the pile of leaves and the top air stream keeps it moving in the appropriate direction. As well, these units have offset intake chambers with large, angled fan blades to produce very high centrifugal force – thus, the leaves can be blown farther than any other ground blower. This offers a great savings in time and energy.

For questions on leaf blowers please contact The Eardly T. Petersen Company at 908-232-5723 or by e-mail at: sales@etpetersen.com; visit them on the web at http://www.etpetersen.com; or, visit them at
224 Elmer St., Westfield (closed Wednesdays).