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Science And Nature

Is an Electric Lawn Mower Right for You?

A person mowing their lawn with an electric lawn mower.

If you’ve looked at electric mowers down at the local big box hardware and wondered if one would be a good fit for your needs, we’re here to help. They’re great pieces of hardware, but they’re not the right fit for everyone—or every lawn.

Comparing Electric vs. Gas Lawn Mowers

Nobody wants to waste money on a product that doesn’t fit their needs, especially one as bulky and expensive as a lawn mower. Despite their soaring popularity, however, many people are understandably unfamiliar with electric lawnmowers.

Let’s break it down and look at some of the things that will factor into picking an electric mower over a gasoline mower or vice versa.

For the purposes of comparison, we’ll be talking about gas-powered mowers and battery-powered electric mowers. Corded electric mowers exist (and might be a good fit for some people in specific situations like mowing a very small lawn) but are largely impractical and not the most popular form of electric mower on the market.

Further, while we’ll talk about larger electric mowers, we’re primarily focused on push mowers as they are both the most popular size mower and the best fit for the majority of lawns.

Lawn Size and Type

One of the biggest factors, and the first you should consider, is the size of your lawn (followed closely by the type of lawn and mowing you’re doing).

The average lawn size in the United States is about 1/4th of an acre, though this varies widely by region. For folks with smaller to medium size yards such as those commonly found in subdivisions and city neighborhoods, an electric push mower is a good fit and can easily replace a gas push mower.

I have one of those small city lawns, and replacing my gas push mower with an electric mower has been a substantial upgrade across the board. I bought a Ryobi 40V 20-inch push mower, but any similar mower like the EGO Power+ 56V 21-inch push mower will give you the same experience.

As the size of the lawn increases, however, you might find that some of the limitations and higher prices of bigger electric lawn mowers make going electric less appealing. There’s also something to be said for the power of a gas mower.

While somebody mowing a plain old suburban lawn probably doesn’t think much about how powerful their gas mower is, if you’re frequently mowing large lots with tough grass and weeds, then there is a clear benefit to the power of gas mowers. But if you’re not trying to use your lawn mower like a brush hog, that’s not as important.

Further, if you use your mower in such a fashion that you need to refuel it rapidly, gas has a clear edge here. Electric mowers might be a great fit for somebody who mows their lawn and calls it a day, but if you run a lawn service or even just like to be neighborly and knocks out a few lawns down the block, the runtime of batteries is a significantly limiting factor.

Either you need spare batteries on hand, or you need to be willing to take a break to let the battery you have recharge. Even with a rapid charger, you’ll still have an hour or so of downtime.

Initial Expenses

The smaller your lawn, the more appealing an electric mower becomes. The larger your lawn, the more expensive it becomes to replicate the power of a gas mower with an electric model.

As of this writing in August of 2022, there is pretty even parity between the cost of electric and gasoline push mowers. You’ll spend about $300-600 for most models.

Once you get beyond the push mower size, however, there is a fairly rapid divergence between the cost of sticking with gasoline or going electric. While modern electric push mowers use lithium-ion batteries, larger electric lawn mowers, such as riding mowers with a lawn tractor or zero-turn form factor, use either sealed lead-acid (SLA) batteries or lithium-ion.

The cost of SLA batteries is lower, but so are the longevity and performance. Maintaining the battery health of a rechargeable sealed lead-acid battery is a huge hassle. Early electric push mowers used SLA batteries, and that certainly contributed to the negative opinion many people have of the product category.

If you don’t maintain the charge and routinely use the battery, performance suffers greatly. SLA-battery riding mowers are more expensive than equivalent gas mowers, but not shockingly so. You’ll pay about 20% more on average.

Large lithium-ion batteries, however, are costly, and the price of riding mowers that use them reflects that.

To get a large lawn mower that runs off lithium-ion batteries, you’ll easily pay 50-100% more than an equivalent gas mower.

A $3,000 zero-turn gas mower could easily run you $6,000 when shopping for an equivalent electric model. It was inexpensive for me to replace my rickety old push mower with a Ryobi electric push mower. Replacing a large zero-turn gas riding mower with a lithium-ion powered electric model, would set me back $5,499 for EGO’s zero-turn model or $6,999 for Ryobi’s zero-turn model.

If you do end up shopping for a riding mower, here’s a fine-print tip for you. Often times companies will bundle their SLA battery mowers with lithium-ion tools. At first glance, you might be tricked into thinking the entire bundle is lithium-ion powered, but in reality, the mower runs off SLA batteries and the included tools, like a leaf blower, run off lithium-ion. Double check the mower specs and even download the manual to ensure you get the battery type you expect.

Ongoing Expenses and Maintenance

A person loading lithium-ion batteries in their lawn mower.

Once the initial purchase is out of the way, the operating costs of the electric mower will be lower. Even factoring in the eventual need to replace the batteries, electricity is a significantly more economical fuel source than gasoline.

In fact, you might be genuinely shocked at how little it costs to run an electric mower compared to a gas mower. We did a cost breakdown comparing using an electric mower versus a gas mower to mow a typical American lawn. Even if gas prices somehow tumbled to a dollar a gallon, it would still be cheaper to “fuel” up an electric mower by a staggering margin.

And maintenance costs are negligible on an electric mower. There are no air filters, spark plugs, oil changes, or other routine costs. You’ll still need to perform maintenance like sharpening the blades, but the shift from a combustion engine to an electric engine throws a whole bunch of traditional routine maintenance right out the window.

Where there can be some sticker shock, however, is when it comes time to replace the batteries. On a smaller push mower, the cost to replace the battery is usually around $200. Replacing the set of batteries that power a larger riding mower can easily cost $1000 or more. Yet, even with the shock of spending a bunch of money at once to replace the batteries, when you do the math on how much it costs to fuel and maintain a larger mower over time, it’s not as bad as it seems.

But most people reading this article likely aren’t weighing whether or not they will purchase a $5-8,000 lithium-ion riding mower but, instead, weighing whether or not they’ll pick up a sub-$500 push mower at their local hardware store. In that case, the battery replacement cost is much more reasonable.

Ease of Use, Noise, and Emissions

So far, we’ve been primarily talking about expenses. And when I give a glowing review about my electric push mower to a neighbor, I’m sure to mention that it costs me mere pennies to mow my lawn. That’s not an exaggeration, it does cost pennies—you can run the calculations yourself if you’re curious.

But close behind that, I can’t say enough good things about the overall experience. Replacing a pull-start mower with a push-to-start electric model is a big comfort upgrade. Even replacing an electric-start gas mower with a completely electric mower is a big upgrade—because you get all the convenience without the hassle of maintaining a gas mower.

Further, electric mowers are quiet. Unbelievably quiet, even. While a traditional mower is a noisy combustion engine, an electric mower is—when you really think about it—more or less a fan. It’s an electric motor that spins a blade, and it will always end up being quieter than a gasoline engine. My mower is so quiet often times neighbors will step out to walk their dogs and express surprise to see me mowing because they didn’t even hear the mower running.

You might even find yourself mowing more simply because you don’t smell like mower exhaust. One of the downsides of using mowers, snow blowers, leaf blowers, and other traditional gas power tools is smelling like gas and exhaust.

While we’re not going to get into the weeds discussing the total environmental impact of a gas mower versus an electric mower (because that would require an analysis of the impact of things like lithium mining and battery production), we can certainly say with confidence that electric mowers are cleaner both in energy consumption and emissions when viewed from the end-user standpoint.

Grid-supplied electricity has a lower emission impact than gasoline combustion, and in the immediate vicinity where you are mowing, there will be no emissions at all. Mower usage in the United States consumes about 1.2 billion gallons of gasoline a year, and even some people switching to electric mowers would put a substantial dent in that.

For the foreseeable future, there will be a place for gas-powered mowers of all sizes. And we certainly can’t recommend anyone try to maintain a golf course or run a lawn service with only electric mowers.

But if you’re maintaining a modest size lawn and you’re in the market to buy your first mower or replace an aging gasoline mower, it’s tough not to recommend an electric push mower. It’ll get the job done with fewer emissions, lower noise, and at a lower price.

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