Leaf blowers can really help around the house
Leaf blowers are versatile tools that go well beyond just sweeping up leaves. With the right machine, you can clean spider webs off the house, tidy up around landscaping and blow off the deck without having to move the furniture. Sal Vaglica at ThisOldHouse.com says, "The right tool for your yard depends on how much work the leaves leave for you." Be sure to pick the leaf blower with the right amount of power to match the bulk of your chores.
There are four main categories of leaf blowers: corded electric, battery-operated electric, gas-powered and backpack style, which also uses a gas engine. Each type comes with its own pros and cons; whichever style you choose, it's a good idea to know how to make it work best for you. According to Jennifer Noonan at BobVila.com, "A leaf blower is most effective for gathering the bulk of a lawn's leaves into large piles, to be removed with a tarp or by hand." About.com's David Beaulieu adds, "You should not buy a leaf blower with the idea that you will never rake again."
Performance and handling can vary significantly between models, and spending more doesn't guarantee a better machine. Likewise, higher airflow doesn't mean more power. After testing eight leaf blowers, Popular Mechanics discovers that the manufacturer rating "for airspeed and volume is an unreliable gauge of effectiveness -- some of the least air-worthy were the most trustworthy." Manufacturers report airflow using miles per hour (mph) or cubic feet per minute (cfm).
A few leaf blowers include a conversion kit that vacuums, finely mulches and collects leaves in a bag. A built-in impeller minces leaves into smaller bits, compressing dry foliage for easy composting or disposal. For most blowers, the ability to suck up leaves is secondary, so performance rarely matches sweeping and loosening abilities. "The vacuum mode of a leaf blower is best reserved for smaller and less accessible jobs, where a leaf rake would be difficult to use," explains Noonan. Owners often use the vacuum feature for decks when they don't want to send pet hair and debris flying into the yard.
Using leaf blowers in neighborhoods has become a point of contention in some areas due to their excessive noise. "Many towns limit the use of blowers because of it (noise), and even if yours doesn't, you'll want to avoid gripes from neighbors," says Charles Passy at Money Magazine. The quietest leaf blowers measure less than 65 decibels when 50 feet away, which is a good level to keep the neighbors happy. No matter what the rating is, experts say you should always wear adequate ear and eye protection with a leaf blower.
To find the best leaf blowers, we analyzed side-by-side tests from experts such as those at ConsumerReports.org, Popular Mechanics and ThisOldHouse.com. These professional evaluations are an accurate way to compare performance and handling on an even playing field. To better understand durability, lifespan and real-world function, we compile hundreds of owner reviews from retail websites such as HomeDepot.com, Lowes.com and Amazon.com.