What the best leaf blower has

  • Sufficient airflow. "If you have enough acreage to justify a riding mower, you'll need a blower with serious airflow, more than 90 mph," says David Wolman of Wired. However, don't rely on the airspeed specification alone; Popular Mechanics warns that mph and cfm measurements aren't necessarily a dependable way to determine the power of a leaf blower.
  • Effective sweeping and loosening capabilities. Instead of just blasting at the ground, the best leaf blowers use their power productively. Well-designed tubes help move leaves efficiently and can blow free any trapped foliage.
  • A variable-speed trigger. Leaf blowers with an infinite number of speed settings allow users to customize power to match the job. Those with power dials aren't as adjustable, but are still handier than machines with one constant speed.
  • Comfort and balance. Handheld blowers should naturally hang at a downward angle and be light enough that you can maneuver the air tube with minimal effort.
  • Neighborhood-friendly noise levels. Before you buy, find out what noise restrictions there are in your area. The quietest leaf blowers measure less than 65 decibels from 50 feet away, a decent level for suburban landscapers. Due to concerns about noise and emissions, some cities and towns limit the hours that leaf blowers can be used or ban them altogether.
  • Brand reliability. Top leaf-blower brands are known for durability and solid construction, two key features in a long-lasting tool. The standard warranty on leaf blowers is two years.

Know before you go

Take stock of your property and range of chores. If you have a large property, it may be worth the price to invest in a powerful gas-powered leaf blower -- but if your yard is smaller, an electric machine may be perfect. Similarly, if you plan to blow leaves and clean up around delicate landscaping, look for a model that maneuvers easily or has multiple tubes for different tasks. If you'd rather gather up than spray debris around your yard, you'll want a model that converts to a vacuum.

You'll need earplugs and safety glasses. Leaf blowers often generate between 70 and 75 decibels of noise at the source, which can cause damage after prolonged exposure. In addition to ear protection, you'll also need safety glasses, which can prevent small sticks, leaves and other debris from being blown into your eyes.

With an electric style, plan to buy a heavy-gauge extension cord rated for outdoor use. Using a cord that's too small is not only unsafe but could damage your electric leaf blower. The blower manufacturer Toro recommends using a 14-gauge extension cord up to 100 feet long. If you need more length, upgrade to a 12-gauge power cord.

Locate the closest service center before you buy. Driving long distances or shipping your leaf blower to a service shop can be expensive and inconvenient and may not be worth it, even for a warrantied repair.

Pay attention to emissions if you live in California. To be sold in California, gas-powered tools must comply with strict air-pollution standards set by the California Air Resources Board (CARB). If you call California home, know which models are CARB compliant before setting your heart on one.

What's to come

As companies work to create gas leaf blowers with lower emissions, more four-stroke engines may hit the market. In comparison to products with the standard two-stroke style, four-stroke models are quieter and more fuel efficient, and they don't require a mixture of gas and oil. Currently, however, products with four-stroke engines tend to be heavier and more expensive than two-stroke types, making them an inferior choice for many consumers.

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