What the best leaf blower has
- Sufficient airflow. Air flow is usually specified as both a velocity (measured in mph) and a volume (measured in cubic feet per minute, or cfm). Don't solely rely on one measurement or the other to compare leaf-moving abilities. Popular Mechanics warns that mph and cfm measurements don't necessarily tell the whole story as things like the nature and shape of the discharge tube can impact performance.
- 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, but longer coverage -- up to seven years -- is common.
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, especially a backpack or walk-behind model. However, if your yard is smaller, a corded or cordless electric leaf blower could 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. Even the quietest leaf blowers generate around 65 decibels of noise at the source, but many, especially gas models generate more, 90 or even 100 decibels, 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.
Pay attention to manufacturer recommendations regarding gas types and tool storage. When it comes to gas powered tools, including leaf blowers, the biggest source of complaints concern damage caused by using gas with too high an ethanol content, gas that is not fresh, or improperly storing the tool (with gas left in the tank) when not in use. The ethanol in today's gas is the culprit, as it does not play as nice in small gas engines as it does with the larger engines found in automobiles. Most makers, including Stihl and Husqvarna, provide information regarding gas types, gas freshness and tool storage. Failing to follow those recommendations to the letter can lead to all sorts of engine and fuel line problems -- problems that typically won't be covered by the maker's warranty as those will fall under improper maintenance and use exclusions.
With a corded electric leaf blower, 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. As an example, Toro recommends using a 14-gauge extension cord up to 100 feet long with its corded electric models. If you need more length, upgrade to a 12-gauge power cord.
If you are leaning toward a cordless blower, consider your other garden tools. One of the biggest reasons cordless leaf blowers are more expensive than corded electric ones is the cost of their batteries. However, many cordless models use the same batteries as other garden tools (mowers, trimmers and the like) made by the same manufacturer. If you stick within the same family of battery-powered garden tools, you can save as much as half the cost of your blower by buying the bare tool and using the compatible rechargeable battery you already own.
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.