Over the course of two decades of home ownership, I’ve gone through several gas mowers. Last year, after my friends bought electric mowers and raved about them, I decided to buy one myself. So are electric lawn mowers better than gas? Let’s look at the pros and cons.
The upfront cost for a gas mower is much lower. You can buy a new gas mower for as little as $150, spend another $4 on gasoline, and start mowing. If you don’t have $150, you can probably get a used mower for even less.
Any electric mower that costs less than $250 will have significant compromises, including a short run time and a narrow cutting deck. You can pretty much assume an electric mower with similar capability to any given gas mower will cost $100 to $150 more.
You pay more up front for electric. So the year-one costs are usually higher. But the electric mower pays for itself in the long run.
But in the long term, electric is cheaper. It costs me about 20 cents to charge my battery. And I can usually cut the lawn on a single charge. With a gas mower, I could use usually cut the lawn on half a gallon.
So if you figure 32 cuts per year, we are talking $64 in gas versus $6.40 in electricity. The prices on both can be a bit volatile. But in the States, electricity is a bit less volatile and you can save money by charging the battery at night in areas where electricity costs more.
Both of them have hidden costs, but it probably ends up being about a wash. With a gas mower, you need to replace the spark plug and air filter every year and change the oil, and I had to put fuel additives in them to keep them running reliably and avoid having to have the carburetor cleaned every year. Even with using fuel additives, I had to get the mower serviced every second or third year, which generally cost around $50. With an electric mower, you will need to buy a new battery every few years, at a cost of around $200. So the hidden costs over the course of 4 years work out to around $200 either way. The major difference is with a gas mower, it’s spread out over the 4 years as opposed to a single $200 hit every few years.
It’s easier to notice what you’re spending, since you’re spending $200 at a time instead of $5. But electric mowers are worth it, because you’re spending less overall.
I bought a 5 gallon gas can and that certainly minimized the number of unexpected trips I needed to make to the gas station. It shortened the interruption when I would be in the middle of the backyard and the mower would stop because it was out of gas. But it’s certainly an interruption. And I had to remember to take the gas can when I went to fuel up a vehicle, otherwise, I’d have a longer interruption when I made a gas run. With electric, as long as I have battery power, I can cut the grass. No need to make trips to the gas station. At least not for the lawn mower.
And there’s a lot less maintenance. No oil to change, no air filter to change, no need to winterize, and the mower is easy to start. Hold down the safety handle and push a button. If it’s going to start, that’s all it takes.
Here’s another convenience factor you may not think about. They’re quiet enough that you can mow at dawn or dusk and no one is likely to notice. If you do that with gas, you’ll annoy people. Reasons for wanting to mow at those hours can vary, but with electric, you can do it without coming off as a sociopath.
Getting a gas mower to start
If you have a gas mower, you’ve probably had years to learn how to get them to start. Frequently you can power through it. If it won’t start, pull harder. And if that fails, fuel additives, better oil, starter fluid, or some combination of the above will usually get it started. At least until the carburetor gets too dirty and needs a cleaning or a rebuild. Then it’s time for a trip to the shop and you have to do without for a week or two.
Why electric mowers are sometimes hard to start
With an electric mower, it’s a safety thing. If the mower won’t start, it’s because it senses something isn’t right. An electric mower has smarts that a gas mower doesn’t have. If the gas mower has fuel and the fuel can flow, it runs. With an electric mower, manufacturers can put sensors in to stop the flow of electricity if something isn’t engaged properly or locked in properly. Fix the unsafe condition, and the electric mower will start. That’s the general rule.
It’s a bit of a hassle. But you get used to it. And frankly, I like the safety features. Those same features that make the mower hard to start also make it much more difficult to use the mower in an unsafe manner. Back when we used to listen to the radio, I remember Morning Zoo DJs making fun of the warnings on lawn mowers. The thing is, with an electric mower, you don’t need the warnings. Just put a sensor in to sense the unsafe condition and refuse to start, or cut the power. It gives the shock jocks less to talk about, but it also protects people who don’t read safety labels from themselves.
And being able to start the mower on a cool morning in March with a simple press of the button is awfully nice. With my gas mower, starting the mower was always an ordeal until late May or early June when the weather warmed up and the mower was used to running. My electric mower doesn’t care what month it is or how cold it is outside.
Electric mowers are also more efficient than gas mowers. A gas mower spins its blades at full speed or not at all. Electric mowers can sense how hard they are working and adjust their speed accordingly. On a thick grass, it can run the blade full speed, while slowing down on uneven or patchy grass to save energy. At 20 cents per cut, the efficiency features don’t save you a lot of money, but it can be the difference between finishing a cut on a single charge or needing to stop and charge the battery. So it’s a convenience feature, even if it doesn’t save you a lot of money.
This means an electric mower doesn’t feel as powerful as a gas mower. But it’s an easy enough adjustment. When you feel a gas mower bogging down, you push harder. When you feel an electric mower bogging down, you back off a bit. It’s exactly the opposite, but it took about four cuts to get used to it.
Once you understand the electric mower is trying to save power and not hurt you, it gets easier to get used to them. It’s an adjustment. But once you make that adjustment, there’s a lot to like about electric.
What about other lawn tools?
I recommend battery powered lawn tools in general. They give the convenience of gas and the reliability of corded electric tools and get the job done without making a ton of noise. There was a time when the selection wasn’t great but today you can get a string trimmer and a leafblower that use the same battery system as your lawn mower or your cordless drill and similar power tools. The difference is how much power and runtime they have. I find the ones that use the same battery system as my drill are sufficient for my modest sized unfenced yard. If I had a fence, I’d probably want 40V tools that use the same battery system as my lawn mower.