Proponents of electric lawn mowers talk about the sound they make as an advantage. But are electric lawn mowers quiet for real, or is it just marketing talk?
How much quieter are electric lawn mowers?
An electric lawn mower is noticeably quieter than a gas lawn mower. A normal conversation is around 50 decibels. An electric mower is typically around 70 decibels, while gas mowers are more like 100 or even 110. And that is a bigger difference than it sounds like.
Decibels are a logarithmic scale, rather than linear. That means the increase or decrease is much more rapid than a linear scale. It works like the Richter scale for earthquakes, where a seven is far more severe than a six.
Let’s put it in perspective relative to other familiar sounds. An electric lawn mower is about as loud as a hair dryer or a vacuum cleaner. A gas powered lawn mower is closer in volume to a loud party on a Saturday night. If my neighbor is vacuuming out their car or their garage, I might be able to hear it. But even if I can hear it, it’s not loud enough to distract me. If anything, it’s white noise.
If my neighbor is mowing their lawn with a gas powered mower, I can hear it inside my house. And in my neighborhood, where the lots are generally between a quarter of an acre and a third of an acre, their next door neighbors and the three neighbors directly behind them can all hear it. The three neighbors across the street can probably also hear it, although not as loudly.
It’s easier to ignore than a loud party because we’re used to it. But the sound is about equivalent.
Electric lawn mowers are better for your hearing
100 to 110 decibels is the start of the range where you risk hearing damage, so it’s not a bad idea to wear hearing protection when using a gas powered lawn mower. Some people will call you a wimp, but my hearing at age 45 was noticeably worse than my hearing at 30. The same people who make fun of you for using ear protection will make fun of you for needing hearing aids as well. I wish I’d taken better care of my ears when I was younger.
Or you can get an electric lawn mower, save money and your hearing. Those same people might call you a liberal, but since you’ll be making less noise, they are also less likely to notice you mowing the lawn. And besides, electric lawn mowers save you around $100 a year, and that should appeal to you regardless of where you lie on the political spectrum. You can always say you did it to save money and because you don’t like the noise.
Why electric mowers are quieter
Gasoline mowers use internal combustion, or controlled explosions, to run the motor and turn the blades. An electric lawnmower, whether it’s a cordless mower or a corded mower, runs on just a flow of electrons. The only sources of noise are the airflow caused by the blades, and the sound of any moving parts. Especially if the mower has a modern brushless motor, which reduces friction.
If it seems like your neighborhood has gotten quieter since around 2020 or 2021 or so, I don’t think you are imagining things. Electric lawn mowers were a niche item in the previous decade, but by 2020, you could find them at many of the mainstream big box home improvement stores. And in 2021, those stores really started pushing electric mowers, giving them equal billing with old fashioned gas powered mowers, or even giving them more prominent placement. This was for economic reasons. The upfront cost is a bit higher, so that means better returns in the current fiscal year, but it also gives the opportunity to sell batteries. The home improvement stores don’t make any money when you buy gas.
This marketing led to much greater adoption. Prior to 2020, I only had one neighbor with an electric mower. She’s had one for years, and it’s an older model that requires an extension cord. She also walks a mile and a half to the grocery store instead of driving there. I think those two traits are probably related.
I would call her atypical in the neighborhood. My neighborhood isn’t especially progressive. My zip code is moderate enough that a candidate from either political party can still win here. St. Louis has pockets of progressives, and pockets of extreme conservatism, but I don’t live in one of them.
But since 2021, it’s been easy to get a reasonably good cordless lawn mower with a 20-inch cutting deck suitable for medium-sized lawns at either of the big box stores on opposite ends of the suburb I live in. So electric mowers more frequently now when I go on my daily walk. I would say about one in five people I see mowing their lawn are using an electric mower of some sort. And that’s enough that the neighborhood’s overall noise level is noticeably quieter than it to be. I can hear the neighbors’ wind chimes now.
Dawn and dusk mowing
There is another big advantage to electric lawn mowers and how much quieter they are. Sometimes in the summer, the temperature is much cooler around dawn or dusk. The previous owner of my house used to mow his lawn at 8:00 p.m. for that reason. He rigged up lights and mowed in the dark. My neighbors were still talking about that 10 years after he moved away and sold the house to me. He never lived it down.
My electric mower has lights on it that come on when it’s dark outside. I can mow early in the morning or late at night and no one will hear me. I know because I’ve done it. One day after we got an electric mower, my wife asked me when I mowed the lawn, because she didn’t hear me. I figured if she couldn’t hear me, the neighbors probably can’t either. And except for those first three or four passes nearest to their house, they don’t hear me.
I realize a lot of this is anecdotal, but the quietness of electric lawn mowers isn’t a myth. The difference really is noticeable. It’s certainly not the only reason to buy one, but it is one compelling advantage. As electric mowers move out of the early adopter stage and into the early majority and late majority stages, the difference will become even more noticeable. One of the key selling points of a neighborhood is how loud or how quiet it is, with quiet being one of the things that increases property values. So I would say the lower noise pollution is a good thing overall.
And have you noticed people talk about the noise of gas powered weed trimmers and leaf blowers now? We never used to notice them, but now we do. Now that we can hear them and we realize battery powered electric is an alternative, it annoys us.
Other advantages of electric lawn mowers
There are lots of other reasons to buy cordless electric mowers. I think they are a better choice because of the lower air pollution and emissions, compact storage, ease of starting, easy cutting height adjustment with a single lever, and easy push-button start. The compact storage is nice, and so is not having to bother with hidden expenses like air filters and spark plugs in addition to the volatile cost of gasoline.
Some critics call electric tools coal-powered tools, because coal is still the major source of electricity, at least in the United States. But that’s a choice. There are other ways to generate electricity. So while an electric mower isn’t as good of a choice as it could be right now, when we have cleaner sources of power in the near future, it will be even better.