Retailers are pushing electric mowers hard in 2021. When I walked into Home Depot at the beginning of March, I saw more electrics on display than gas-powered mowers. Even Harbor Freight, of all places, has two electric mowers on prominent display. But are electric mowers worth it? Let’s look whether a gas or electric mower makes more sense.
If you’re in the market for a mower anyway, an electric mower makes a ton of sense because it’s cheaper to operate than a gas mower. If you have a working gas mower, the numbers are murkier but electric may still make sense.
Gas or Electric mower?
Let’s look at the economics of a gas or electric mower first, because that’s what it takes to figure out if electric mowers are worth it.
The cost of operating a gas mower
For me, a cut needs about $2.50 worth of gas to accomplish.
We mow our lawn a minimum of 26 times a year. But a more typical number is probably closer to 40. Anymore, the mowing season starts in mid-March at the latest, and extends into mid-November, if not a bit later. And there are some months when cutting once a week doesn’t get the job done.
Realistically, we probably spend $200 a year on gas to mow our lawn. With electric, we’d spend $20 on power.
What about hidden costs? I spend about $5 a year on oil, $5 a year on Marvel Mystery Oil so I don’t have to get the mower serviced every single year, and $5 on a spark plug. Then there’s the cost of 20 trips to the gas station but we have a hybrid and probably fuel it up anyway while we’re there, so we won’t count that.
About every other year we have to get the mower serviced. The work it needs varies, and it depends whether it happens at the start of the year or the middle of the year. But it’s a hassle and it costs about $50 each time. Call it $25 a year.
So the cost of running a gas mower every year is about $240.
The cost of operating an electric mower
The cost of electricity is harder to estimate, but the estimates I found said 38 cents. Let’s round it up to 50 cents a cut. So that’s $20 a year if we cut the grass 40 times.
The electric mower has a hidden cost. Batteries don’t last forever. The batteries have a 3-year warranty. Let’s assume a battery lasts about 4 years if they warranty it for 3. So that’s $62.50 a year to keep batteries in it.
That works out to $82.50 a year to operate an electric mower. The mower itself should be nearly zero maintenance since it doesn’t need oil changes and doesn’t have a carburetor to gum up. Until it dies at least.
The mower itself should last about 10 years. I’m happy if I can keep a gas mower working that long, even getting it serviced every other year. Call that a wash.
So the electric mower saves you about $160 a year.
Cost of an electric mower vs a gas mower
You can get a gas mower for less than $150. You don’t want it. Those are throwaway units that last 1-2 seasons. You can fix them, but you have to ask yourself if it’s worth it for a featureless, low-power mower with only a side discharge. Any gas mower worth having costs between $200 and $300. Or if you want to pay more to get a nicer one, you can.
The conventional wisdom is you probably don’t want any electric mower that costs less than $200. Those models have 13- or 16-inch decks, compared to the standard 19-21 inches. That means you have to make three passes with that mower for every two passes you’d make with a standard mower. It’ll take 30% longer to cut your grass. But I bought one to use as a backup, and we ended up using it way more than expected.
The electric mower you want probably costs around $399, minimum. And you can pay more to get more features, more power, or longer runtimes. A $399 mower comes with a $250 battery with about a 45-minute runtime. If it takes more than 45 minutes to cut your grass, you have to decide whether to step up to a more expensive mower that either has a bigger battery or a more efficient motor to get more runtime, or supplement the $399 mower with an additional battery.
Of course, if you’re not happy with a $399 electric, you won’t be too happy with a $200 gas mower either. You’ll be stepping up to a beefier gas mower, spending more on gas, or both.
In the first year, the gas mower is about $40 cheaper, since the mower costs half as much. But the electric mower pays for itself in year two. That means electric mowers are worth it if you’re buying new. Very much so.
Is it worth it to upgrade to an electric mower?
If you have a gas mower and it works, or you can get it working again for 50 bucks, the economics are a little tougher. It’ll take about 3 years for the electric mower to pay for itself. If the gas mower has any resale value, maybe that will help you pay for the electric a bit sooner.
If my gas mower wasn’t very old, I’d be inclined to hang onto it. Our gas mower is old.
Then again, the electric mower will pay for itself right around the time the gas mower was going to start to give you trouble. That’s compelling.
In many cases at least, upgrading to an electric mower is worth it. We bought a 13-inch electric to back up our aging gas mower, then ended up buying a full-size electric to replace it. No regrets.
Gas or Electric mower for quality of life
The other question is quality of life when it comes to a gas or electric mower. Gas mowers are a hassle. I complained to a lawnmower mechanic that I bought a Toro that was billed as guaranteed to start, and three years later it would barely run. “No one likes their lawnmowers,” he said.
My coworker bought an electric mower last year. He knew I do some DIY stuff so he asked if Ryobi mowers would be OK. I said their power tools are pretty good and they have a very nice selection of yard tools. So he bought a Ryobi mower. He raved about it. Nobody raves about lawnmowers. Except people who own electrics. From the research I’ve done, EGO mowers seem to be the very best, but customer satisfaction with Ryobi is really high too.
With gas mowers, there’s always a spring ritual. You get the mower out, put gas and oil in it, and struggle to start it. Until the weather warms up and it’s used to running again, it takes 10-12 pulls to get the stupid thing started. Then there’s keeping gas in it. How often are you in the middle of a cut, run out of gas, and realize the can is empty? Then you’re off to the gas station. Then, at the end of the season, you have to winterize it.
With electric mowers, they start when you push a button. You charge the battery when you’re done. And every once in a while you need to balance and sharpen the blade, or replace it. That’s something you have to do with a gas mower too.
The up front cost for an electric mower is higher, admittedly. For a lot of people, $399 is a not insignificant amount of money. But if you can afford it, in the long run, an electric mower is worth it. The economics totally make sense.