Jetpacks they are not. But when else do you get to wear an engine on your back? And if you’re facing down a big leafy suburban plot, a blower can salvage your weekend.
Are they allowed where you live?
Leaf blowers are polarizing. As with pit bulls and Jersey Shore cast members, standing outside with one can run you afoul of both neighbors and the law. Due to concerns about noise and emissions, these machines are banned by hundreds of cities and towns nationwide, along with several neighborhood associations. So check with the relevant authorities before buying.
What about the noise and emissions?
The EPA has been raising standards since 1995, when as much as 25 percent of leaf-blower exhaust was raw, unburned gasoline. Starting with the 2012 model year, new blowers will run 80 percent cleaner than their 1995 counterparts. New designs, better mufflers, and electric options have also squelched some of the neighbor-alienating roar. Still, wait until after 10am. Please.
Why does the engine matter so much?
Gas-powered models come in either two-stroke or four-stroke designs. Two-stroke motors, common in older blowers, use a single crankshaft revolution per piston cycle (one upstroke and one down). This puts intake and exhaust in the same cycle — part of the reason that two-strokes are such polluters. Four-strokes, which have one cycle for intake and one for exhaust, tend to be heavier but also cleaner.
Sure, an ergonomic rake is fine for a single-tree urban plot (try the Flexrake CF224W for $15), but if you’ve got a bunch of children waiting for you to clear a field so they can start soccer practice, you need more horsepower. The easiest way to think about this is to look at the type of lawn mower you own. If you have enough acreage to justify a riding mower, you’ll need a blower with serious airflow, more than 90 mph. If all you need to maintain your suburban oasis is a push mower and a kid with a broom, a less powerful electric model will do, though those generally struggle with wet, heavy debris.
How We Tested
We took these machines to a neighborhood baseball diamond to repeatedly corral and relocate a whole ballpark’s worth of leaves and debris over several days, testing not just for blowing power but also for noise, durability, and comfort.