As a member of various Facebook lawn care and landscaping groups, I often run into interesting discussions. But recently I read about an outright war in Newton, Massachusetts. A local resident named Karen Bray is working on banning leaf blowers from Newton.
I don’t want to repeat the entire fight in this blog post. You can easily Google it. So let’s just say that Karen Bray hates leaf blowers; and local landscapers don’t care for her opinions. The rest is fun tabloid stuff.
The key argument is that leaf blowers emit fine particulate matter that lodges in the lungs of kids and blower operators. I’m not a doctor but this could definitely be true. For this reason I prefer to blow solo. When 2-3 workers blow at the same time it’s a mess.
Since leaf blowers come up once in a while, it might be good to share my personal thoughts.
Strata leaf blowing
Large strata properties would be difficult to maintain in the fall without leaf blowers. Sometimes there are three workers blowing together which wouldn’t make Karen Bray very happy. But the fastest way to clean-up leaf avalanches is to blow them into piles. And for every Karen Bray, I know a strata owner who wants every single leaf cleaned-out. The same goes for building maintenance workers. They love leaf blowers because without them debris would get dragged inside their buildings.
Without leaf blowers strata landscape maintenance costs would either go up or service standards would go down. It just isn’t practical to send five workers out with brooms and rakes. Usually there is a lot of work to be done in a day and the crews are under pressure.
There are some strata sites that demand a later start. So instead of starting machines at 8am, we start at 9am. This allows the crew to perform other tasks such as bedwork; and the residents with night shift jobs get an extra uninterrupted hour of sleep. No big deal. No fights on Facebook.
Residential leaf blowing
Because most residences are smaller, there are things you can do when you encounter opposition from the neighbourhood. You can start your blower at a normal time and you can use the smallest backpack blower for noise sensitive environments.
I use one because I couldn’t afford to pay for a big $700+ machine. And it’s worked out fine. It handles fall clean-up just fine. Obviously, the extra power would be nice when I have to clean-up pine needles, for example.
Leaf blowers have been successfully pushed out of Vancouver’s West End but I don’t know how that affected the neighbourhood and their landscapers.
We also have silent gardeners offering services for people like Karen Bray. I’m sure their clients have to pay more and chances are they are happy to do it. It’s probably a good niche.
I personally don’t care for leaf blowers. It’s a necessary evil. I find the noise annoying when I’m not personally blowing. When I blow, I just notice the work. In 2014 I worked under a municipal gardener who barely used a blower all season. And I confess, it was glorious. Whatever mess we made we swept up with brooms. But again, this was gardening NOT strata maintenance. So we mostly covered planted beds. Grass crews covered work that required heavy blower use.
In conclusion, I believe that the leaf blower wars are over-the-top. Yes, the noise is annoying. All landscape companies should do their best to blow at decent hours of the day and just long enough to get their work done. Smaller backpack blowers for noise sensitive environments are available. Some mess could be raked out and broomed.
Strata complexes tend to be larger in scale and, considering the amount of work to be completed, it isn’t practical to use rakes and brooms. There is often great pressure to complete a lot of work quickly.
I’m certain that any leaf blower bans would lead to either higher maintenance costs or worse looking neighbourhoods.