Over the weekend, California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, signed a bill effectively banning the sale of lawn and garden equipment with small off-road (read: gas) engines by January 1, 2024. While this has raised some alarm, that deadline is not necessarily a hard one, as Assembly Bill 1346 specifically states:
“…regulations shall apply to engines produced on or after January 1, 2024, or as soon as the state board determines is feasible, whichever is later.”
The state board is the California Air Resources Board. It’s considering several factors to determine feasibility, including but not limited to:
- Expected timelines for zero-emission small off-road equipment development.
- Increased demand for electricity from added charging requirements for more zero-emission small off-road equipment.
- Use cases of both commercial and residential lawn and garden users.
- Expected availability of zero-emission generators and emergency response equipment.
If the ban on small off-road engines (SORE) does roll out on time and in full, it will mean that equipment with engines smaller than 25 horsepower can no longer be sold in the state. This includes things like lawn mowers, string trimmers, leaf blowers, hedge trimmers, chain saws, generators, and golf carts. So, this will affect the majority of what most homeowners and commercial tree care services use, as well as much of the equipment commercial landscape maintenance businesses employ.
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Essentially what this means for the Californians reading this is that, while commercial users of this equipment will face the biggest challenges, homeowners will fare much better. So, if you’re a homeowner (in California or other states watching if this sets a precedent) with aging gas equipment that might need to be replaced in a few years, read on for advice on what you stand to gain—or lose—in the switch from gas to electric tools from our editors, who have been testing cordless equipment for years.
Advantages of Cordless Outdoor Power Equipment
Gas-powered equipment has been the standard for years, because it’s hard to beat the amount of available energy in a gallon of gasoline. Corded equipment options have been available for decades, but they haven’t gained a significant market share because of their limitations. But as we’ve discovered in testing, the relatively recent developments in battery technology have made cordless equipment a viable challenger. And we’ve noted significant, meaningful advantages to giving up on gas. Beyond environmental concerns, there are cost and time savings, as well as convenience and quality-of-life benefits, including:
Eliminating Fuel Expenses
One test editor, over the course of two months, saved more than $150 on fuel—with a negligible increase in the electric bill. That’s in addition to the time saved driving to get fuel.
Much quieter operation
This is a boon to both you and the neighbors. You can start earlier in the day—or finish later—without disturbing people.
Plus, with no gas tanks, cordless equipment can be stored nearly anywhere.
You need not worry about old or stale gas.
This is with respect to the minutes you’ll save checking or changing oil, checking or filling gas containers, and mixing gas for two-stroke applications.
In many cases, there’s outdoor power equipment that runs on the same batteries you’re already using in power tools like drills, saws, and work lights.
Although the switch from gas-engine to battery equipment is more difficult for contractors, because their choice of equipment is much narrower, there are plenty of options and various price levels available for homeowners. Especially for homeowners with small and neatly kept yards, a range of products from entry- to mid-level will provide more than enough performance to handle their needs. Furthermore, making the switch to battery-powered equipment is easy. Lawn mowers, string trimmers, leaf blowers, and chainsaws that run on batteries operate in an essentially identical, but simpler, fashion compared to their gas-engine counterparts.
Considerations (and Possible Drawbacks) to Making the Switch
Here are a few things we’ve gleaned from (and experienced during) our testing, however, that you should know when switching over your yard-care fleet.
Stalling is more likely
Gas-engine equipment has a higher threshold before it stalls and the engine quits. All cordless outdoor tools, particularly high-torque ones like chainsaws and mowers, have a point at which the motor will switch off to protect it and the battery from overheating due to current overload. If you mow, trim, and cut, go at it a bit more slowly than you do normally. Let’s just say the grass gets ahead of you after skipping a mow one week. You may need to make two passes over to get it to its finished height. (But as any lawn expert will tell you, it would be even better to bring it down to finished height with two cuts anyway, spaced at least a couple of days apart.) Same goes with a string trimmer. Take your time, and let the machine do the work. Electric chainsaws require a bit more of a deft touch. You won’t notice it much when cutting anything with less than a four-inch diameter, but for anything larger, it will become apparent that the saw’s ability to make rapid repeat cuts is not the same as one powered by gas. But that’s okay. Pivot through the cut, back off a bit, then cut some more.
Back-up batteries are crucial
If you mow a small yard (and many California yards are smaller than their equivalents elsewhere in the U.S.), then it’s quite likely that you’ll get the job done on the single battery or pair of batteries that the mower (or other equipment) came with. For large properties or demanding applications, we advise getting back-ups and perhaps a second charger as well. The last thing you want is to run out of power before the job is finished. In other cases, you can put batteries back on the charger while you come in for lunch. Be advised, however, that hot batteries take longer to charge than those at room temperature. If you’re counting on the batteries being fully charged by the time you finish your sandwich, you may be in for a surprise.
Be smart, and maintain your equipment
To get the most out of a battery’s charge, keep a chainsaw chain or a mower’s blade sharp. A mower’s deck should be clean and unobstructed. And don’t let the grass get too tall—taller blades will run through batteries faster. Use the best-quality aftermarket line available on a string trimmer, and keep its head free of tangled weeds and grass (or buy a trimmer that either runs bidirectionally or has a momentary reverse to clear the head).
And one more thing
Backup generators may present a challenge for homeowners—especially in light of the increased incidence of power outages. Right now, there aren’t viable battery-powered options that will keep a home running for days in a prolonged outage—at least not without a significant investment. It may be possible that these units are exempted because of this, but it’s unclear right now.
Self-Propelled Walk Mowers
Our testing reveals that the average battery-powered mower can easily handle cutting several thousand square feet of grass on a single charge—3,000 to 6,000 on the smaller-voltage side. Larger-voltage mowers can even scythe through 8,000 to 10,000 square feet. Furthermore, many battery mowers have a fold-up design. Since there’s no worry of gas spilling out of a fuel tank or carburetor, just fold the handle forward when you’re done and stand them on end.
In case you needed any further evidence that battery-powered equipment has arrived, consider the zero-turn mower, which zooms quietly over multi-acre properties, leaving a crisp, velvet-like cut in its wake. No, one won’t mow down tall grass hour after hour the way a gas-engine mower can. But make no mistake, these aren’t toys. They’re real grass cutters that are a lot quieter and cleaner than their counterparts.
For blowing grass clippings off the sidewalk, driveway, and patio, a cordless leaf blower is superior to one with a gas engine. And when it comes to sweeping leaves and pine needles off of paved surfaces, they still do pretty well. For moving leaves, pine needles, pine cones, acorns and other nuts off of grass, select a larger-voltage machine or expect to do some work with a rake, particularly for heavy cover.
The typical battery string trimmer will easily handle the trimming needed for a small, neat suburban California yard–and the edging, too. The discussion becomes more complex for rural landowners who have to maintain fence lines, trails, and driveway edges and keep brushy weeds under control. For that work, a 36-volt or 40-volt trimmer will do what you need it to. As we’ve mentioned, more voltage will get you more extreme-cutting capability .
Essentially any full-size cordless chainsaw will handle the typical Californian suburban lot. In most cases, you’re talking about pruning, not wholesale wood cutting. The saws here will handle that, of course, but will also produce firewood and do property maintenance for rural homeowners or handle a snapped off palm tree or conifer.
For homeowners in California, this matter is pretty simple. Between now and when the law is implemented, you have plenty of time to look at the equipment available where you are and compare features and prices with equipment sold online. The transition from gas-engine equipment to that powered by a battery is not hard and pretty much comes down to swapping one set of operating characteristics for another. It’s not even particularly expensive. If you’re already running a gas-engine machine, and it will have another couple of years of use on it by the time the ban goes into effect, it might be time to replace it anyway.
As we mention above, water conservation is causing the leafy green landscape in California to shrink, not expand. If you’re among the rare Californians who have a sizable lawn to cut, wood to cut, weeds to trim, and leaves (or pine needles) to blow, then maybe you’re also a diehard gas-engine advocate. In that case, now is the time to take stock of your equipment. Size it up and decide what you’re going to try to keep running. Get in your spare parts now, or even buy new equipment while you can.