Ok, so it’s not the grass that we are talking about, it’s the tools that we use in our yards – mowers, trimmers, clippers, pruners, cultivators, and saws – that can be a lot greener. As Bob Dylan says, “The times they are a – changin,’ ” and, as history has so often shown, it’s in our best interest to change with them.
To help us make that change, and green up our outdoor tools, there is an ever-growing list of manufacturers offering cordless electric versions of the gas burning tools that we have been using for years to keep our yards and gardens shipshape. Some of these companies are well-known, heavy-hitters, and some are new comers, and therein is the problem. With so many choices, confusion creeps in and clouds the decision making process.
I know, because when I decided to start replacing our older gas powered tools with electric ones, the more I researched, the more confused I became. For example, Target sells (online only) a Greenworks 12” chainsaw with a 40 volt battery for $49.99 including shipping, while my local Stihl dealer sells a 12” chainsaw for $329.95, and the 36 volt battery and charger are extra. A similar, large, price gap also exists for mowers, trimmers, pole pruners, leaf blowers, and so on. Who wouldn’t be confused?
The wondering over the huge price difference is just the beginning. There are also differences in battery ratings – measured in Amp hours (Ah) – and in battery chemistry. The latter appears to be rather secretive, but can make a big difference in performance.
Just as all batteries are not created equal, battery chargers also come in all levels of quality. The best chargers are matched to the batteries and will actually talk to the battery in order to achieve the optimal charging rate. This assures maximum performance and battery life. A cheap, poorly engineered charger will shorten the life of the battery.
Then there are the online ratings and reviews – be careful here – a number 1 rated machine on one site, may not even make it to another site’s top rated list at all.
Cutting through the confusion.
After many hours of online research, I decided that, just maybe, I was coming at this the wrong way. Rather than spend more time deciding on which is the best brand, I decided to figure out what my needs are, and then see which brand best meets those needs. So I started to ask myself a bunch of questions, which I will share with the hope that the answers you come up with will help you select the right tools.
- Is going electric important to me? Getting off fossil fuels, no noxious fumes or spills, quieter operation, lower operating costs, and less vibration are all advantages of electric power vs. gas. Be prepared to pay more up front, but you will get your money back over time
- Will electric tools do the job or me? They will, but the trick is match the tool to your use level. For instance, if you have less than 1/4 of an acre of lawn to maintain, you are a good candidate for the lower to medium priced brands. Larger lawns require more care in brand selection, as they will be required to work harder. There are even some brands (Stihl, Husqvarna, or Mean Green Products), whose equipment is suitable for commercial uses, estates, and parks, and they are priced accordingly.
- Am I going to eventually have a variety of tools, i.e. mower, grass trimmer, hedge clipper, pole saw, chain saw, etc.? If the battery is interchangeable, all these tools can share the same one (as well as the same charger), which lowers the cost. Not all brands offer a wide range of tools.
- Am I comfortable buying online vs. big box store, vs. local dealer? Many brands are only available online. Only a local dealer can provide training, service, and advice.
- Am I comfortable buying without actually using the tool beforehand? This is the case when you buy online, unless of course you know somebody who already owns the same one and you can test drive theirs.
- Am I comfortable buying a newer, less established brand? Being new does not necessarily mean questionable value or quality, but it does make it harder to evaluate. Take note that several early start-up brands have already been discontinued.
- Will price be one of the most important factors (if not the most)? There are bargains out there, but we all know the pitfalls of buying cheap tools. Do a lot of homework. Buy the best you can afford, and figure in future fuel savings.
Answer these questions and talk to friends, family, and neighbors. I reccommend that you actually try out the tools you are going to buy beforehand. I also strongly reccommend that you visit a Husqvarna or a Stihl dealer and operate their equipment. These are top notch brands and the dealers are a wealth of knowledge.
Good luck, and to get you started here are a number of electric brands that my “Googling” produced.
This article originally ran in the Winter 2015/16 issue of Green Living Journal.