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What to consider when shopping for an electric lawn mower

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There’s never been a better time to consider adding a battery-powered push lawn mower to your arsenal of outdoor tools. “Battery technology has improved to the point where a battery mower performs just as well as a gas-powered one,” says Mike Chiesa, manager of Power at Hand, which sells and services outdoor power equipment in Denver.

Eco-friendly electric mowers are 30 to 40 percent quieter than their gas counterparts, which can spew about 11 times the emissions that a car does over the same period, according to Alex Kronk, whose website, thelawnreview.com, gives advice about lawn tools. Electric models also require minimal maintenance, almost always start on the first try and don’t emit noxious fumes. Plus, right now, gasoline prices are obscenely high.

Thanks to high customer demand, cordless, battery-powered push mowers have become mainstream. Riding mowers will probably follow (their cost is currently in the thousands), but for this story, I’m sticking to the ones you walk behind. You can find mowers by nearly every major manufacturer at home improvement stores or specialty dealers.

Before you pull out your credit card, though, do a bit of self-evaluation. Chiesa asks every customer: Do you really take care of your lawn? Do you mow every four to five days when it’s growing in spring, or do you mow when the grass gets tall and your neighbors complain? Cutting tall grass requires extra force, which can wear out an electric engine. “Be real with yourself as to what type of mower you are,” he says. “Electric will disappoint you if you just let the grass grow.”

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For those who take pride in a well-groomed lawn, electric is the way to go. With a battery-powered mower, you never have to change the oil or worry that the gasoline will go bad. Battery models are lightweight (about 20 pounds compared with about 80 pounds for gas-powered) and fold up neatly for storage. A durable one costs between $300 and $600. Here are some tips for choosing a battery-powered lawn mower.

Determine your lawn size. Many consumers incorrectly estimate how much grass they need to mow. Use Zillow or Redfin to get your lot size, or try measuremylawn.com. For any space less than one acre, a battery mower should be up to the task, Kronk says. Ask the dealer about a model’s run time or how many square feet it can mow before the battery runs out of juice. A battery mower can typically run for 25 to 40 minutes on a single charge, so a large lawn may require you to switch to a second battery (about $40 to $150), unless you opt to mow the front and back on different days.

Look for reputable brands. For major equipment purchases, smart consumers know to shop name brands with strong track records. It doesn’t particularly matter where you buy your mower from — a specialty retailer, a home improvement center, a hardware store, online — as long as the company has a solid reputation for products and customer service. Look for unbiased reviews online and/or watch video reviews to see the machines in action. Then talk to family members or neighbors who have electric mowers, says Aran Brosnan, senior marketing manager for Toro, an outdoor equipment manufacturer. Overwhelmed by choices? Shop from an authorized dealer, which will help you evaluate your lawn needs and answer questions, as well as let you test-drive various models to get a feel for which one fits you the best.

Stick with one battery system. Take note of other products that could use the same battery and charger, such as a string trimmer or leaf blower. “Manufacturers are trying to ensure that their rechargeable battery is interchangeable across all power tools, so you can buy another tool in the system without another battery and charger,” Brosnan says. If you already have other battery-powered tools, you may want to start with that company, such as Ryobi, Ego, Toro or Greenworks, to see whether it offers a mower. That way, you can either buy the full version and swap in the battery from your other tools for additional run time, or you can purchase the tool without the battery and save money.

Self-propelled vs. hand-push. Push mowers come in two styles: hand-push or self-propelled. With the latter, you essentially walk behind the machine as it cuts the grass. The one you choose will depend on your personal preference, but note that electric mowers aren’t that heavy to begin with. “The self-propelled function quickly drains the battery and increases mower cost by up to $200,” Kronk says.

Know the procedure if something goes wrong. One of the most important aspects to consider is what happens if there’s an issue with the mower, Chiesa says, so ask your retailer before purchasing. “Some companies have authorized dealers, others insist you ship it back in the box to the factory for repair. There is no local place to take it,” he says.

Look for durability. You’ll pay more, but in the long run, it pays to purchase a mower with metal — not plastic — decking, Kronk says. Metal decking protects the mower motor, so rocks won’t crack it or get thrown as you mow. Nearly all newer battery mowers have a brushless motor, but you should confirm this with the retailer. Brushless motors are more energy-efficient and run longer than their brushed counterparts.

Low maintenance doesn’t mean no maintenance. Although battery-powered mowers require little service (no gas, oil or spark plug changes), you should take them to a specialist once or twice a year to have the blades sharpened. “It’s a real surprise to people that dead leaves, not sticks or thick grass, dull mower blades,” Chiesa says. You also want to properly store your mower and battery. Although the mower can stay in a non-temperature-controlled space, the battery and charger should be kept indoors, where it’s safe from moisture and temperature swings.

Extra features may (or may not) be worth it. With so many battery-powered mowers on the market, manufacturers are offering extra features to distinguish their product from others. For instance, some Toro models come with what the company calls Personal Pace. (Basically, the faster you walk, the faster the self-propelled mower goes, and it slows down when you do.) Some mowers may come with an eco-mode that slows down the blade to save battery life; others can sense if the grass is thick and will ramp up when you need more energy. Nearly all mowers have both bag and mulcher options, allowing you to switch between the two features. The one feature you really shouldn’t pay for, Kronk says, is lights. “Not only is it a battery killer, but who mows in the dark?”

Denver-based writer Laura Daily specializes in consumer advocacy and travel strategies. Find her at dailywriter.net.

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