There couldn’t be the worst start of the day for anyone than waking up to a roaring leaf blower early in the morning. If you have been in such a situation ever, you know the degree of annoyance these gas-powered machines can cause us.
We all know that commercial leaf blowers create a lot of noise and everyone within the proximity suffers from it, but unfortunately, the majority doesn’t know where this eardrums assaulting sound comes from and why engineers seem to be sleeping over it.
In 2017, a study published by the Journal of Environmental and Toxicological Studies founded that the noise produced by the commercial leaf blowers is a low-frequency sound that can travel through windows and walls and persists up to 800 feet from the source. Since less energy is transferred to the medium, low-frequency sound waves tend to travel further than high-frequency waves.
Now that is the reason behind leaf blowers being loud, but what is wrong with the manufacturers to not work on the underlying issue causing trouble to the neighborhoods? Well, engineers have a completely different take on this, which is also valid to a significant extent. Read through the following sections to know what’s going on behind the curtain.
Why are Leaf Blowers Loud and Annoying?
The introductory para already contains the short yet clear and crisp to the point answer for your query that might have been bugging you for long.
As we know, the leaf blowers emit a low-frequency noise that has the characteristic to hold onto its volume to longer distances making it irritating for the humans around. But what makes it particularly annoying to the peoples is its high-pitch, the changing amplitude, and last but not least, the listener’s lack of control.
And what makes these commercial devices produce an intolerable amount of noise lies in the use of inefficient 2-stroke engines used by the manufacturers. Also known as 2-cycle engines, mostly gas-powered leaf blowers are powered by these only because they’re cheap to build, lightweight, and have more power.
However, such flimsy framed leaf blowers come with less sound insulation mechanism that can’t dampen the engine’s vibration and let it scream at the maximum capacity. Clearly, this is the only scientific reason that makes the commercial leaf blowers the most villainized equipment in the lawn care universe.
Being both inexpensive and powerful makes the gas-powered leaf blowers a great deal for the consumers that outweigh its drawbacks to look like something not to worry about. And not to mention, some owners, they just don’t care about pissing people off by operating their snout-nosed noisemakers. Sadly, dealing with these lawn obsessed neighbors has never been easy for anyone.
Well, now we know why are leaf blowers darn loud and what causes them to be noisy in general but do you know how loud they could get? Let’s find out.
How Many Decibels are Leaf Blowers?
According to the mainstream manufacturers, the newer gas-powered leaf blowers are controlled and evolved versions emitting 65-75 decibels (dB), whereas older models produce noise at 80 to 85 decibels. However, the cheap or mid-range leaf blowers may expose the users to the noise levels of 112 decibels that is shockingly louder than a plane taking off or a freight train.
Jamie Banks (Public Health and Executive Director), in an interview, said a typical leaf-blower from a distance of 50 feet ranges from 64 to 78 decibels. And at the operator’s ear, the noise level exceeds up to 95 to 115 decibels, making it possible to cause severe pain and ear injury in a matter of a few minutes if not properly geared.
As per the World Health Organization, getting exposed to a steady stream of sound that ranges beyond safe levels, for example, any noise that’s greater than 75 decibels, risks causing hearing damage and can result in increased blood pressure or heart rate. Owing to the official guidelines, many cities have imposed noise limits on the blowers to have less than 65 decibels from 50 feet away.
To make it easy for you to understand, here we have made a comparison by taking the official data from the Center for Hearing and Communication:
When you are in a library, you are barely exposed to a noise level of about 40 decibels; on a normal conversation, it is around 60, in city traffic 80, an ambulance siren’s noise registers at about 120 decibels, and when a shotgun blasts the noise level exceeds up to 170. Now imagine how loud would be a leaf blower when even at 50 feet away, it can give the impact of 75 decibels to the hearer’s ear. It’s recommended to use hearing protection for the noise over 85 because it can cause irreparable hearing loss at this level and for eight hours.
Also, keep in mind that decibels (dB) are measured on a logarithmic scale that simply means an increment of 10 dB will increase the sound intensity to 10x (making it almost double in the loudness).
Is it Only About Noise Pollution?
Leaf blowers may start with disrupting an individual’s tranquillity, but less of us know it ends up polluting the fresh air as well. A gas-powered leaf blower acts in a 2-way polluter for our environment we are living in, and here is how:
Firstly, when you operate the device at the maximum speed of 180-200 miles per hour, the gust rushing out of the nozzle not only sends leaves and grass cuttings out for a ride but also damages young plants and obliterates topsoil. It stirs up contaminants and pollutants from the ground and circulates it back to the air.
The resulting airborne dust is highly susceptible to aggravate allergies, asthma, bronchitis, and other chronic respiratory ailments. Since these dust particles contain mold, animal feces, pollen, pesticides, lead, arsenic, mercury, and hydrocarbons, it can have adverse health effects if inhaled. And that’s why it’s recommended not to use blowers on loose dirt or gravel drives. But what about the dust that gets under people’s fingernails?
Now, after polluting the air on the surface level, it’s time for the inexpensive two-stroke engine to do some more damage to the quality of the air.
For a two-stroke leaf blower to operate, it requires a mixture of gasoline and oil, but unlike other efficient engines, it lacks separate chambers for fuel and lubricants, which result in the wastage of one-third of the combined fuel and oil mixture. And the complete wastage that gets released from the engine takes the form of toxic gases that includes carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, and hydrocarbons.
According to a study carried out by the American Lung Association, it has been reported that an old two-stroke engine tends to emit more pollutants than a 6,200-pound pickup truck. For example, operating a gasoline-powered leaf blower for an hour would emit the same amount of pollutants as driving a 2016 Toyota Camry from Los Angeles to Denver (almost 1,100-mile trip) would do. Isn’t it a crazy amount of air pollution for a mere leaf blower to make?[Related Article: How To Reduce Noise If You Stay Near A Railway Station]
Why Can’t Manufacturers Make Quieter Leaf Blowers?
It’s feasible for the companies to make quieter leaf blowers, but why don’t they do so is due to the cost and practicality/usability.
Generally, a gas-powered leaf blower has two major sources from where all the noise comes from. It’s the nozzle that propels the air out at a greater velocity and the high-pitched screaming vibrations coming out of the engine. To reduce the noise, the possible workarounds would be to replace the ICE with an electric motor and encase the backpack unit with an adequate amount of sound dampening/absorbing materials.
However, doing so would drastically increase the blower’s cost and make it look bulkier and probably much heavier to carry around, affecting both user’s mobility and budget. Now, why would you pay extra for a blower that is both less usable and heavier? The common assumption is the majority wouldn’t opt for such a product, and when there is not a huge demand, why would companies make them anyway.
Don’t you think if manufacturers were confident about making these changes and have enough positive reports for cost-optimization, by now, they would be all over it? It’s all about practicality and cost.
Out of frustration, have you ever blamed the engineers for all the menace a leaf blower cause and give rise to? If yes, then the first thing you need to understand is, it’s not the engineers who decide on the final product, but the management people with a top priority to make money for the company.
How to Tackle the Noise Problem?
It’s true that leaf blowers give a sense of convenience to the users but have you ever thought at what cost the efficiency comes for? If you have even skimmed through the above sections, we don’t need to remind you how mentally, and physically hazardous a leaf blower can be for your health and the people around you.
Also, have you ever noticed that leaves blown away temporarily would eventually come back to its place? Most of the time, a leaf blower does nothing but gives you a satisfaction of cleanliness that remains strong until you have to blow the leaves and grass clippings again.
Termed as an “inappropriate technology” by E.F. Schumacher in his book Small Is Beautiful, leaf blowers are simply intolerable to humans since it came into existence. And there isn’t much you could do to prevent or cease the pollution caused by operating them. However, if you can’t let the leaves sit on the lawn and also don’t want to ruin your relationship with your friendly neighbor by making noise, you can either go for a rake and broom or get yourself new electricity (corded) or battery-powered leaf blower.
Mind you, these electric model leaf blowers are less powerful, more cumbersome, and require dragging around a long extension cord but could be a better option for smaller lawns. And for cordless battery-powered models, you would be required to charge them after every 30-40 minutes of use. So if you can make a trade-off with the potential downsides electric or battery-powered leaf blowers come with, you can – to a significant extent – will be free from noise issues and fuel emission.
Or maybe, use a rake. It would not take as much as some (lazy) yard workers and gardeners whine about, but an extra 20 minutes to get the job done without having to take on a fight with your neighbors over a task as simple as getting the leaves out of the lawn.[Related Article: Best Quiet Lawn Mowers For Large Yards 2021]
As technology evolves, leaf blowers are getting quieter and cleaner with the new models coming into the market transitioned to low-noise and low-emission mechanisms. While the government is also working to regulate the leaf blowers’ use, we believe that people need to work on a more deeply sensible idea. It would be like talking to your neighbor, making rules to limit the activity, and deciding mutually onto the machine’s use on a certain day, time, or interval.
There are a number of cities, including Los Angeles, Aspen, Colorado, British Columbia, Vancouver; and Palo Alto, California, that have imposed a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers, while other cities are planning to call for the same. It could be a sigh of relief for those who firmly believe that there isn’t much one could do to cease the problems caused by these leaf blowers but to shut them off and keep aside. Moreover, it’s better to do the work manually than blowing your eardrums along with the dust and pollutants.
Lastly, we hope this article helped you understand the different facets of leaf blowers being loud and noisy. Do let us know what you think about it, and don’t forget to leave your decision – of using a blower – in the comment box below.