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Technology

Help Is On the Way In the War Against Noisy Leaf Blowers 228

HughPickens.com writes: Perry Stein writes in the Washington Post that the fight against noisy leaf blowers is gaining momentum, in part, because residents are framing it as a public health issue. Two-stroke engine leaf blowers mix fuel with oil and don't undergo a complete combustion, emitting a number of toxins, like carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide, which their operators inevitably inhale. Municipalities throughout the country have moved to ban them. "You find two-stroke engines in poorer countries because they're cheap," says James Fallows citing a 2004 National Institutes of Health study showing that two-stroke engines on two- and three-wheeled vehicles in Delhi, India, account for a significant amount of air pollution. "You don't find them in richer countries because they're so dirty and polluting." In Washington DC leaf blowers can't exceed 70 decibels as measured from 50 feet away. (A normal conversation is typically about 60 decibels.) Haskell Small, a composer and concert pianist who is helping to lead the leaf-blower battle in Wesley Heights, describes the sound as "piercing." "When I try to compose or write a letter, there is no way for me to listen to my inner voice, and the leaf blower blanks out all the harmonic combinations."

But help is on the way. A new generation of leaf blowers is more environmentally friendly as the emergence of battery-powered leaf blowers takes us closer to the Holy Grail of equipment that is both (1) powerful and (2) quiet. Fallows supports the notion of a kind of trade-in program, where loud, old leaf blowers are exchanged for the less offensive kind. Ted Rueter, founder of Noise Free America, facilitated one such scheme. In the heat of his front lawn dispute with his neighbor, he offered a solution. "If you agree to use them, I will buy you two new leaf blowers," Rueter told his neighbor. "The offer was accepted and the noise level in his front yard was restored to a peaceful level," says Lawrence Richards. "When it comes to the balancing act of protecting landscaping jobs while reducing noise and emissions, it helps that someone was willing to pay for progress."
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Help Is On the Way In the War Against Noisy Leaf Blowers

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  • FWP (Score:4, Informative)

    by hjf ( 703092 ) on Saturday January 16, 2016 @09:33AM (#51313227) Homepage

    First World Problems.

    • Re:FWP (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 16, 2016 @09:44AM (#51313261)

      First World Problems.

      Leaf-blowers themselves are very much a product of the first world. They're a problem we created because we thought it necessary to move leaves around with air, which probably isn't the most efficient method in the first place.

      In any case, the first-world created this problem, so, yes, it's naturally up to the first world to fix it.

      • by skam240 ( 789197 )

        No, they're called "first world problems" because only affluent people with no real problems to complain about complain about nonsense like a bit of noise every once in a while that disturbs their perfect serenity.

        After this we can work on a ban on scratchy sweaters. They're the WORST! How about children? They're noisy as all hell. Lets ban'em.

    • Anyhow, it's a problem that can be mitigated by a meditation exercise. Imagine you're a leaf on the wind...

    • Re:FWP (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Joe Branya ( 777172 ) on Saturday January 16, 2016 @01:32PM (#51314317)

      I live in an Austin, TX condo and hear the Echo backpack leafblowers every Monday. At 10 feet I measured one at 98 db. The operators are all illegals, 18-20 year-old kids from the hills of Michoacan in Mexico. None of them are given ear protectors by the foodchain of subcontractors-of-subcontractors who are used to provide legal cover for the condo associations (including mine) who hire illegals because they are cheap, obedient and unlikely to complain. Most will be half-deaf at 30. But nobody here cares. No American would put up with the working conditions or they would call OSHA.

      Don't kid yourself; illegal immigration and leafblowers are connected. This is both a first and third world problem; a first world problem for the students who would have the jobs and be earning $15/hr if the illegals were not here and a problem for the kids from Mexico who get $7.50/hr and who will go deaf. Talk about a conspiracy of silence...

      The situation pisses me off for both reasons.

      • If I hadn't already commented in the thread I'd mod you up.

      • by skam240 ( 789197 )

        There's a sinister connection between leaf blowers and illegal immigration? So If there were no leaf blowers there'd be no illegal immigration? Or would it be if there was no illegal immigration there'd be no leaf blowers? Both seem pretty preposterous to me.

        The people who do the yard work in the condo complex where I live (California) all have ear protectors. They're mostly Hispanic but if they're illegals they arent recent arrivals as all of them that I've talked to speak pretty good English. Now both of

    • by ozborn ( 161426 )

      Using "First World Problems" to describe this problem is not really helpful. It is inappropriate in this case because it is nothing more than a means to discredit and dismiss the problem at hand without any real debate - especially when you wrote nothing more than those 3 words.

      First off, I would be surprised if leaf blowers were only used in the first world - they are no doubt more common there but I am sure they can be found throughout the world.

      Secondly, the main victims of leaf-blowers are the people wh

    • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
      The air pollution from inefficient small engines isn't just a First World problem.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 16, 2016 @09:33AM (#51313231)

    What a fucking inane submission. Why the fuck is this on Slashdot?!

    Leave the goddamn leaves on the ground. Or if you really must collect them, just use a fucking rake.

    Holy shit, this submission makes me pine for the days of Roland Piquepaille. At least his submissions had some relevance, no matter how small.

    • Leave the goddamn leaves on the ground. Or if you really must collect them, just use a fucking rake.

      A rake is no good on a gravel drive as it pulls the gravel as well, and mixes it with the leaves. If you leave the leaves on the drive (or anywhere, like the previous occupants of my house seem to have done for the last 20 years), they just turn into mud. Half my driveway is a mud-bath of rotted leaves with gravel somewhere below, which I must sort out one day.

  • Say What?! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Dereck1701 ( 1922824 ) on Saturday January 16, 2016 @09:41AM (#51313245)

    "You find two-stroke engines in poorer countries because they're cheap,"

    No, you find two-stroke engines in applications where you need high power but extremely low weight. Their cheapness is simply a byproduct of their simplicity (hence, weight savings). There are plenty of applications where a 4-stroke engine simply wouldn't work because it would weigh too much (leaf blowers, chain saws, etc) or would be too bulky (mopeds, model airplanes, lawnmowers, etc). Sure their efficiency needs some work, or replacement if a viable alternative is created, but at the moment there are several applications where 4-stroke engines or battery power simply wouldn't work.

    • by DarkOx ( 621550 )

      here are plenty of applications where a 4-stroke engine simply wouldn't work because it would weigh too much (leaf blowers, chain saws, etc) or would be too bulky

      Except you can go to your local Lowes or Home Depot and buy these things with 4 stroke engines right now. In general I agree though their two stroke counter parts are vastly superior. The are as powerful and weigh less or are more powerful; either way therefore more useful for their purpose. Its also the case the 2 stroke engines general tolerate being inverted and such because they only have to worry about keep a charge of aspirated fuel, not also pulling oil from a sump; and dry sump applications for 4 strokes are even more complex and expensive.

      Personally the only way I will ever replace my 2 stroke trimmer plus and my chain saw with a 4 stroke is if I can't get a replacement 2 stroke model.

    • ...applications where a 4-stroke engine simply wouldn't work because it would weigh too much (leaf blowers,...

      I've seen 4-stroke engines on leaf blowers, albeit, backpack leaf blowers.

    • Re:Say What?! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by oic0 ( 1864384 ) on Saturday January 16, 2016 @10:11AM (#51313335)
      They arent inherently loud. In fact, their power greatly improves with what would be a very restrictive exhaust on a four stroke. Cheap leaf blowers are just loud because they are cheap and have tiny crappy mufflers. Two strokes also don't have to be inefficient. In larger applications they can generally have a lot more power density than a four stroke and very similar emissions / fuel economy if used with direct injection. Their main problem is that they blow intake charge out with the exhaust when not at the optimal resonance frequency with their exhaust expansion chamber. If you dont add the fuel until the port is closed, its not a problem.
    • "You find two-stroke engines in poorer countries because they're cheap,"

      No, you find two-stroke engines in applications where you need high power but extremely low weight. Their cheapness is simply a byproduct of their simplicity (hence, weight savings). There are plenty of applications where a 4-stroke engine simply wouldn't work because it would weigh too much (leaf blowers, chain saws, etc) or would be too bulky (mopeds, model airplanes, lawnmowers, etc). Sure their efficiency needs some work, or replacement if a viable alternative is created, but at the moment there are several applications where 4-stroke engines or battery power simply wouldn't work.

      the power-to-weight ratio gap is very small these days in the 1hp+ market. engines like the honda GX25 have something like 7lbs making 1hp, perfect for a handheld blower. honda even bolts a perfectly good leaf blower to it, but they only sell it in the european market for some reason, i have no idea why they don't bring it into north america: http://www.honda.co.uk/lawn-an... [honda.co.uk]

    • I would extend your arguement on the environmental side:

      National Institutes of Health study showing that two-stroke engines on two- and three-wheeled vehicles in Delhi, India, account for a significant amount of air pollution.

      In other news the solar energy as measured at the sun would instantly kill us so solar is unsafe. Oh what there's a difference in concentration? Well blow me down with a battery powered leaf blower! I didn't realise that a handful of people using a leaf blower for 5 minutes on their law once a week as the same thing as filling up a highway with motorcycles.

      But hey as long as we have that environmental angle. I'm sure 10minutes less running a 2 stroke p

    • by valnar ( 914809 )

      I agree! I didn't bother reading the article because I assume it was written by a moron.

      I live near woods and have to blow leaves into the woods several times during the season, or my yard would be covered by oak leaves 5 times over. My hand leaf blower gets used 20% of the time. The other 80% is with a Little Wonder push blower. It's loud as fuck, but the only thing that'll get the job done. There is no way with modern technology to make that thing quiet that I'm aware of.

    • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Saturday January 16, 2016 @12:30PM (#51314019)

      Forget two stroke. I want one of these [youtube.com]

      • by PPH ( 736903 )

        At first glance, this looks like a novelty. But after reading some of the comments, if you could put some sort of sound attenuation on the turbine exhaust there are some commercial grounds maintenance people that might be willing to pay for such a powerful/lightweight unit.

        Off to the patent office!

    • by dryeo ( 100693 )

      My leaf blower is a 4 stroke, same with my weedeater and lawnmower. Quieter then the 2 strokes and just as powerful or close enough. Just have to adjust the valves every hundred hours.

    • The folks at LiquidPiston seem to think they have a rotary engine that could do the trick. Maybe, or maybe not, but I'm excited to see that there are still folks willing to innovate in engine technology.

      http://liquidpiston.com/techno... [liquidpiston.com]

    • you find two-stroke engines in applications where you need high power but extremely low weight. Their cheapness is simply a byproduct of their simplicity (hence, weight savings). There are plenty of applications where a 4-stroke engine simply wouldn't work because it would weigh too much... or would be too bulky

      You forgot the main reason that 2-strokes are used in hand-held kit, especially chainsaws : being sump-less they work at any angle and tolerate being tossed around, because the lubricating oil comes in with the fuel. This can be done with 4-strokes with fancy sump design having swivelling pick-up nozzles (like in acrobatic aircraft), but it is expensive and less reliable.

    • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
      4-stroke doesn't help because the small engine applications (generally) don't have much, if anything, in the way of emissions control.
  • by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Saturday January 16, 2016 @09:47AM (#51313273)

    ...the emergence of battery-powered leaf blowers takes us closer to the Holy Grail of equipment that is both (1) powerful and (2) quiet....

    and (3) runs for only 10 minutes before the battery drains down.

    .
    True, the weaker battery-operated leaf blowers can have battery run time that is beyond 10 minutes. However, if you're looking for a battery-operated leaf blower that as powerful as one with a two-cycle engine, then you're looking at leaf blowers with a useful battery life of around 10 to 15 minutes.

    Note: when the manufacturers rate the battery run time of leaf blowers in their advertisements and on their websites, they usually rate the battery life with the leaf blower running on its lowest speed. That's how they can say the battery lasts for an hour or more.

    If you're just looking to blow the leaves off your patio or sidewalks, then the battery operated ones are fine. But don't expect to clean any reasonable sized yard of leaves..

    • Clean a yard with a leafblower? Is that a thing? I've only ever seen people rake their yards.

      We leafblow footpaths and areas we can't rake but the leaves just get caught in the grass in the yard.

      • Clean a yard with a leafblower? Is that a thing?

        Yes, it is a thing.

        .
        Much, much faster than raking, and it does a better job than raking. Depending upon the size of the yard, a handheld can work, or you may need to step up to a backpack leaf blower, next step up is a walk-behind leaf blower. The latter provides some serious air movement, and should not be used by the timid.

        • by Dr. Evil ( 3501 )

          The condo next door spends 6 hours pissing around with leafblowers, always on separate days, multiple times in the autumn. It makes it impossible to keep any windows or doors open.

          It wouldn't be as bad if they took 4 of them for 30 minutes and systematically went over the grounds... but no. One fat guy walks all over the place in no particular pattern, just pointing the leafblower at dandelions and the odd leaf that just won't come free of the fence. I'm sure if they were raking, they wouldn't be at i

  • by JoshuaZ ( 1134087 ) on Saturday January 16, 2016 @09:51AM (#51313279) Homepage

    This is part of the same general trend as battery technology gets better: we don't need fossil fuels for nearly as many things as we did previously. To some extent this one is a bit of a no-brainer, because leafblowers are not technologies where one has to worry terribly about being stranded if there's no nearby recharge station or if the range isn't far enough (which helped hold back electric cars). It will be interesting to see how far this goes. Some optimists (such a Elon Musk) think that we'll eventually have boats and airplanes which use batteries, thus relegating fossil fuel use to essentially some rockets which require the very high energy density, plastic and other petrochemical derivative production (which will take a lot longer to find alternatives for), and energy in the grid. Note by the way that because large generators like power plants are more efficient than small ones, as long as one has decent batteries and doesn't have terrible power plants on the grid, that's still a net gain.

    However, I'm pessimistic about this sort of trend for a few reasons. First, many countries are still producing coal power plants, and although a natural gas or oil plant is often cleaner than a car or other device burning gasoline, this is often not the case for coal plants. In some developed countries, like the US, the total percentage of power produced by coal is going down but the total amount of coal production is roughly constant and projected to remain so for at least a few decades https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electricity_sector_of_the_United_States [wikipedia.org]. While newer coal plants are more efficient and cleaner, this is only by a comparatively small degree. Of course, if do eventually get cheaper nuclear (such as with more modern reactors or maybe even with thorium reactors) this situation may change- right now the fact that nuclear is held to much higher safety standards than fossil fuel plants is a large part of its very high cost.

    More seriously for the very long-term hope of making batteries handle all transport technologies including ships and airplanes, it isn't clear that battery technology will improve that much over time. The primary thing that matters is energy density, which has two forms, energy per mass and energy per volume. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_density [wikipedia.org] Both need to be much better than they are today for electric airplanes to have any chance (lifespan and and number of cycle uses also need to improve but that's in some ways less of a barrier.) Energy density of batteries by both metrics batteries has increased by 5%-10% a year depending on the exact metric and choice of examples https://www.quora.com/Is-it-true-that-battery-energy-density-improves-5-8-per-year [quora.com] which is exponential growth ( but with a much slower doubling time than something like Moore's Law. One has a doubling about once every 8 or 10 years.) Jet fuel has an energy density of around 45 MJ/kg, The most efficient batteries have a little under 1 MJ/kg. So one needs at least about 5 doublings before batteries can reasonably compete which will start to occur if they have an energy density of around 32/ MJ/kg. Similar remarks apply to energy density measured by joules per volume. However, there are technical reasons to think that batteries will stop doubling before that (see theabove quora link for details which argues that we can't make batteries much than four times as efficient before we start running into serious theoretical limits). At around 20 MJ/kg, one maybe could run planes practically but they would be much less convenient and practical than today's jets and that would be at the very upper end of the plausible limits. So it is likely that we will still see fossil fuels used for jets for the next 40 or 50 years.

  • You find two-stroke engines in poorer countries because they're cheap

    I have a Stihl [wikipedia.org] trimmer [backyardboss.com]. Bought because it is decent German build quality (albeit Made in Brazil), thus being much more expensive (but also needs much less adjustment, repair and eventually replacement) compared to the Chinese models available where I'm at. (As an aside: The dealer that sold it to me had ads up on lampposts the other day: "Buy once" - with various products of this company displayed. Although he also carries other brands.) It also has a very noisy (wearing ear muffs together with eye protecti

  • The issue, as I understand it, is that demand and margins on these products are too low to allow research into making them cleaner. That is, existing designs are good enough and consumers are not willing to pay for redesign.

    Regulation can fix this, but it will also make these products more expensive.
  • "You find two-stroke engines in poorer countries because they're cheap..."

    Maybe they have these blowers there because they "want" them...or because of some other reason. Not because they are poor, but just happen to be poor.

    Why does this attitude persist? Is there anything we can learn from these "poor" countries? I know of Americans that have left this country for the so called poor countries - for good. Question is: Why?

    • I know of Americans that have left this country for the so called poor countries - for good. Question is: Why?

      Because they can act like rich assholes with their modest American retirement funds and lord over poor citizens of another country like the Colonial overlords they wish they'd been born as?

  • by Irate Engineer ( 2814313 ) on Saturday January 16, 2016 @11:03AM (#51313533)

    I had a neighbor that could not stand the sight of a single leaf on his lawn or driveway. He'd patrol his yard three times a day with his leaf blower running until the last leaves fell off his oak trees. All the neighbors hated him because you couldn't complain about the noise, it was legal, etc.. People tried to convince him that a few leaves were not a problem - could not get through to him. We all really wanted to stuff his shirt with leaves, douse him in 2-stroke fuel mix, set him alight and fan the flames with the leaf blower.

    He finally fucking died of a heart attack...while blowing leaves. Not a life well spent.

    With a rake, he would have been the nice quiet old man next door who liked to exercise by working in his yard, and everybody would have some peace. With a leaf blower, he was the asshole/lunatic that everybody wanted to see dead. There are certain technologies like leaf blowers that seem to throw personality disorders into sharp contrast and are simply obnoxious. Nobody seems to think about noise pollution when designing and marketing (and buying) these things, they just assume everybody won't mind 2-strokes running all damned day. I don't know what the solution is, but it is getting harder and harder to find quiet in the world because of stuff like this.

    • I'd recommend moving out of the suburbs. Either into the city (no yard!) or rural (no neighbors!).

    • by bogie ( 31020 )

      You should have all gotten together and bought him a top of the line ultra quiet leaf blower. He might have gone from 3 to 5 times a day but at least he would have been quiet.

  • Of course, there will be the inevitable rejection of such SJW concerns like clean air and low noise.. looking forward to leaf blower nutz and seeing guys with giant smoke stacks on their backs so they can "burn coal" at all the eco-blowers. MURRICA!!

  • Real nerds don't give a fuck about leaves, blowers and rake, they are living in the basement below the leaves anyway.
  • ...the fight against noisy leaf blowers is gaining momentum, in part, because residents are framing it as a public health issue. Two-stroke engine leaf blowers mix fuel with oil and don't undergo a complete combustion, emitting a number of toxins...

    Don't fucking do that. If you hate leaf blowers because they make a giant fucking noise that makes the quiet enjoyment of your property impossible, then pass a law that bans making giant fucking noises in a residential neighborhood. Don't try to ban leaf blowers by coughing like a sad little passive-aggressive Chihuahua every time you hear one and then climb into your Land Dominator SUV and go vote down the latest mass transit initiative in favor of knocking down a forest and putting up a football stadiu

  • When did NO and CO become toxins?

    • ==>"Two-stroke engine leaf blowers mix fuel with oil and don't undergo a complete combustion, emitting a number of toxins, like carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide, which their operators inevitably inhale."

          Nitrous Oxide ? I get that at the dentist office. I think that they mean Nitric Oxide and Nitrogen Dioxide as components of incomplete combustion.

  • The hedgehogs will thank you (and eat the snails).
  • And don't worry about what I'm using to clean it.

  • Let me know when you have a backpack leaf blower that puts out 750+ CFM, runs for 3 hours straight, and weighs 20 pounds or less - for $500. Until then, no thanks.
  • Seriously, my neighbors will run gas mowers in the early am. Loud. Very loud. Worse, they are heavy pollution. So require that all lawn mowers below say 6 or 8 hp to be electric.
  • Because you still need to collect the leaves afterwards. Get a leaf sucker that does the work for you.

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