Landscape & Irrigation

September 2017

Landscape and Irrigation is read by decision makers throughout the landscape and irrigation markets — including contractors, landscape architects, professional grounds managers, and irrigation and water mgmt companies and reaches the entire spetrum.

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34 September 2017 Landscape and Irrigation ILLUSTRATION ABOVE ©ISTOCKPHOTO.COM/SMARTBOY10 STAYING CURRENT Much Ado About Leaf Blowers BY PAUL MENDELSOHN M ore than 30 years after the first leaf blower was put into use, in many communities a regulatory battle over their use continues to rage. The fight almost always pits commercial landscapers — who view the leaf blower as one of the most important tools at their disposal — against a small-but-vocal group of community activists who wish to ban leaf blower use. To the many landscape professionals who employ their use, the sound of a leaf blower being fired up is not noise, it is the sound of efficiency, productivity, and exemplary customer service. But to their detractors, leaf blower noise is portrayed as a disruptor, an intolerable and unnecessary nuisance that needs to be restricted or banned outright. Whether they're used at residences or on the grounds of commercial properties for gathering leaves in the fall or for cleanup year round, blowers often raise the hackles of people living or working nearby, more than other types of outdoor noise. This even though many types of construction equipment, household appliances, and vehicular traffic all generate significantly more noise. For landscape professionals, attempts to unjustly regulate tools and services is a personal affront. An ordinance that results in an outright ban on the tools they can select from when providing services is punitive in nature, and the severest of all possible remedies. Prohibiting the use of any type of power equipment is shortsighted, eliminates the many benefits inherent in their use, and results in higher costs for landscape and lawncare services. NALP, OPEI, and other industry allies strongly believe that a ban should be a last resort, and enacted only after exploring and exhausting all other alternatives. Over the last several years, equipment manufacturers have invested significantly in research and development in the quest to produce a better leaf blower. Because of such efforts, today's generation of leaf blower is significantly quieter and more environmentally friendly than even its most recent predecessor. Despite these technological advances, leaf blowers are still targeted for restriction without a true examination of their utility and worth, or any consideration of their improvements. To help industry professionals more effectively oppose this unfortunate reality if it arises in their own community, here are several arguments you can offer to illustrate the benefits of leaf blowers, the issues associated with enforcement difficulties, and why they are considered an indispensable tool in the landscape industry: Leaf blowers are efficient tools for cleaning up leaves, grass, fertilizer granules, and other small debris from lawn and landscape sites. Since their development in the 1970s, for many uses leaf blowers have supplanted brooms, hoses, and rakes due to their effectiveness. Leaf blowers even perform functions that no other tool can handle effectively, such as cleaning areas covered by rock, gravel, bark, or mulch. Leaf blowers save enormous amounts of time. Estimates suggest that it takes at least five times as long to clean a typical landscape site with a broom and rake as it does with a power leaf blower. City maintenance supervisors have estimated that for parks and public buildings, crews would take 50 hours to do work that took 10 hours with leaf blowers. Much of that work would require the use of water. Leaf blowers save an enormous amount of money. It is estimated that landscape costs (and therefore charges) would increase from 20 to 40 percent if operators must perform the same functions without a leaf blower. Bans on leaf blowers have been difficult to enforce in municipalities that have passed an ordinance. There are several instances of communities instituting a ban and then revoking it later when it was determined to be unenforceable and ineffective. The leaf blower is an alternative to hosing down walks and driveways with water. Using water in this manner is an unreasonable waste of a precious natural resource. The reality is that most people will take the next easiest course of action when one course of action is closed to them. Hosing down walkways and driveways is much easier, quicker, and more efficient than sweeping those surfaces. Leaf blowers make less noise than many other common outdoor sounds such as motorcycles, power saws, power drills, jack hammers, and other sources of outdoor construction equipment. Modern blowers are rated to produce less decibels than common household appliances, motorcycles, city traffic, and numerous other common noise sources that we are exposed to daily. In fact, many newer machines are rated at, or less than, 65 decibels at 50 feet when running full throttle. By comparison a jackhammer at the same distance produces 95 decibels, and a typical motorcycle produces 100 decibels. To counter a proposed ban, be prepared to advocate for alternatives such as courteous blower use certification, equipment registration that requires compliance with local noise limits, or other measures that result in compromise. Remember to always stress that you and the community's other landscape professionals are willing to work constructively with city and county public officials to develop a win-win solution for all parties. Attempts to regulate leaf blower use at the local level aren't likely to go away anytime soon. Hopefully with the advice provided here, landscape professionals will feel better equipped to advocate against unnecessary regulations. Paul Mendelsohn is vice president, government relations at the National Association of Landscape Professionals.

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