The sound of spring arriving might be a little quieter this year. Sure, gasoline-powered lawnmowers still constitute the lion’s share of the market, but the number of battery-powered electric walk-behind models continues to rise. We found 30 such models in 2014, which is a 30 percent increase from 2012. Electric options even are starting to find a foothold in the riding-lawnmower segment, which isn’t a surprise given the continued development in battery technology.
Kris Kiser, who is the president and CEO of industry trade association Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI), says battery-powered lawnmowers likely will move toward more standardization in the next 3 years as manufacturers provide devices that can recharge batteries more quickly and introduce batteries that are capable of being transferred to other outdoor power equipment.
Meanwhile, manufacturers in 2014 provide more storage options for their lawnmowers, and OPEI is exploring the development of standards to address the rising number of robotic lawnmowers.
CHARGED UP. Although the experts with whom we spoke agree that gasoline-powered lawnmowers still provide more torque, electric lawnmowers are receiving a power boost.
In 2012, we found eight walk-behind electric lawnmowers that boasted 36-volt batteries, which was notable at the time, because most cordless electric lawnmowers had 24-volt batteries. Although 24-volt lawnmowers still exist in 2014, increased power has become more common—we found 11 models that have 36-volt batteries and another seven that have 40-volt batteries. High-powered electric lawnmowers start at $300, which is the same as they cost 2 years ago.
According to Paul Tukey, who is the founder of SafeLawns, which promotes natural lawn care and grounds maintenance, the improved battery power means that larger lawns can be mowed on a single charge. Jose Castellanos of Mowers Direct, which is an online lawnmower dealership that sells all types of lawnmowers, says a yard that’s larger than one-quarter of an acre will test the running time of a battery-powered model. However, Tukey argues that a lawn that’s one-half of an acre to three-quarters of an acre can be tackled, as long as it’s cut weekly so the grass doesn’t become too long or thick.
Chervon will take battery power to the next level in spring 2014, when it unveils its Ego walk-behind lawnmower ($499), which will have a 56-volt lithium-ion battery. Chervon spokesperson Joe Turoff tells us that the increased battery power makes the electric model more comparable with a gasoline-powered lawnmower in terms of its capability to cut, mulch and throw grass into an attached bag. However, when we asked what would be a comparable gasoline-powered lawnmower in terms of engine size or trimming capability, he couldn’t provide an example.
Castellanos hasn’t tried the Ego lawnmower, but he says he’s skeptical that higher voltage makes battery-powered lawnmowers more powerful. However, he says he expects that a 56-volt battery will run longer on a single charge than a 36-volt or a 40-volt battery does.
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Also, more electric lawnmowers use a lithium-ion battery. Whereas lead-acid batteries take up to 15 hours to charge fully, lithium-ion batteries typically take less than 4 hours. Stihl now leads the industry with a $90 charger that can rejuice a lithium-ion battery in 70 minutes. Most chargers cost $20–$60.
SPACE SAVERS. In addition to having the industry’s highest-voltage battery, Chervon’s Ego lawnmower also has a handlebar that folds down and into the deck, to help it to stand on its rear wheels so it takes up less floor space in your garage or outdoor shed. Dealers say electric models that have lithium-ion batteries are good candidates for storing on end, because they weigh as much as 75 pounds less than do models that have lead-acid batteries.
Commercial gasoline-powered lawnmowers that are storable on their end have been around, but Castellanos tells us that those models are fraught with problems that stem from leakage of gasoline and other fluids from inside of the engine. As a result, he says, Mowers Direct had a drop in sales of such lawnmowers after leakage problems occurred during the first offseason.
Toro in October 2013 introduced a gasoline-powered walk-behind lawnmower that it says solves the problem. Toro says the Recycler with SmartStow can be stored on its end because of its improved seals and gaskets and a carburetor that’s designed to prevent leaks. As of press time, Toro hadn’t made available a price for the lawnmower, which was scheduled to arrive at dealerships in January 2014.
We were unable to test Toro’s lawnmower at press time. Castellanos, who also hadn’t tested the lawnmower, says the key is whether the fluids that are in the lawnmower’s engine stay secure not just between mowings but also during a storage period of several months, such as over winter.
Until that’s determined, he says, he reserves judgment on storing a gasoline-powered lawnmower in a position other than upright on four wheels. As of press time, Toro didn’t respond to our questions about its testing.
ROBOTIC RISE. When it comes to minimizing storage, no lawnmower occupies less space than a robotic lawnmower does. These models measure up to 21 inches in length and mow your lawn automatically before they return to a base charging station. They aren’t inexpensive—the lowest price that we found for one was $1,199.
Kiser says growth in the market is prompting OPEI to begin to develop standards for the robotic-lawnmower segment. As of press time, six manufacturers had robotic models available, but 14 manufacturers were helping to develop OPEI’s standards. Kiser says that number indicates that more models will become available in the next few years.
OPEI’s standards would touch upon safety and design elements for the devices. Gerry Coons of OPEI, who is helping to develop the standards, says they will cover electricity issues that are related to overheating and potential fire hazards. He also says the standards will determine what conditions should prompt the lawnmower to shut down. Kiser says the standards should be completed by 2016.
Regardless, Castellanos doubts that robotic models will become competition for walk-behind or riding models. Coons agrees, saying robotic lawnmowers wouldn’t be appropriate for “lawns with steep hills or other considerations.” He says that, in terms of scope, these would be appropriate for about one-third of an acre.
Unfortunately, despite the appeal of mowing your lawn from the comfort of your living room, we can’t recommend these models until fundamental safety standards are in place.