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Mike M

This begs the question, Is it more sustainable for me to use about two gallons of gas a year with my gas mower, or to throw away a perfectly good machine to buy a new machine? Yes a push mower has less parts, but the embodied energy in replacing my mower is much higher than using what I have.

When and if my mower ever goes south, I might replace is with a push mower, but just throwing this machine out and replacing it is actually worse for the environment than using it until it is worn out.


There are also electric lawn mowers - they seem to be just as noisy as the gas ones but at least they don't pollute (at least at the location where they are being used).

Raymond Brigleb

Oh I couldn't agree with you more.

When we were house-sitting for a professor in the West Hills a few years back, for about nine months, my most vivid memory of that part of town was the gas-powered mowers, blowers, clippers, and trucks that filled the air with noise and pollution. All week long. And then it stopped on the weekend, because that's when the homeowners were around! Nice and quiet, for two days. And then it started back up again.

The house I own isn't in a fancy part of town these days, but at least the loudest thing around during the week is the dogs. And of course, some mowers on the weekend....

kathleen mazzocco

The noise pollution these things create have spoiled many a would-be-idyllic day swinging in a hammock. After all the $$$ I've spent ripping out the lawn to plant native species, I'd like to be able to enjoy them from the outside!


I'm pretty happy to live in a neighborhood with "lower" lawn care standards. There are fewer chemicals as well.


The least sustainable part of a lawnmower is the lawn.

The embodied energy in a push mower is generally negligible (compared to it's fuel cost) and it's wholly recyclable. So, "tossing it" isn't such a bad option if you throw it in the right place.

Lawn mowers are nasty. The exhaust is hideous: it's far far dirtier than car exhaust. The gas burns improperly and it's probably a two-stroke engine...which means it's shooting oil out the exhaust as well. Some 2-strokes create more solids pollution in 2 hours than a car does in a year.

The most sustainable source of fuel for mowing lawns is around one's waist.

Doug Tovey

That may be the most foolish and selfish article I have ever read. Maybe some of us enjoy a beautiful lawn as much as you enjoy a peaceful walk. My family spends hours upon hours playing together on our lush, green, well kept lawn - it is by far the most used of any "play toy" we have. Getting rid of my gas "mowers" would enslave me to hours of manual labor that would rob me of time with my family.

A better solution might be outlawing peaceful walks down my street by self righteous do gooders.


Even hypothetically, to aim some sustainability mandate at anything other than the vast overuse of cars and trucks is to be lost in fruitless green tokenism. I think we might want to skip it for now...


You will pry my mower from my cold, dead hands. Jesus Christ - you people really want to suck every last bit of fun and convenience out of life in the name of bogus sustainability. Now get off my lawn.

> Many of these are small businesses with largely minority workforces, and I wouldn't want regulations or bans to harm what they do.

Ah, yes, the classic lefty conundrum - Gaia or illegal immigrants?


Outlaw lawnmowers, and only outlaws will have lawnmowers.

But seriously, we'd be better off discouraging lawns by way of outlawing lawn irrigation.

The "lush, green, well kept lawn" Doug speaks of is a symbol of wealth -- the "conspicuously unconsumed pasture" (c.f. Thorstein Veblen and B.F. Skinner) -- and is also one of the most toxic places in a city.

The vast majority of pesticide use takes place in cities, and residential lawns are one of the biggest chemical dumping grounds.

Modern push mowers are light-weight, and require not much more physical effort to use than gas-powered mowers. Electric mowers are also a viable alternative, and cause less noise and point-source pollution.

But reducing or eliminating grass is probably the best alternative.


> But reducing or eliminating grass is probably the best alternative.

Don't you understand how absurd you people sound? Eliminate grass? Why not eliminate all parks and baseball fields while you're at it? Soccer fields? Dog parks?

Staheli Pizzutillo

Interesting comments. It has been noisy in the neighborhood, but that's Spring in Portland, when the grass grows so fast you need to mow it again by the time you finish mowing it in the first place.

For those who find gas mowers to be such a huge convenience, I suspect that you haven't tried a push-reel mower. Keep the blades sharp, and it takes no longer to mow your average Portland lawn with a push-reel than with a gas mower. Oh, and you spend less time on maintenance too boot.


With breathing problems I certainly would like to see ALL gas-powered tools banned from the environment. The pollution caused is extensive. And, "pollution" includes noise pollution as well as air. My neighbor loves to get a head start on the day by blowing the driveway clean at 7:00 a.m. Also, those who work out at a gym could work out pushing a mower and save themselves a buck or two. Wouldn't that be novel? Push mowers are a lot safer too, as a friend learned when she cut off her toe by stepping into a hole and mowing over her foot.


Sheesh. Who'd have thought people would get up on their hind legs about grass?

I own a reel mower and I love it. I've had to borrow a friend's gasser to do my back yard because it's so uneven and we've had construction going on such that the grass gets way too tall for the reel mower. It was a real eye opener. I hate using the gasser. It seems like a very unpleasant chore. Now, granted, I have a pretty small yard, so I'm not spending hours mowing regardless of which I use. I also have to confess that I like yardwork. Some find it only a chore and little else. I've always liked having my hands in the dirt and find it takes my mind off my troubles for a while.

Like Doug, I like having a nice looking yard, and with a baby due in a few months I look forward to plopping him down in that yard and playing with him. However, if you're concerned about the amount of time you might have to spend on your yard without the convenience of a gas or electric mower, one solution might be to have your family help with the yard work. If you're kids are old enough it's a good way to get them to understand the relationship between work and benefit - we take care of our yard and then we get to play on it.

And, come on Doug. Pardon me for being annoyed at the noise, smell and dust of a neighbor's mower when I'm hoping to relax. Don't tell me you've never had the same feeling.

Lastly, eliminating grass? It's certainly an option for homeowners. It would be easier if you had less grass, wouldn't it? Again, with kids, it's nice to have some of it to roll around on or play ball, etc. Grass is excellent for controlling soil erosion, though.

Let's all have fun working in our yards this weekend!


Grass is a symbol of wealth? Add blackberries and English ivy to that and I'd be right up there with Buffett and Icahn. What a ridiculous statement.

Perhaps you are right, maybe we should all pave over the lawns with maintenance-free concrete and then drive our cars to the nearest park to find a place where our children can run.

so much quieter

I made the switch to a push mower when I moved to portland mostly because I needed to buy a mower. My push mower was only 79 dollars and it works great, plus it is quiet. If your lawn is too large for you to push mow it, your lawn is too large for a city.

matt mc

amen brother! i know the neighborhood you speak! that sound is deep and lasts all day long. then when you think of the pollution that is being created with that sound, it is hard not to be overwhelmed by frustration.

i would fully support any ban on gas powered mowers and leaf blowers. there are so many better, easier, and healthier alternatives.

Staheli Pizzutillo


Yes. Grass is a symbol of wealth. Ever been out of the US before?

Brian Libby

Actually I'm ambivalent about whether or not people have grass. I don't want to tell people what to do with their yard. I just don't want them to make so much noise and pollution that it bothers me next door or across the street, or as I walk down a public sidewalk.

Brian Libby

Oh, and to Doug Tovey particularly. Hold on there, fella. It's not foolish or selfish to hate noise and air pollution. If you and your family want to enjoy playtime on your little personal putting green, be my guest. Just keep quiet! I don't see how speaking for the strong concerns of many, many people who hate these bellowing gas machines is self-righteous. I'm speaking for many, and you're speaking for yourself.

Brian Libby

Great minds think alike? Here is some info from Shelby Wood's PDX Green blog for the Oregonian, with some additional info on mowing alternatives:




First of all, apologize to Angie, it was not her post.

Second, why yes, I have been to approximately 40 countries. You? Is there no grass outside of the US? Is the US the only "rich" country in the world? It might not be as prevelant as in the US, but part of that is due to climate, population density, and city planning, NOT because of wealth. Grass seed (enough to cover 1000 sq ft) = $10. That latte you are sipping = $5. Which is the symbol of wealth?

None of what I have said is a comment on the maintenance of lawns in the US, which I agree is ridiculous (I use a push mower, and no chemicals, plenty of crab grass, etc., in my lawn). I was simply commenting on the notion that grass is a symbol of wealth and the concept that eliminating lawns is the answer.


You can argue with Thorstein Veblen and B.F. Skinner about whether a piece of choice pasture, conspicuously unconsumed, is a symbol of wealth.

I didn't conceive of the concept; I merely cited it.


I'd love to, but they are dead, so I am stuck with this blog. Don't quote it if you aren't prepared to support it.

Veblen, who died in 1929, never saw the rise of the American middle class, where not only the wealthy could have a single family home with a lawn. 'Theory of the Leisure Class', from which the Skinner quote is base, was published in 1899, when class distinction was vastly more prevelant and the quote was vastly more relevant.

Why is the term 'unconsumed' taken literally here? Does it have to mean grazing land? I don't believe so. Consumption can mean a safe, comfortable place for my child to play in.


Oh, and to continue ...

The Skinner quote, from 'Walden Two', almost has no relevance to this discussion (conspicuous consumption). Sure, it mentions the Veblen concept and the absurdity of the lawnmower, but that is not the message of the scene. In fact, the character even says after mentioning these facts, "But I digress".

The real message of the scene deals with conditioned actions and tradition (using a sheep and electric fence analogy).

If anyone would like to read the quote in context, try:



Getting rid of all lawnmowers and lawns seems like a great idea. The debate over which mower addresses some of the issue although lawns fundamentally aren't that great for the planet. They require irrigation to keep them green (and worth mowing) in the summer and more supplements that we should be sticking in the ground.

I replaced my lawn with natural ground coverings which hold the moisture, never require mowing or much of any maintenance and they love the climate with much less watering.


Do any of you anti-lawn advocates have children? If so, can you suggest a natural, non-invasive, maintenacne-free ground cover that they can safely and comfortably walk and play on?

And just because i can't resist: maybe we should ban children, they require irrigation, continual maintenance, and the amount of greenhouse gasses my 2-year-old produces can create an ozone hole the size of Montana.

Staheli Pizzutillo

jojo: Clearly you haven't bought grass seed in some time. And you ignore the other costs associated with lawns. And, yes, I've been around the world, so to speak. In most nations, lawns are nowhere near as prevalent as in our country. People don't have the money or the free time to obsess upon them as we do.

Staheli Pizzutillo

jojo: Yes, I have two children. And we have grass. I mow it with a push-reel mower. It's quick and easy, and almost noise free. I pull my weeds rather than use chemicals.

Do you think it's wise parenting practice to allow kids to roll around on a lawn that has been treated with weed killer?

Staheli Pizzutillo

pdx2m2: Sorry, but in Oregon, you don't have to water your lawn. Yes, it goes yellow for a month or two if you don't, but so what.

You can have a fairly easy-to-care-for, chemical free lawn in this state.


uh personnally I enjoy the clatter these machines make it makes
me think of all the warm sunny summer days of the past.All
the times I did yard work with my dad. If I need to I can exercise a little self disipline and ignore them, can you?

Staheli Pizzutillo

Here's an interesting comment, along with further links about a lawnmower engine maker fighting cleaner engines.



I thought this was an architecture forum?

Staheli Pizzutillo

Jon: Yard environments play no role in architecture?

scarlet: This might be of interest to you...

The Early Effects of Noise Pollution:
(the pdf for the article is available toward the end of the page)




All sustainability arguments are selfish. The whole premise is to sustain the environment for our health and survival.

Lawns are useful but they're also a symbol of something. Sure, most of us are wealthy enough that it's far down on our list of extravagances but that should tell you where America sits on the "taken for granted" scale.

Go find a house with an ill-manicured lawn. Your first presumption, in all likelihood, is that it's a rental. Why do people rent? People rent because they can't own (yee judge)...or they don't want to take care of their lawns.

I have kids. They love our lawn. Scott's wouldn't publish my lawn because it's not one of those anal-retentive carpets. My father does not call it a lawn. But, the kids still love it...even when it turns a bit brown in the middle of the summer.

It would take a lot of time, energy, and materials to keep it green all summer because few grasses are acclimated to our wet winters and dry summers. It's a bad combination for grass. I use a reel mower set to tall and it looks a tad shabby most of the time. (shrug)

I do find mower noise annoying. It's not as annoying, though, as the drunk, ignorant, morons that live behind me. They fight every day in the summer, yelling barely-comprehensible obscenities from yard to kitchen. It started yesterday. I'm very excited.


^^The Renter Pride movement says, Mow Your Lawn! Make it look GOOD!



That was jojo who was questioning grass as a symbol of wealth, not me.


"1899, when class distinction was vastly more prevelant and the quote was vastly more relevant."

The lawn, as a premise, arose from wealth and entitlement. Without that implication few would have grown one. Just because many of us find ourselves entitled to a lawn doesn't mean it's not, at bottom, about wealth.
The 'mythic' arch of the automobile in americana was 'a horse for every cowboy'...freedom for the loner. I doubt many commuters feel all "John Wayne (Bobbit?)" on their way to and from work...but the free-loner still resonates in the jingle of car keys.

"1899, when class distinction was vastly more APPARENT and the quote was vastly more OBVIOUS."

Staheli Pizzutillo


I know.



Why there ought to be a law!

I fear I might sound like a noise nazi but, I'm tired of sacrificing peace of mind and quality of life so others can pursue noisy bliss.

Unfortunately the problem isn't limited to lawn mowers, so how about a neighborhood with a new zoning overlay, 'Q'?

This overlay, would be zoned Quiet and allow residents to generate yard noise only during certain hours and only on certain days.

At the boudaries of the Zone signage would be placed alerting motorists that they were entering a Quiet Zone and to turn down their stereo's or face stiff penalties. To help ensure this, decibel meters would be coupled with a type of photo radar that would document the driver, license plate, the level of noise emitting from their vehicle, their location and then send them a citation.

NewsChoppers (perhaps the most intolerable and useless source of noise) and private aircraft would be absolutely banned at all timesfrom overhead as well as a 2 mile radius around the zone.

There would be an ordinance to prohibit speakers on the exterior of the house (I once lived next to the Jones' and in order for them to stay ahead they felt they needed to impress guests by piping music into the yard).

Dog owners would be required to take care of thier dogs, training them to not bark or the dog would be banned from the zone.

Those annoying fat guys on Harley's or other noisy motorcycles as well as the teenagers with the buzzy, whiney exhaust systems would not be allowed to bring their vehicles into the zone.

In addition "tuning" of vehicles and other power equipment (such as woodworking) would be banned unless located inside a closed building and with decible levels at property line being intolerably low for the home mechanic. I'm all for woodshops and am slowly building my own, but I'm concious of the noise it produces and am mitigating that noise.

What else? Declare war on Bluejays and Crows? A concerted effort to eliminate the breeding cat population and a requirement that ALL pets are licensed/spayed/neutered?

I'm not a lawyer (in that I don't want more laws), or a green freak, I just want freedom from people who are either unaware of, apathetic toward, or are outright hostile to other people's peace of mind.

I suppose that like tyrants and crime, noisy people will just have to be part of life.


How about the possibility that we will move toward public policy that will need to support carbon friendly lifestyles and penalize those who chose more greenhouse gas emitting lifestyles. Doesn't this seem about the only way we are going to reduce our fossil fuel addiction and move toward the environmental targets we are beginning to work towards.
I would imagine two stroke engines will be banned in the not too distant future or there will be a very high tax that will be paid by those who chose such options.
And there are many lawn alternatives that are green and lovely to hang out on that do not require the 'energy' of grass, so let's not pose the false choice of grass or concrete for those of us fortunate to have a lawn. In terms of saving time, my lawn of many native plants and ground covers requires far less of my time and energy than grass lawn we had before this. Oh, our current lawn draws far more comments from neighbors and friends and family about how beautiful it is, which seems to be something that also matters.


Forget the lawns. I'm sick of gas leaf blowers in the fall trying to clear leaves off the sidewalk after it rains. Do these people not realize that the wet concrete creates adhesion with the leaves??

Seriously, wait until it dries, or get tough and use a broom/rake. Or don't worry about it. A clean sidewalk is not worth waking me up at 7am and pumping pollution into my apartment.

On another note, check out this company:


My company helped them install solar panels on their trucks to power their electric lawn equipment. I wish I thought of that first.


Two-stroke engines are banned for vehicles...eg Vespas. (Recall that Vespa stopped new sales in the US for over a decade while they redesigned their engines.) I suspect the John Deere lobby was too powerful to allow that to happen with mowers and similar equipment.




we ripped out our lawn for an urban garden.

it's beautiful, minimal and keeps our food bill lower.

having lived in europe half my life, i can say that the only lawn we had was a shared greenspace that was always being used for soccer, picnics or just goofing around.


I mostly don't like lawns at all. They stink, especially during and after they're being cut, what with the fertilizer and the herbicides people feel compelled to use on them. They aren't pastures either. That's tall grass that livestock can eat. Pastures can actually smell good if there isn't too much livestock on them.

Why do so many people seem to believe that half or more of their lot(2500 sq ft) must be put into turf lawn? A couple hundred square feet for a kid to play on would be fine for many people. What's wrong with letting the lawn grow taller? Then it becomes a meadow. I like meadows. With flowers mixed in, they're especially nice.

Electric mowers, trimmers, and blowers work just fine. The cord is not such a big deal as people are led to believe. It takes a well maintained turf bed to allow a non-motor powered push reel mower to work well. All lawns experience events that gradually make them less level than when they're new.


it will be a very long time before gas-powered motors and leafblowers are banned. there are options that can be phased in such as requiring lower decibel levels, but implementing those means that some existing mowers and blowers will be above the level and then you get into the quandry of favoring certain products over another which doesn't fly in a "free-market" system, especially when only one or two companies make compliant products. i think the best option is to put pressure on the market itself by purchasing better cleaner and quieter products over those that are less so. we all have a choice at the register. someday i hope to get a pygmy goat - i just need a lawn first.

Jake San

In Berkeley Gas powered leaf blowers are outlawed and I think gas mowers are strongly discouraged or outlawed as well. There is no regulation on emission for these gas engines. We are not reinventing the wheel here we are just improving the quality of the earth and our children's future. Why not outlaw styrofoam foodservice packaging and plastic bags too. Convenience is no excuse for insatiable living, there are smarter more thoughtful ways to live.


Is this about noise pollution or air pollution? Is this about the privilege of 'owning' a piece of the earth? a 2 stroke engine does not pollute more than a car...that is absurd. Imagine the amount of pollution created in building the factory that built your car...and building the factory that built the equipment that built and maintains that road. If this is about noise pollution, lets recycle barky dogs (my biggest complaint), annoying ambulances, and the MAX (much louder than you would imagine if you live next to it).


"Why not outlaw styrofoam foodservice packaging and plastic bags too. Convenience is no excuse for insatiable living, there are smarter more thoughtful ways to live." Jake San

Business in pursuit of a better profit margin, or maybe simple survivability has been allowed to dictate the use of lots of wasteful packaging practices; for example, plastic instead of glass.

Imagine the repercussions if cities abruptly outlawed the use of internal combustion powered lawn mowers; those kinds of mowers represent a big market share. If many cities did this, manufacturers could go out of business, people would lose their jobs.

Electric mowers would suddenly become very much in demand. They're much quieter. Electric blowers work just fine too...still noisy, but obviously, they don't have the gas-oil smell.

cc, true, one 2 stroke engine doesn't contribute a lot of pollution, but hundreds of thousands of them obviously do. That's the effect that we as a society have allowed business to create with that device. Same with motor vehicles and so many other things in modern society. Wherever you have so many people living together, utilizing the same devices to get common tasks done, consequences from those practices multiply greatly.


Sheesh people. We don't need a mandate on gas mowers... Just use a push mower and be good stewards. It takes the same amount of time. You get the blades sharpened once per season and you're good to go. Also, A flat blade shovel works great along the edge of the sidewalk.


I believe in free markets -- where everyone has to cover the cost of their own activities and doesn't foist that cost on others. When someone uses a really loud power tool of any kind and disturbs me, they have imposed a cost on me. Turkeys! They should pay me for the privilege, but will that ever happen? Naw. (Sometimes I impose costs on others, too, like every time I drive.)

The answer on the power tool then becomes a ban on the really offensive ones like leafblowers. Peace and quiet and clean air are actually very valuable commodities, and I would defend them.

So, anyway, as a libertarian and Republican, I use a broom, rake and push mower on my tiny patch of non-fertilized grass. I wish others were as responsible or courteous or right-wing...


It's amazing that folks don't know the facts about what their gas mowers do to the environment. A typical gas mower, used on a typical residential lawn for one year pollutes as much as the use of 43 newer model cars for one year!!! Using a gas mower to mow the lawn is not something minor that damages the environment; it is actually one of the larger contributors to poor air quality in the US!! Do some research about what California, Arizona and other states are doing to encourage their residents to switch to electric or reel mowers. Do some research about what impact your choices have on the rest of us. It's not about left and right, it's not about stupid rhetoric and children playing on lawns! It's about what kind of air and water you will be leaving to those children. For heaven's sake... folks need to get their heads out of their **** and see what every choice they make does to their world!


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Funny thing to stumble across this article--while it is sunday morning and there are 2 guys with leaf blowers clearing a sidewalk just outside my window for an hour now. The noise is horrific !- I think I might stand outside the leaf blower operators' breakfast tables with a leaf blower myself, just as they sit down to have family time. There must be better regulated use of leaf blowers. Im not totally for outlawing use of these tools, but providing a narrower window during the week when they can be used- like NOT ON SUNDAY. or Maybe it could be a zip code regulated decision-- let neighborhoods decide for themselves if they want it or not. That way, you can have quiet neighborhoods, and noisy ones--lol. Also, Ive had conference calls at my office, and a leaf blower has fired up outside and deafened the team during the project conversation- there are times is has legitamately left me (and others) infuriated. So both sides have points in this debate. Also, disliking loud continuous noise outside, or that going on quiet neighborhood walks makes a person 'self-righteous' said the post written by "gadds"- is a ridiculous comment. Totally absurd. Heck, you can have a lush lawn, but everyone in your neighborhood will probably hate you, not because your grass is greener, but because you are an idiot.


I have to chime-in on the leaf blower phenomenon. They are terrible. I operate a small business from home, and live in a neighborhood with many apartment and commercial buildings / mixed building types. If I had a nickel for every time a deafening leaf blower kicked into high gear while I was on the phone trying to conduct business with clients during the week, I could take us all out to lunch. Or, maybe you're home relaxing and enjoying having the windows open on a nice spring day and without warning... wwwaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!! The daily leaf blower completely ruins the moment. What's more, every sunday morning at 9:30am I hear leaf blowers. *Enough* with the damn things- we need to find something else to clear sidewalks and planters. It seems completely absurd to make deafening noise trying to clear a wet sidewalk of leaves after it rains: Wait til the sidewalk dries and use an old fashioned rake and broom, and quit the lazy man thing while making an unbelievable racket. Ban them in Portland. Period. We want to talk about being a green city and valuing the priciples published in LEED documents, let's raise the bet to include leaf blowers. Noise pollution is exactly that- pollution. I want to invite myself to a leaf blower's home and stand outside his kitchen window and *crank up* a leaf blower while he is having breakfast with his family so he can experience the level of disturbance it creates in other people's lives. Thank you.

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