California's banning gas yard tools, so here are some great electrics | Autoblog Staff Picks

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This week, we learned that California Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed into law a ban on new yard tools with small internal combustion engines. The EPA estimates that one hour operating a lawn mower is the equivalent of 11 hours driving a modern car. Mowers are not equipped with catalytic converters, so they are filthy smog machines — creating up to 5 percent of our nation's air pollution. And according to an industry group called the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, it's not just mowers. There are 100 million gas-powered mowers, trimmers, blowers, tillers, etc., in America's tool sheds, and 54 million of us mow weekly in the growing season. Lest you think this ban is some kind of plot by the California liberal elite, believe your own nose. It's a real problem.

But it's a problem with a real solution. Many of us at Autoblog own and use the electric lawn equipment that has joined the gas-powered machines in the aisles of the big-box stores. And as we compared notes, we discovered we all like it a lot. Here are some recommendations.

RYOBI ONE+ 100 MPH 280 CFM Variable-Speed 18V - $119.98 (6% off)

I picked this one up about a year ago. It's a solid value ($99 at Home Depot) and I use the 18-volt battery in other things, like my Ryobi drill. The leaf blower is light, cordless and not crazy loud. I get about 15-20 minutes of use when using full power, which is fine. I can clear the grass clippings and get the patio in decent shape, which is why I got it. It's good on pavement for moving leaves, but for a full-scale fall cleanup in the upper Midwest or New England, you'll need something stronger. If you already have a Ryobi battery, you can get the leaf blower for even cheaper. — Greg Migliore, editor-in-chief

CRAFTSMAN Electric Chainsaw, 16-Inch, 12-Amp - $79.00

This is my electric chainsaw. It’s corded, and I haven’t sawed through an extension cord yet. I have a lot of aging trees in front of my house that drop huge limbs in storms. This lightweight chainsaw makes quick, relatively quiet work of them, providing me with tons of free firewood. I like that I’m not inhaling fumes in addition to sawdust, but I still have to fill the bar-and-chain-oil reservoir (many of those oils are vegetable-based). It’s easy for an idiot like me to adjust chain tension, and to clean up when the day’s cutting is complete. — John Beltz Snyder, Autoblog Green senior editor

Greenworks 16-Inch Reel Lawn Mower with Grass Catcher - $89.99 (31% off)

I don't live in California so the ban on gas-powered lawn equipment doesn't directly impact me, but when I was recently in the market for a lawnmower I still didn't want to deal with having to buy and store gasoline, so I opted for a push mower. I also liked the idea of turning the chore of cutting the grass into a workout. I should point out that I have a small yard, so if you have serious acreage to maintain you will want to look elsewhere, like this battery-powered mower from Greenworks. But I've had this reel mower for three seasons now and it still works well.

I will, at some point, need to watch a YouTube tutorial on how to sharpen the blades, but for now it's still chopping grass blades like it did out of the box. It's not a silent experience, but I like the metallic sound it makes cutting. Be on the lookout for sticks, because they will stop the blade and it can be pretty jarring, but only momentarily as it's an easy mower to unjam. Goes without saying, but keep pets and kids out of the way when using this tool. — Eddie Sabatini, production manager

Ego battery tools

Four years ago, I bought a house on an acre, with a low-pitched roof that constantly needs to be cleared of tree debris. So I bought an Ego leaf blower and string trimmer to keep the place looking sharp. The 530 cubic-feet-per-minute blower blasts the patio and driveways clear, and moves a mountain of maple leaves. The string trimmer can tidy up nearly the entire acre on one battery, and it automatically winds new string — wrapping line was a pain in the butt with previous trimmers.

Recently, a small tree needed to come down. I dug out my cranky old gas-powered chainsaw, then spent more than an hour fiddling to get it running, for a cutting job that took just a few minutes. In those few minutes, the saw generated a cloud of blue smoke. Made me appreciate the electric tools even more.

You can still buy the basic trimmer/blower starter pack I purchased, but Ego's store on Amazon now carries more than 50 products — entire lines of blowers, chainsaws, hedge trimmers, string trimmers, multi-head tools, snow blowers, mowers, and battery systems with packs of up to 10 amp hours. (I have two 2.5Ah batteries.) There's also a more rugged commercial-grade lineup of tools. And even though it appears Amazon doesn't carry it, Ego's own website shows a 42" zero-turn riding mower that's good for up to two acres.

Two years ago, Consumer Reports did a comparo between an Ego walk-behind mower and a Honda gas-powered model. The Ego held its own.

Amazon carries battery-electric yard tools from lots of other manufacturers: Greenworks, Sun Joe, Makita, Black and Decker, and Snapper, to name a few. I can't speak to those, but many of them are probably good, too. — Greg Rasa, managing editor

Greenworks Pro 80V 21-Inch Push Lawn Mower - $399.00 (20% off)

It's an open secret that one manufacturer actually builds several different versions of its basic design for an electric lawn mower under more than one brand name. I happen to own a blue mower sold by Lowes under its Kobalt brand. It's an 80-volt mower, and it works exceptionally well. I chose it because it was on sale at Lowes, but if I were buying right now, I'd opt for this model from Greenworks. It's basically the same as the mower I own — except for the color, and I actually like green better anyway — so I'm confident that it will perform just as well.

The 80-volt platform offers more than enough power for my lawn, which is a pretty typical size for a suburban lot, and even the 2Ah batteries will last for about three full mows. Amazon is offering two configurations for this Greenworks mower, one with two 2Ah batteries and one with a single 4Ah battery. Those add up to the same capacity, so you can just pick whichever is cheaper. Batteries can be purchased separately, too, and will work in any of that brand's 80-volt tools. — Jeremy Korzeniewski, consumer editor

BLACK+DECKER 20V Max String Trimmer/Edger Kit - $97.99

I picked up this Black+Decker string trimmer (when did everyone stop called them weed whackers?) about 2 years ago, and it's been the only one I've used since. This particular listing is the exact one I took advantage of, and it's a bit of a starting kit, which is great since it includes not only the tool itself but an extra spool of string, a battery charger, and 2 batteries. The batteries have enough power for me to complete a maintenance-level trimming on the highest of its two power settings without even depleting one battery. On the rare occasions I do need the second one, though, I just quickly grab it off of the charger and immediately get back to work.

The power is perfectly sufficient for cutting all manner of standard Midwestern weeds, and upon recently picking up a competing brand's string trimmer owned by my father, I was surprised to discover that this Black+Decker version was astonishingly lightweight in comparison, making it easy to use it one-handed to get to the lowest weeds in my front-yard drainage ditch.

I'm perfectly happy with this as my sole weed whipping solution, however, I will say that its edging capability should probably only be expected to be used for maintenance-type situations. If you're really looking to edge into some overgrown lawn, you'll probably need something more heavy-duty. — Erik Maier, multimedia producer

RYOBI Lawn Mower 20 in. 40V Brushless Cordless Walk-Behind - $284.77

I picked up an older equivalent of this mower about a year and a half ago after moving into a house with a relatively small lawn (~6,500 square feet). The property is relatively flat, so I had no need for a self-propelled unit, and even with the relatively small battery, it'll still do my entire lawn in one charge. Plus, the batteries interchange with Ryobi's other 40V equipment, so when I picked up a leaf blower (the same one Greg highlighted, as it happens), I doubled up on my available juice.

It's much quieter than any gas mower I've ever used, to the point where I don't even bother with ear protection; it's like pushing a medium-sized box fan around the yard. This is a nice bonus for me since one of my neighbors works nights and I don't have to worry about waking him if I decide to mow in the middle of the day. It's lightweight and easily folds down to about the size of the deck when not in use, plus it requires virtually zero maintenance. Couldn't be happier. — Byron Hurd, associate editor

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