Ideas

In Which the Dreaded Leaf Blower Gets its Comeuppance

Ted Mitchell explains in painstaking detail exactly why you find leaf blowers so damned annoying.

By Ted Mitchell
Published October 27, 2010

Ah, Indian Summer. Fall is simultaneously my favorite and most dreaded season. Cooler days awake the senses and invigorate the soul; but in an otherwise beautiful season, there is one sure thing that will wreck your day.

This Halloween, the most hideous monster is the one packing a leaf blower. (Image Credit: Grad2B)
This Halloween, the most hideous monster is the one packing a leaf blower. (Image Credit: Grad2B)

The last two decades have witnessed widespread increase in the use of leaf blowers and other cheap two-stroke lawn equipment. Accompanying this has been a stunning lack of concern for negative effect of nuisance noise and air pollution on quality of life.

Using a leaf blower suggests vanity, laziness, and disregard for peaceful enjoyment of the neighbourhood.

Vanity, because most of the work done by a leaf blower does not need doing, and nature reverses it quickly. Small amounts of organic debris do no harm, and can hardly be seen from beyond your sidewalk. Once a driveway is pristine, entropy is sure to cover it with more organic debris within a couple of days.

By the way, what do you think all those leaves blown onto the road look like? What does this say about you?

Laziness, because tasks accomplished by a leaf blower can be easily done with a rake or a broom in the same amount of time. Both manual tasks, done properly, utilize the large muscles of the trunk and can be done by people of nearly every age and ability. And there is no other power tool that is less effective in saving time and work.

Odds also favour your doctor having advised you to get more fresh air and exercise - rather than standing like a lump breathing particulates, hydrocarbons, mold spores, and inflicting same on others. Not good for the back, heart, lungs, brain, or soul.

Utter disregard for others, because - try relaxing in your back yard with friends or a good book in earshot of a leaf blower.

You might be the nicest person in the neighbourhood, but that all ends when you pull the trigger on a two stroke engine. Action speaks louder than words or intentions.

Most leaf blower operators don't intend to degrade their neighbours' quality of life, but it is a predictable consequence.

Three Observations

Aliens who landed on earth with no predisposed biases would notice three things about leaf blowers, in this order:

  1. Noise. Far before you can see it, the noise is shockingly out of place in a residential neighbourhood.

  2. Air pollution. In terms of smelly hydrocarbons and other pollutant byproducts of internal combustion engines, two-stroke engines are off the map, many times greater than those of automobiles with displacements 100 times bigger.

    Many people refuse to believe this, but try taking a two-stroke small engine for a drive clean test - the garage will refuse because it could damage their equipment.

  3. Moving debris around, rather haphazardly. Aliens, being smart, would know that a cylindrical fluid jet loses its coherent flow at about 10 length/diameter units, or for a leaf blower, about half a meter. Beyond this distance, air movement randomly swirls, which makes the job of directing debris awkward and inefficient.

Quality of Life

Many factors affect quality of life, and your neighbourhood is an important one. Enjoyment of the neighbourhood physical environment can be described by the quality of what reaches your senses of vision, hearing, smell and touch.

Although many people might claim to be vision dominant, unless you are both deaf and unable to smell, these senses play an important role in our lives. This is especially true since you can close your eyes but not your ears, and holding one's breath is not a long term option.

A leaf blower's marginal benefit of visual flawlessness only accrues to you and your immediate hawk-eyed neighbours, but the noise and air pollution diffuses to hundreds of people in the neighbourhood (more on that number later).

Labour saving is similarly vastly outweighed by the lack of psychological, cardiovascular and muscular benefits of aerobic exercise and fresh air.

If you really want to remove leaves from your yard with minimum effort and time, a rake and 3m tarp will make quick work of a blanket of leaves. You can compost them at the back of your yard, or funnel into bags.

I am allergic to busy work, but this is satisfying because it is so effective. Often I marvel at why anyone would bother doing anything else.

Psychoscaping

If you claim that the only important thing is the visual aesthetic, chances are you are impressed by this trendy form of landscaping.

Landscaped Front Yard (Image Credit: Home-Landscape-Plan)
Landscaped Front Yard (Image Credit: Home-Landscape-Plan)

Psychoscaping is my term for the construction of elaborate designs using rocks, trees, gardens, water and lighting to create a beautiful yard that is unused and mostly unusable. It is the HD, 3D version of '70s photographic wallpaper murals, and about as sterile for the soul.

While gardens are lovingly tended by hand by their happy keepers, psychoscapers use a battery of power equipment to maintain an unspoiled appearance. Those doing well enough to afford psychoscaping usually hire out the maintenance, which means industrial strength lawn and garden tools - and industrial strength noise.

In the psychoscaping arsenal, the most effective weapon of mass quality of life destruction is the two stroke heavy duty backpack leaf blower.

Why so Noisy?

A blower is a device designed to move fluid at medium pressure and flow rates. Fans are better for volume, and pumps for pressure.

Leaf blowers are centrifugal fans with multiple spinning blades that accelerate air from inside to outside and force it through an outlet.

Leaf blowers are centrifugal fans
Leaf blowers are centrifugal fans

The blades are oriented perpendicular to the outlet and generate noise by a rapid change in air pressure. This generates something approximating a square wave, which is one type of spectral character (timbre is the musical term, which seems inappropriate to describe this kind of noise!).

The fundamental frequency is determined by RPM / 60 times the number of blades, for example in the electric blower above, 1800 rpm / 60 seconds per minute x 13 blades = 390 Hz.

A sine wave generates a pleasant, gentle tone. A square wave of the same amplitude generates sound perceived as relatively loud and harsh. This is due to multiple harmonics above the fundamental frequency. In the above example, f = 390 Hz, f2 = 780 Hz, f3 = 1170 Hz, f4 = 1560 Hz, and so on.

Add to this the sound from a two stroke engine, where exhaust gas is rapidly released through ports with a tiny muffler and you get a similarly percussive sound of rough waveform, but at a lower frequency. The fundamental frequency is RPM / 60, for example 6000 RPM / 60 = f = 100 Hz, f2 = 200 Hz, f3 = 300 Hz.

Adding the complex harmonics from these two waveforms is what results in a noise that is like the bastard offspring of bagpipes and an air raid siren.

Why so Annoying?

Thanks to evolution, sounds in the frequency range of speech are preferentially amplified by the outer ear. Our frequency sensitivity is reflected in the A-weighted decibel scale. It is not coincidental to why I wrote this article that leaf blower frequencies are right in the middle of the sensitive range of human hearing.

Spectral character is critical to annoyance, and our complex appreciation of this explains the richness of sounds in an orchestra.

Tonal sounds have a dominant identifiable pitch. Noise analysts add 5 dB to any tonal sound to reflect the additional perceived annoyance. Oddly, there is no further correction for complex tones like those generated by a leaf blower, even though everyone would agree on increased perceived loudness.

When these harmonics vary in pitch or come in unpredictable and impulsive fashion, such as a barking dog, it is yet more annoying.

Sounds that are similar in frequencies, tempo, and tonal quality of human speech will be the hardest to ignore. Our brains are hard wired for language, and cannot turn off our enhanced sensitivity to such input. These sounds will maximally interfere with activity, especially those involving language.

Conversely, broadband noise, where sound is present fairly evenly at all frequencies, tends to be the least annoying and can mask sudden, disturbing sounds. Some people prefer to sleep with a quiet fan for this reason.

If you wonder if these effects might be lessened in people with hearing impairment, you would be wrong. Reduced intelligibility of speech in the presence of competing similar frequencies is the first sign of sensorineural hearing loss.

Sound pressure level meter (Image Credit: Cornwall Electronics)
Sound pressure level meter (Image Credit: Cornwall Electronics)

A sound pressure level (SPL) meter is useful for measuring if sound is loud enough to cause hearing damage, to determine the need for limiting exposure time and/or wearing ear protection.

However, an SPL meter is of little value in measuring noise, even when using the A-weighting filter. The spectral character of sound contributes more to annoyance than SPL does.

I have found that a SPL meter measuring a clearly annoying level of noise such as that produced by a leaf blower 50 m away, will register only about 3-4 dB above background noise of wind, birds, and distant traffic.

This is almost insignificant from a sound analysis perspective. But in that situation, you would find very few people who could sit outside without being seriously bothered by the noise.

Even more amazing is the intrusive nature of blower noise: when I cut grass using a four stroke lawnmower at low throttle and wearing -30dB earplugs, the sound of a leaf blower 30m away penetrates clearly.

Non-Acoustic Factors

Many factors linked to annoyance have nothing to do with SPL or spectral character.

People tend to be much less tolerant of noise produced without obvious necessity. Ability to control the noise source enables tolerance of much higher levels, such as with a vacuum cleaner. Context is important, especially when noise occurs in environments expected to be quiet.

Activities requiring concentration or language processing will be much more disrupted than simple physical tasks in a noisy environment.

Individual sensitivity can cause wide variations in perceived annoyance for the same source. Some people tolerate very little background noise, a feature which correlates with a psychological trait known as "chronic wide breadth of attention".

Such people also tend to score higher on creativity measures, and historical records frequently mention noise intolerance in famous writers, composers and scientists. Alternately, some individuals are almost imperturbable by noise.

The Noise Horizon

As a rough estimate, I've measured out 50m and 150m as subjectively important noise exposure distances in an average residential area. Really loud two stroke industrial backpack blowers can push those distances to 100m and 300m, and are easily audible at 500m on a calm day.

With the Kirkendall neighbourhood as a test case, I identified two areas of low and high density housing. Using the Google Earth measuring tool, a 50m radius covers between 8 (low density) and 26 (high density) single occupancy houses around the blower operator.

Within this distance, the noise level is high enough to drive anyone indoors if they have the ability to do so.

Between 50m and 150m the sound is clearly identifiable as a leaf blower and constantly audible above background noise. You might not change your behaviour at this noise level unless engaged in conversation, but you would note it as unpleasant.

In the two examples I tested, there were 60 and 250 houses within this radius.

Try this yourself. Pace out your own subjective annoyance thresholds, then go to Google Earth and count the affected houses in your own neighbourhood.

No Sanctuary

Although the SPL of leaf blower noise goes down drastically once you are in your house, the quality of sound actually becomes more annoying, because of the effect of frequency-dependent sound dampening on tonal components. Finnish researcher Pasanen has studied this.

Using Pasanen's data, let's look at two similarly loud power tools: a leaf blower and snow blower. This particular leaf blower source is 2 db louder than the snow blower, which is a barely perceptible difference.

For the blower, there are spikes at the fundamental frequency (125hz) and several harmonics, which will be perceived as louder and more annoying than broad spectrum noise of the same power.

The ear is always drawn to the loudest peaks; they dominate the perception of noise.

Frequency chart for a leaf blower
Frequency chart for a snow blower
The snow blower is a more broad spectrum noise with no discernable peak frequency. In other words, you can't hum along with it.

Pasanen then applied a filter protocol to mimic the average residential wall. What you get on the inside of the house is clearly much quieter than next to the source, but the character is now different, one could say enhanced.

The frequency filtering effect of obstructions such as walls and trees always let low frequencies pass relatively unscathed.



The noise spectrum after filtering is startling: a 2 dB difference has now become a much more significant 7 dB difference. Also note that the peaks are exactly in the frequency range of human speech,

While the snow blower spectrum retains its broad shape, the filtered leaf blower spectrum has relatively higher peaks in the lower harmonics as compared to the source spectrum.

The spectrum generated by the snow blower after filtering is similar to brown noise (1/f) of the type found in nature. The human brain is good at ignoring such noises; they easily fade into the background.

The harmonically complex leaf blower noise is much more penetrating than other power tools such as snowblowers and lawnmowers, even if they are similarly loud at the source.

It is really only the peaks that matter in the energy spectrum. If those peaks occur in speech frequencies, your ear cannot stop hearing them any more than it can ignore English being spoken. It does not easily fade into background noise, and stays annoying down to the limit of perception.

For more on this, Pasanen's article LEAF BLOWER NOISE (PDF link) makes for worthwhile reading.

The Golden Rule

Many religions have some form of the Golden Rule. My favourite is from Hebrew scholar Hillel:

That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it.

To get to the heart of this sentiment, you have to think from the perspective of the other; do not do unto others what is despicable to them. In other words, practice respect through communication and understanding.

Using a leaf blower has nothing to do with self-respect or respect for others.

There are many sources of noise in modern life, and it is better to chill a bit than get all worked up over noise pollution. But the leaf blower crosses the line: its use is too trivial, labour saving insignificant, time saving nonexistent, and the cost to neighbourhood quality of life is hideous.

If there is one big thing that cities can do to improve and protect the quality of life of citizens, it is to draw the line at leaf blowers.

Further reading

Some of the material for this article was sourced from a mechanical engineering paper I wrote in 2007.

Ted Mitchell is a Hamilton resident, emergency physician and sometimes agitator who recently completed a BEng at McMaster University. He is fascinated by aspects of our culture that are harmful, but avoid serious public discussion.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted October 27, 2010 at 08:32:24

I hate, hate, HATE leaf blowers. I got pissed off just reading this. Luckily where I live (downtown) there aren't alot of lawns so I don't have to listen to the damn things. I'd love to read an article on noise from all the cars racing by on Main Street though.

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By frank (registered) | Posted October 27, 2010 at 08:40:19

Wow! Ever use a leaf blower? They're quite effective even at distances greater than 10 feet. It's also possible to have an electric one. Until today I didn't believe it was possible to write such a long article whining about something as mundane as a leaf blower!

Just because people have a different idea about how their property should look doesn't mean that they're less intelligent or less "right" than you are. I happen to love the smell of a two stroke engine and I don't mind the noise at all since it lasts all of what, maybe 20 minutes if it's a large property.

While I do think that blowing leave is dumb since its affect can be achieved in other ways, in some cases it's quite handy to use one. When I was growing up, my parents had a large garden and two large maple trees. We found that the best way to get the leaves out from between the perennials' leaves was to use a blower. And before you ask, yes they do need to come out because leaving them there only keeps the mice happy during the snowy winter months. Whole leaves don't degrade fast enough to be used as compost in a garden.

Perhaps you could write about something far more dangerous like cycling on sidewalks or if you want to stick to picking on two strokes, those stupid bikes with the motors on them. Leaf blowers are a temporary, seasonal item and are used for a short period of time, far less dangerous than you try to make them sound and, I would argue, necessary for a small business like a landscaping company in order to remain viable.

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By Jarod (registered) | Posted October 27, 2010 at 10:51:29

Ug, I just made a long post, then lost it. Dangit.

You aren't legally allowed to blow your clippings onto the road. Take a picture, call by-law.

Laziness, because tasks accomplished by a leaf blower can be easily done with a rake or a broom in the same amount of time. Both manual tasks, done properly, utilize the large muscles of the trunk and can be done by people of nearly every age and ability. And there is no other power tool that is less effective in saving time and work.

Simply untrue. Some landscapers have between 10-20 minutes to finish a property and move onto the ext. Raking/sweeping would take nearly double that.

Psychoscaping is my term for the construction of elaborate designs using rocks, trees, gardens, water and lighting to create a beautiful yard that is unused and mostly unusable. It is the HD, 3D version of '70s photographic wallpaper murals, and about as sterile for the soul.

You're right, it is a term you coined. Some landscaping is GORGEOUS, STUNNING and MAGNIFICENT. I can see how you would think that those who use it and their yards are no longer usable, but how many of those people would have used their front yards either way.

I disagree highly with the idea that landscaping is the HD, 3D version though. I used to do landscaping, mostly lawns. I do not own, nor care to own a flat screen TV, nor do I care that my parents have subscribed to all the HD channels available on TV today, nor have I yet to see a single 3D movie.

But something about a well kept space, not just a yard, appeals to me and many others. I can't do homework in a messy house, I can't concentrate. I would hope to keep my house well maintained as the by-laws tell me to (they don't tell me how to...).

Nice landscaping is appealing, and not liking it because some of the implements used to maintain it is ridiculous.

A leaf blower is what, 10 minutes of your life, maybe 10 mins. per week? How much of that time do people spend in traffic, or somewhere else just as meaningless?

In sound, decibels are defined in terms of power per unit surface area on a scale from the threshold of human hearing, 0 dB, upward towards the threshold of pain, about 120-140 dB. As examples: the sound level in the average residential home is about 40 dB, average conversation is about 60 dB, typical home music listening levels are about 85 dB, a loud rock band about 110 dB, and a jet engine close up is 150dB.

Add to this something called synergy and you have much much louder noises coming at you everyday from a wide variety of seemingly noiseless sources.

Considering that:

Notice that the lowest threshold of pain is still higher than the loudest leaf blower.

I'm all for being environmentally friendly and being kind to your neighbors and such. But I wouldn't judge people and nor would I expect them to be where I am at. (I too plan on used a true push mower and a broom when I own a property with grass) This comes across more as, "Those pesky rich snobs who do this this and this and irritate me..." than anything else.

Comment edited by Jarod on 2010-10-27 09:52:46

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By 2011 (anonymous) | Posted October 27, 2010 at 10:57:29

Let's have a no-power-tools-in-the-neighbourhood Sunday bylaw.

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By Jarod (registered) | Posted October 27, 2010 at 11:04:54

We actually found that we could toggle the throttle to a lower power, (even though it was the same as a drill trigger...the harder you pull, the harder it goes) and it would still be effective for the purposes we needed it for. We could use the blower and make it relatively quiet.

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By Hear Hear (anonymous) | Posted October 27, 2010 at 11:09:55

Other items for a noise review...
-Loud Motorcycles: Ever notice how many Harley riders wear earplugs? Not sure how many of them read Hebrew scholars. Caledon has put limits on motorcycle noise and provided meters for enforcement.
-Beeping Crosswalk Systems: I know these are meant to help the visually impaired but, seriously, can't we find a way to do so without impacting everyone? I "hear" that they're now mandatory for new crosswalk installations in the City.
Great article.

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted October 27, 2010 at 11:15:18

I am all for taking back Sundays, 2011, and I am not even religious. It was nice back in the day, having a set day when no stores were open, and all was mostly quiet except kids at play. Now even this quietness at Christmas, is at risk. Of course this will never happen because it would cost too much $$$ to take away these shopping days now.

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By Jarod (registered) | Posted October 27, 2010 at 11:17:31

Both my mother and Stepfather own Harley's, neither of them Hebrew scholars.

They are smart, and nice people. Nice and smart enough not to judge people.

Dang...I must be out of troll flakes.....preferred by 90% of the trolls out there. TASTY!

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted October 27, 2010 at 11:19:12

You can defend Harley's up the wazoo but nothing changes the fact that they're freaking LOUD and obnoxious even, as Ted says, if they "don't intend to" be obnoxious.

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By Jarod (registered) | Posted October 27, 2010 at 11:31:02

motorcycles in general are loud. I look at every bike I pass on King or Main as they rev insanely past.

Not all of them are Harley Davidson. Few are.

I was equating the fact that riding a Harley, or any bike is not an indicator of your intelligence.

My dad is an RPN and works for VON, rides a V-Star. Smart man.

I'm not saying motorcycles aren't obnoxious, I actually agree. (Even though I plan to get one someday). But you can't draw a line in the sand and say these people are smart because, and these people are dumb because... there's too many variables to account for.

Comment edited by Jarod on 2010-10-27 10:42:12

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted October 27, 2010 at 11:42:50

Most of those hyper-loud motorcycles are the product of illegal modifications. The stock pipes on motorcycles are a far more modest volume.

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By beesplease (registered) | Posted October 27, 2010 at 11:43:35

My neighbour launched the first of his at-least-twice-daily blows at 7:45am this morning. Unfortunately Burlington's bylaw says he can blow to his heart's content all day every day between 7am and 9pm (9am on Sundays, Lord have mercy).

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By Jarod (registered) | Posted October 27, 2010 at 11:45:09

Agreed on the stock mufflers. However, aftermarket mufflers aren't necessarily illegal (though the noise they make IS) It's a tough one to call.

I haven't seen police pulling bikes over for being too loud (though sometimes I wish they would)

I also don't see many people pulled over for having their music too loud...which...again...I wish would happen. Oy.

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By rednic (registered) | Posted October 27, 2010 at 11:45:13

I have a rake it is quite quiet !

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By Mr.Giggles (anonymous) | Posted October 27, 2010 at 12:19:13

too much hypertension, too much diabetes, too many of us with BMIs over 27...who needs a gym, which is also noisy by the way - and most people DRIVE to the gym. Use a rake, use a shovel, use a hoe, squat to pull weeds, carry those big brown garden refuse bags around VOILA! you have your workout. Free. Quiet. and..the health bonus is you might end up 1. seeing and 2. interacting with your neighbours!! Ok so for some of us this may not be healthy.
Quiet Sundays with no leaf blowers or hammers or drills or power saws. Just one day. Why should the rural areas have the monopoly on occasional peace & quiet?

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By Hear Hear (again) (anonymous) | Posted October 27, 2010 at 12:44:31

Woah, sorry Jarod! I didn't mean my comments to be taken as you have.
I'm just as down on loud cars as motorcycles and have no brand preference for those I prefer to detest. The reason for the Harley comment was that, quite often, I've seen their riders slip off their helmets and proceed to pull foam plugs from their ears. Sad fact. I haven't done a detailed survey of Honda, Kawasaki or Suzuki riders but will try to do so. The folks with the blaring car stereos, I suspect, are deaf already and do not use plugs.
Also, there was no intent to question folks' intelligence. I'm not even sure that reading Hebrew scholars is a sign of it.
Sorry, again, for the offence I've caused.
(I thought it would be the crosswalk comments that might get me in trouble.)

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By bob lee (anonymous) | Posted October 27, 2010 at 12:59:15

I'm sorry Ted that your awesome article has been set upon by a mob of fools. I loved your description of noise. Thanks.

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By frank (registered) | Posted October 27, 2010 at 13:21:32

beesplease have you tried speaking with your neighbor? that's the old fashioned way... bob lee, calling people fools based on them disagreeing with you is foolish.

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By Jarod (registered) | Posted October 27, 2010 at 13:36:05

@ Hear Hear.

thanks for the clarification. I guess I get up in arms when people begin associating certain things with intelligence (even though that's not what you were aiming at)

And yes, they DO recommend you wear earplugs for motorcycles. Though, it has less to do with the fact of the noise generated from the machine. It's the same reason they have a lot of truck drivers that are deaf or nearly deaf in their left ear. The wind force on your ear while driving with the window down (or no windows in the case of motorcycles) is actually the culprit for deafness.

I didn't believe it until my stepdad told me (he's a trucker), and in fact it's true...pre-airconditionning was murder on the left ear of truckers unless they wore an ear plug.

Perhaps the logic follows. Perhaps not.

edit

My statement is false. It is the synergy of sound between both the machine and the wind force generated that creates the problem.

Comment edited by Jarod on 2010-10-27 12:39:51

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By frank (registered) | Posted October 27, 2010 at 14:28:42

@Jarod, I had a car that had no A/C for 8 years of driving and I've noticed that there's a difference in hearing ability between my left and right ears so that makes sense.

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By zippo (registered) | Posted October 27, 2010 at 15:22:58

Loud motorcycles are the audio equivalent of a codpiece in my opinion, cod piece too bad so many guys need to "compensate" for something that is otherwise missing from their lives ;->

If a rake is too slow then what's wrong with this? lawn sweeper

Should also be noted that the leaves illegally blown onto the road by the leaf blower form a hazard when wet to the bikers, loud or otherwise...

Comment edited by zippo on 2010-10-27 14:28:25

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By frank (registered) | Posted October 27, 2010 at 16:17:20

^^so does snow...even more so actually but that doesn't stop anyone from either not shoveling sidewalks or throwing their snow out onto the road...

^^pushing that sweeper around closely planted bushes is a tough prospect especially if the person's over 4' tall, leaf blower is the way to go.

btw when a proper landscaper blows leaves around it's to collect them and take them away, not to blow them onto the road.

Comment edited by frank on 2010-10-27 15:25:04

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By Jarod (registered) | Posted October 27, 2010 at 16:34:12

If a rake is too slow then what's wrong with this?

I agree with the concept. Though there are likely some design flaws, such as it gets clogged (in much the same way your beater brush for your vacuum gets bogged down), the handle does APPEAR too short...but that really shouldn't stop anyone....it could just be resting on the ground and go higher....or, you know....Red Green it up and make something work....

The only other things I probably wouldn't like about it is that it is just one more thing to store. This isn't a real argument though, since...if you have your own leaf blower, you have to store it also...

I wonder if that would actually be faster than a rake? I'm only thinking...out loud...but using a rake or leaf blower allows you a range of motion unrestricted by something attached to the ground. This thing means you would have to move in a dedicated pattern...

A friend of mine has a lawn vacuum. As soon as he said it I instantly thought of the hair vacuum. But, apparently, the thing works magic for that thick leaf blanket on your lawn. It does have to be plugged in though, and as such will create a noise...which appears to be the basis of all hell breaking loose.

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By geoff's two cents (registered) | Posted October 27, 2010 at 18:55:41

Thanks for writing, Ted. Anytime I'm trying to relax, read a book or sleep in past 8 or 9, hearing a leaf blower puts me in a pretty foul mood. I've also eaten in restaurants later in the day and had the excessive exhaust from one (someone who appeared to be blowing mostly water during a rainfall) give me a headache while I'm trying to enjoy a meal.

It's curious to me how much of a fad leaf blowers have become. These things are used so often when they add little or nothing to the job that needs accomplishing (unless your job is to ruin someone's quiet moment or air quality), or when the job can just as easily be accomplished by quiet, non-polluting machines (rakes or leaf picker-uppers) or even when things can simply be left well enough alone (the practically leaf-bare sidewalk I mentioned above during that rain storm, for instance).

Leaf blowers are easily on my top five pet peeves - right up there with amplified exhaust systems, gas-powered lawn mowers and people who don't move to the back of the bus.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted October 27, 2010 at 19:11:20

Lucky, here, not too many leaf blowers in the vicinity.

However, there's someone who likes to play the accordion around here. I was out in the backyard, enjoying a coffee a few weeks back, when La Vie en Rose came wafting over the back fence. Felt like I was in Paris. I'm all for a little neighbourhood noise- just not the gas-powered kind.

As the parent of a hearing-impaired child, I can attest to how much a background drone can interfere with her ability to distinguish normal speech, other things that she might want to hear, like birdsong-- and other things she might need to hear, like sirens.

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted October 27, 2010 at 19:16:16

Thanks for the comments so far. The best one, as picked by me (yes, extreme bias) will get a prize! The very cool and rare "Noise is a Serious Problem" T shirt, as long as L or XL will fit:

http://www.quiet.org/order.htm

I really didn't mean this to be such a negative article, rather I would ask people to imagine how much nicer our neighbourhoods would be without leaf blowers. Even if you personally don't care about noise, I'll bet neighbours would be much friendlier and happier if nature was the dominant sound.

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By QuietOrinda (registered) - website | Posted October 27, 2010 at 19:34:45

Exceptionally well-written treatise on the scourge of the debris blower. May we have your permission to link to it, and to use excerpts of it in our campaign to ban blowers in Orinda, CA Thanks, Hilda for Quiet Orinda www.quietorinda.com

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By DavidColacci (registered) | Posted October 27, 2010 at 20:09:49

I happen to be a Drive Clean Inspector and would welcome the opportunity to sample one of these noise makers, for kicks of coarse!

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted October 27, 2010 at 22:09:13

Holy crap, we can post images?

Gentlemen

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2010-10-27 21:09:36

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 27, 2010 at 22:42:56

I live behind the Hamilton Real Estate Board on York Blvd. Every few Saturday's their 'landscaping' company (who I've never actually seen do any landscaping) shows up armed with leaf blowers and, get ready for it, blows all the leaves off their parking lot. That's right. The parking lot. There is no grass on their property. It's office building and parking lot. Apparently the leaves bother car tires, so what's the solution? They blow all the leaves off the parking lot onto Strathcona Ave and York Blvd so they can damage other people's tires I presume. And here's the best part - they blow tornados of leaves over our fences all over our backyard patios and furniture. Whenever all of us neighbours hear the jet engines, I mean leafblowers, start up we come outside with our morning coffees and scream at each other how we will keep an eye on "the idiots" when they come over by our fences. A few weeks ago I spent an hour cleaning off my back patio and furniture knowing that a massive 2-day rain storm was going to arrive by noon. Just as I finish my cleaning the rain started coming down so I headed inside. 5 minutes later I look out the back window to see my entire patio and dining set covered in dirt, leaves etc..... I ran back out in the rain and did a quick 10 minute clean of everything I had just cleaned for an hour and leaned over the fence and asked the worker to knock it off....like I have so many times before.....and will so many times to come. But, hey, I can live with a little inconvenience if it means all those cars won't have to be ruined by driving on leaves.

Comment edited by jason on 2010-10-27 21:43:43

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By michelle (registered) | Posted October 27, 2010 at 22:44:07

Ohhh, how tempting it is to buy one of those gadgets and have my yardwork done in half the time. I wouldn't be able to look my neighbours in the face afterwards, though!

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted October 27, 2010 at 22:48:21

Jason,

I'm amazed that the Hamilton Real Estate Board continues to do this in spite of your complaints to the managers there. Wow, very disrespectful. What has the HREB said to you in response to your complaints?

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 27, 2010 at 23:12:15

They've said that they'll instruct the 'landscaping' workers to not blow stuff over neighbours fences.
And to be honest, I'm certain the HREB folks did pass on the message - anytime I've had to deal with them they have been fantastic and easy to work with. I think the problem lies with the workers. These guys look like they've just rolled out of bed and are just standing there blowing away barely staying awake with their massive earmuffs on.
My favourite part of the whole ordeal is that they blow all the leaves onto surrounding roads on Saturday and by Monday morning the parking lot is covered in leaves again, both from leaves falling off the trees and many of the leaves blown onto the road blowing back onto the lot.

A few weeks ago a middle aged man walking his dogs past the property was blasted with a pile of leaves and dirt by one of the workers not paying attention to whether anyone was walking by. I thought there was going to be a full-out donnybrook. LOL. He just laid into them all, first for blasting him, and then he started laying into them for "using those stupid things and ruining every Saturday morning for the whole neighbourhod". LOL He was great. Just yelled at them for about 10 minutes.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted October 28, 2010 at 01:49:45

The reason I'll never use one of those things was a very close call at the final turn of the West 5th/Queen St mountain access on a bike. Some guy blowing one of the lawns sent a small pebble flying straight at my eye. If it weren't for my sunglasses, I'd probably be half-blind, or dead.

How much petrochemical-based power is really necessary for an average city lot?

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By Blow me (anonymous) | Posted October 28, 2010 at 06:25:36

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By Blow me (anonymous) | Posted October 28, 2010 at 06:26:43

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By frank (registered) | Posted October 28, 2010 at 09:38:05

Undustrial, I think it's mostly not average lot owners who use leaf blowers. It's usually a landscaper who is trying to get as many lots done in a day as possible. If someone's blowing leaves onto a road or your property, video it including the name of the company and send the video to bylaw and repeat until the bylaw office says they've done something about it.

The bottom line is there's a noise bylaw and unless they're contravening that they're allowed to power up whenever they want. I might not like it, you might not like it but I'm sure you do things that other people don't like to. I'm not sure but I would assume that leaves are treated the same way as water, meaning that you aren't allowed to take what's on your property and simply put it on another person's property.

It's illegal to cycle on the sidewalk and it's FAR more dangerous and annoying than leaf blowers. It's also perpetrated by far more people...seems like a much better thing to complain about.

As far as I know, leaves don't ruin car tires at all so that's a lame excuse to clean up a parking lot. Before you shoot the video I'd suggest letting them know you're doing so and for what purpose just to give them an opportunity to stop. It might also be a good idea to contact the bylaw office or your local councilor to find out if blowing leaves onto the road or another's property is illegal or not. Have as much information as possible before you approach them.

Comment edited by frank on 2010-10-28 08:40:45

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By Gee (anonymous) | Posted October 28, 2010 at 09:47:11

I think that the issue, by-law or not, is when neighbours get out blazing their lawns for hours with the leaf-blowers, or turn on the monsters at 7am on a weekend morning (or up to 8:59pm on a weeknight) and hiding behind the by-law; all the while being fully cognizant of the fact that many of their neighbours are still sleeping, just getting up to have their morning coffee, or are already in bed for a good night's sleep before work.

Those are the ignorants, such as "Blow Me" who demonstrated perfectly the anti-social behavior that cares nothing for the noise/air pollution they create for those around them.

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By frank (registered) | Posted October 28, 2010 at 10:04:14

Gee, there are jerks wherever you go and they're going to do jerk type things regardless. The bottom line is that unless you do something about it (change the noise bylaw or something like that) nothing can be done. I always say you can't legislate stupidity and while what's become the "safety industry" attempts to account for what used to be covered by "that was your own stupid fault" the people remain stupid! I have a neighbor who during the summer stood outside on his back deck at 6:50 to make sure that I didn't cut any trim past 7:00. I don't wake up to start work at 7:00 in the morning on a weekend to be a pain in the butt but it's certainly crossed my mind several times! What gets me is dogs barking. How do you blame the dog? Similarly I don't blame the leaf blower (the machine) I blame the leaf blower (the person using the machine).

I've already spoken to my councilor about changing the bylaw to reflect changes in times for summer or weekends and for personal equipment. I believe that if I'm working on my house I should be able to work until 9 in the summer without having to worry about my neighbor with the messiest yard in the freaking world standing on his back deck making sure I stop work at 7.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted October 28, 2010 at 12:51:42

I must admit, I like power tools. I have a workshop I've been putting together, and it can make a hell of a racket. And since my house shares a wall with a family, I have a personal rule not to do it late at night. The issue is courtesy, whether that annoying noise is my bench grinder or the screaming kids running around outside my window all day, all summer.

What bothers me most about all of this is how many really flawed asumptions are wrapped into traditional "landscaping". It's a massive, motorized de-mulching project. Trees drop leaves and grass shed clippings because that's what the soil needs - fertilizers and pesticides are a poor substitute. The "green waste" which is collected in bags with power tools is a massive collection of important soil nutrients, in the best possible form for soil organisms. This simply leads to poor heath of soils and plants, only which encourages "weeds", blight, and bad visuals in general.

Want a great-looking, low-work garden? Let it grow. It will be ugly for a while, since most city soils are in awful shape, but the reason we see so many of the same weeds in our gardens as grow in sidewalk cracks and construction sites is that they're succession species which exist to quickly bring life to damaged soils (like a PH imbalance or lack of carbon). Real nature isn't something that can be planted in an afternoon - it's something that has to grow.

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By frank (registered) | Posted October 28, 2010 at 13:23:10

That might work for some people, others LIKE the manicured look and there's nothing wrong with that! What most serious gardeners/landscapers do after picking up the leaves (they'll usually mulch the grass) is chop them up and use them as mulch around plants. Prevents weeds and helps out the soil.

edit: some like real nature other like gardens - they call them gardens, not fields.

Comment edited by frank on 2010-10-28 12:24:36

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By Gee (anonymous) | Posted October 28, 2010 at 13:50:45

I use my mulch around my more delicate stuff. I've planted some garlic in the back this year, and am using the mulch to insulate throughout the winter and to protect all of my bulbs, from garlic to tulips, from squirrels.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted October 28, 2010 at 14:03:37

others LIKE the manicured look

The problem isn't the manicured look, it's the loud, smelly polluting annoying leaf blowers. You can have a manicured garden without running those infernal contraptions. (Yeah I just called something an infernal contraption, I'm feeling old today....)

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By frank (registered) | Posted October 28, 2010 at 14:40:29

^^no, that's YOUR problem, not theirs.

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By Gee (anonymous) | Posted October 28, 2010 at 15:23:04

We can make it their problem, however:

http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2007/cc/bgrd/m22.pdf

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By frank (registered) | Posted October 28, 2010 at 15:45:52

Did you read it? It bans leaf blowers during months when the leaves aren't falling...helpful eh? Even during the months when it's allowed they can be fired up between 8 and 6. Most of us don't live in quiet zones. Essentially all they've done is taken an hour off the beginning and end of what the noise bylaw already has and then banned them during the summer. Whoooppeee!

So use the lower decibel version and it'd still be a cause of complaint... as the article states it's not a dB problem

Comment edited by frank on 2010-10-28 14:49:44

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By Gee (anonymous) | Posted October 28, 2010 at 18:49:36

Frank, leaf blowers ARE used in the spring and in September. I know this because I had to endure the "richies" landscaper's blowers from my office at least twice a week. I worked in the Rosedale area and my office backed onto residential streets, and the reason why I remembered this motion is because I was working in Rosedale from '99-'03.

So yeah, I did read it.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted October 28, 2010 at 21:05:35

This just in.... Some background noise can put you off your dinner

Comment edited by Michelle Martin on 2010-10-28 20:06:10

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By derp (anonymous) | Posted October 28, 2010 at 23:05:25

The wind is my leaf blower. Eat leaf, neighbours.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted October 29, 2010 at 07:35:16

(Yeah I just called something an infernal contraption, I'm feeling old today....)

Just don't start having a conniption!

Manicured looks are easily done with a rake, a hand-reel mower and a pair of garden shears, except in the case of physical disability, in which case (if I am not mistaken) electric outdoor appliances are lighter to handle (and definitely quieter). My grandmother kept her large suburban yard looking nice until she was eighty and moved to an apartment by cutting the lawn herself with a nice, light, electric mower-- and various adult children and adult grand children as well as great-grandchildren to rake leaves for her. I remember one day my dad, my older kids and I were over working in the yard: what a nice visit it was. Couldn't have had any conversation over the drone of gas-powered appliances, if we were using them.

Which brings me to another point: not much conversation over the fence can go on when it's a beautiful day and everyone's out working in their yard with leaf-blowers, etc.

Comment edited by Michelle Martin on 2010-10-29 06:47:55

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By frank (registered) | Posted October 29, 2010 at 09:12:42

Gee, rereading my post didn't explain why you assumed that I thought they weren't used in Spring or September. Reading your post makes me think that you're pissed off cuz you're not one of the 'richies' on top of having to hear their leaf blowers. :( My point was that they're used most during the fall when there are leaves on the ground.

Michelle, most people do their landscaping by hand with a rake etc. I guess it's the "richies" that piss people off. Where I grew up we had a gas mower, it never caused family problems because we couldn't talk to the person mowing. It takes all of 1/2 an hour to mow a lawn (I could do it in 20 minutes) and that's back and front lawns. If you're worried about disengagement of families because of gas powered appliances, I'd return with materialism as a far greater cause of disengagement.

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By Gee (anonymous) | Posted October 29, 2010 at 11:41:05

Frank, quit being obtuse. Your comment "Did you read it? It bans leaf blowers during months when the leaves aren't falling...helpful eh?" sidestepped the fact that regardless of when they are used, they disturb neighbourhoods. It was further aggravated by your comment asking whether I read the motion. Now, here is the kicker.....If I was wrong to assume that you think blowers are used exclusively in the fall, reason fails to explain why you'd assume I didn't read the motion. After all, leaf blowers are used extensively in the summer, if not moreso, than in the fall.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted October 29, 2010 at 11:56:34

^^no, that's YOUR problem, not theirs.

No, it's OUR problem, that's why we have laws. If you punch me in the mouth the law says YOU'RE the one with a problem because you caused harm to someone. Well leaf blowers cause harm, that makes them a legal problem.

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By Ed Simms (anonymous) | Posted October 29, 2010 at 19:25:32

I used to not care much about leaf blowers.. mainly because nobody in my neighbourhood used them.
But in the past 5 years many people have moved away and those who replaced them seem to all have brought with them leaf blowers.
There are two living side-by-side who use the 2-stroke gas versions everyday during peak 'leaves-falling-off-the-trees' season.
They blow every single leaf off their driveways and lawns.. and onto the road. Often they doit simultaneously.. Then you get that magical undertone that 2 screaming engines make when operated in unison.
They do it every single day for about 2 - 3 weeks..
On weekends one of these idiots does it twice a day.
There is something seriously wrong with that sort of attitude toward your new neighbours.
It's the equivalent of taking a dump on your neighbours front steps every day. Seriously, to me it is that ignorant and inconsiderate.
They have ignored repeated requests to stop doing this on a daily basis. So complaints have been made to the city regarding blowing the refuse (leaves, stones etc) onto the street.
Hopefully a warning or a fine will be enough to slow down these half-wits.
On an unrelated note, the same two burn the leaves that accumulate in their back yards.. I guess they're too lazy to even blow them around the side of the house and out to the street.
It's a massive fine for burning leaves now.. hmmmm..

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 29, 2010 at 22:39:21

^ LOL. I really don't get it.
I don't get raking either. I love this time of year when my garden gets covered in leaves. It acts as a perfect mulch through the winter and most leaves decompose throughout the winter. Most years, by the time the snow melts I already have green growth coming up from the soil which seems to get richer and more fertile each year. When I first bought my home I would get all the leaves off my garden and in the spring the ground was frozen solid with no spring flowers or growth in sight. I just kind of learned by accident over the years.
Leaves decompose, people. Go for a walk in the woods sometime in the summer and tell me how many leaves you see on the ground. None. If leaves were some sort of nuisance that needed to be cleaned out, our forests would be 30 feet deep in leaves. Nobody is raking out there.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted October 29, 2010 at 23:02:16

Michelle, most people do their landscaping by hand with a rake etc. I guess it's the "richies" that piss people off. Where I grew up we had a gas mower, it never caused family problems because we couldn't talk to the person mowing.

Frank, with respect, I never said that gas-powered appliances cause family problems. I simply made the point that loud noise makes conversation difficult.

As for being pissed of by "richies," the last next-door neighbour we had who used a leaf blower lived beside our ninety year-old 2+1 bedroom bungalow in New Toronto. And his house and yard were smaller than ours were. Never saw the point of the leaf blower for that small, narrow yard.

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By opportunityknocks (anonymous) | Posted October 31, 2010 at 12:21:10

Someone or something is going monetize "quiet communities", reflected through higher property values. Obviously there is a market.

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By frank (registered) | Posted November 01, 2010 at 11:04:09

If a leafblower isn't used to blow leaves why's it called a leaf blower? I didn't say it was smart to blow leaves especially on a small property but ya'll are saying it's stupid...I'm saying it's a matter of opinion. I'm absolutely shocked at people who get SO up in arms about something like a leaf blower and want laws to change and all that b.s. when the laws that are meant to protect people that exist already aren't even followed. My point is this: before you go making new freakin laws, start enforcing the EXISTING laws! And Gee, I wasn't being confrontational when I asked if you'd read the bylaw I was asking it as a rhetorical question because to me that's a pointless bylaw that says that people can't use leaf blowers in the summer! SO freakin what? I'd like to see evidence that leaf blowers are used more in the summer than in the fall-that statement's counter intuitive...what are they blowing? Grass barely grows and there are no leaves on the ground...

If I wanted a bylaw that prevented the use of leafblowers I'd be asking that gas leaf blowers be banned outright rather than simply legislating their use. All the other restrictions in the bylaw are essentially included in the existing noise bylaw. You're going to have rude buggers no matter where you are, I'd say that if the evidence of their rudeness is a leaf blower you're much better off than if it was a stereo blasting until 1AM every night.

Aside from a landscaping company, I don't see a need for gas blowers or gas trimmers but that's my personal opinion, not something I'd assume other people should comply with.

Comment edited by frank on 2010-11-01 10:10:02

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By frank (registered) | Posted November 01, 2010 at 11:13:24

Jason, leaving leaves can create problems with mould and fungus as well as small rodents. Best thing to do is gather them and run them through your mower then put them back on the garden...they break down quicker and don't create problems with moisture.

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted November 07, 2010 at 17:39:59

Thanks for the comments.

Michelle, if you want it, I have a T shirt for you.

Most of the postings disagreeing with me fall under the category of "it doesn't bother me, so what is your problem, it shouldn't bother you". I think this is a sociopathic attitude, kind of the golden rule in reverse.

When somebody fires up a leaf blower on a nice quiet calm day, for me it is worse than a beautiful sunny and unseasonably warm day turning to cold, damp, dark and windy.

I do appreciate quiet and beauty; when you see sad things happen to people on a daily basis it reinforces the importance of savouring each day as a gift. Leaf blowers are one sure way to destroy the enjoyment of our urban environment.

If anyone wants to link to this article for whatever reason, consider it pre-approved.

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted November 07, 2010 at 19:09:56

Some posters claim this is a seasonal problem.

Not in my neighbourhood. There are 13 properties within both sight and sound of my house.

Only three of them have not been seen or heard using blowers. Two own and use blowers mostly seasonally. Two own and use blowers on at least a weekly basis about 8 months a year.

Six hire out lawn care, and all of them use blowers weekly, 6-8 months a year. One of these usually starts at 8 am friday mornings, and uses blowers regardless of weather. None are finished in less than half an hour. Typically, blower use is intermittent for about 90 minutes.

Two of these properties have extensively landscaped yards (no grass), and about 2-3 times a year do a major trimming which involves 2 stroke trimmers and blowers to remove the debris. This takes 3-5 hours, during which there is at least one 2-stroke running 80% of the time, often 2-3 of them, and sometimes a wood chipper. This is beyond horrible, and I have to leave my house.

You'd think winter would bring a reprieve but one of these landscapers, unbelievably, uses 2-stroke baby snow shovels the remaining 4 months. Not much faster than a normal shovel, but there's nothing baby about the noise or air pollution they produce.

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By tom123459 (anonymous) | Posted September 24, 2011 at 15:30:44

i think blowers should be banned. but if we must have them and the mowers why can't they all be run simultaneously.? to wit one mower or blower sounds like 20 and 20 like 1. we could allow people an hour a week to do this task in theory but being practical why not give people 14 hours. that is a lot lsess than the 80+ people have now providing 70 hours of relative peace.

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By bob paul (anonymous) | Posted September 09, 2014 at 20:22:39

sounds like he needs to move to the country away from society, on another note what about people that use leaf blower/ vacuums helping to keep it cleaner

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By JGO (anonymous) | Posted October 20, 2014 at 13:37:49

Recently I went to Palm Springs on Holiday; tree trimming & leaving blowing went on pretty much every single week day, over 50% of the day time; on the property, near our unit, around the pool and golf course. The following week we moved to a friends condo for the remaining 7 days of our, ahem, "holiday." 3 out of 7 of those days included more leave blowing, lawn mowing and tree trimming.
Back home- 2 out of 7 days of the week, more leaf blowing.
I try to not be home when it happens but even if I go to a coffee shop their there too.
Take the time to actually witness a leaf blowing gardener in action- and you may soon be convinced that a lot of their blowing is simply a mindless waste of time. Observe how the machine seems to have a mind of its own - blowing times blow a little here & there, they'll climb right into the thick of a bush & blow. Bottom line- even on holidays I couldn't escape the NOISE.

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By dody (anonymous) | Posted May 07, 2015 at 19:36:17

We surely have the prize leafblowing jackass on our St. Spring, summer & fall 4 to 5 times per day, although sometimes he just comes out to rev it for 30 seconds or so. Another one across the way has what must be a top o the line leafblower & uses military style ear protection gear for HIMSELF whilst blowing for ages, even inside the house the noise is super aggravating>Loud.

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By caterpillar (anonymous) | Posted October 29, 2015 at 14:52:05

I know this thread is a little old... I guess I try to live with the noise. My problem is that the neighbors have the following: gas powered mowers, sidewalk edgers, string trimmers, hedge clippers, and leaf blowers. I live in a temperate climate so this goes on all year long. One of my neighbors says that yard work makes him feel relaxed so he volunteers to do other lawns on the block for free. All day long it's a progression of one gas powered tool to the next. I can't escape it even in my house with the windows closed.

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