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Tips and Tricks That Make Fall Cleanup Easy

Don't let dealing with leaves get you down

Published: September 24, 2015 06:00 AM

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Last winter might not be done with us yet. Spring rains over melted snow, bolstered by ample sunshine, helped trees grow especially lush this past summer. And like death and taxes, you can count on those leaves falling. If you’re flirting with the idea of letting nature take its course and enjoying a carpet of leaves all autumn, don’t. Come spring you’ll have an anemic lawn, thanks to the mold buildup. Ah, the joys of the four seasons.

But it is possible to take care of that autumn chore and still have time left over to sip apple cider and pick pumpkins. To help liberate you from excessive leaf labor, Consumer Reports has the latest results of our tests of gas and electric leaf blowers. But our advice on how to manage it all works even if you use a good old-fashioned rake. Here’s what to consider.

Do Your Prep Work

Set your mower’s deck height to the lowest setting for one last cutting of the season before you start doing leaf work. Whether using a rake or blower, smoothing out your lawn with shorter grass makes for less resistance, which will make the chore go much faster.

And take a tip from the pros. Watch landscapers this time of year, and you’ll often see them using tarps to move around piles of leaves. You can employ that time-saving strategy by using a 9x12-foot or larger polyethylene tarp. Spread it out flat and rake or blow the leaves directly onto it. A full tarp may be heavy and hard to handle. To make transport easier and to keep the tarp from spilling open, thread a rope through the grommets (you can knot the ends) or attach carabiners to the grommets.

Consider Shredding

Use your gas mower once more—to mow leaves. The mower chops them into little bits that serve as nutrient-rich compost for your lawn. Even if you bag the leaves, you’ll fit more per bag given the smaller pieces. And you’ll use up the last bit of gas in the tank before stowing the mower for the winter.

If the leaves are piled too high or are wet, even the beefiest walk-behind mower can stall—especially if the deck height is low. If you hear the engine straining, slow down and tip back the mower to lift the blade out of the packed leaves; ease it back down slowly. You could also switch from bagging or mulching mode to side discharge. When you do put the mower away for the season, be sure to clean the deck and get the blade sharpened.

Choose Your Blower Type

The best gasoline-powered leaf blowers have the most power for loosening stuck leaves as well as rushing them along. Among gas-powered winners, the Jonsered B2126, $160, packs a lot of power and comes with an optional flat-tip nozzle that helped lift stuck leaves in our tests.

But if you want to avoid heavy maintenance and noise, electric corded models rival gas blowers for most needs. And cordless models such as the Kobalt KHB400B and GreenWorks GBL80300, $250 each, now keep up with their corded cousins at sweeping piles of leaves. One drawback is their brief 13-minute run time on a charge—followed by 30 minutes to charge the lithium-ion battery. But be sure to take care of the battery as advised. Here’s how to help it last at least five years:

  • Keep it charged. If you leave a Li-Ion uncharged or almost empty for a long time, it might not recover. Many of the latest “smart” chargers will stop charging when the battery is fully charged, which prevents damage from overcharging.
  • Consider buying a backup. Having two or even three batteries (and maybe an extra charger) for a few tools means that you’ll always have one ready. But one size might not fit all. With most outdoor gear, products of a given voltage use the same battery. For Craftsman in particular, however, check which tools take which batteries. Some of the brand’s cordless products with the same voltage rating are made by different manufacturers and use different batteries.

Don’t Break the Sound Barrier

Many municipalities prohibit unreasonable noise, such as a blower’s droning, during certain hours—say, between 9 p.m. and 8 a.m. Some areas prohibit any blower louder than 70 decibels at 50 feet, and a few limit noise to 65 decibels (about as loud as a window air conditioner on high). And if it isn’t illegal, still avoid running even the quietest blowers very early or late. Some gas blowers and all of the electrics in our tests met the 70-decibel limit, though only the quietest electrics came in at or below 65 decibels.

And protect your own ears, too. Wear hearing protection, especially if using a model that scored lower than good at ear level in our noise tests.

You should also wear goggles and a dust mask. And, of course, while the blower is running, keep other people and pets far away from the area you’re clearing.

Rake vs. Leaf Blower?

Tell us about your leaf-clearing routine in the comments below.

5 Sensible Steps to Take This Fall

Heating system

Getting your furnace or boiler inspected is easiest to schedule in the spring, when service companies are less busy. But if you haven’t had it done this year, do it now.
What if you don’t:
At the least, your system could run less efficiently, costing you more. At worst, it could break down—on a cold night.

Windows

Many can be fixed quickly with caulk and nails. But if you’re unsure, call a pro.
What if you don’t:
In addition to resulting in higher heating bills, a poorly set or insulated window can let water into wall cavities, promoting mold growth.

Water pipes

Outside spigots must be shut off and drained; insulating covers are available that fit around them. Inside, water pipes should be covered with polyurethane-foam covers. Set the thermostat to at least 50° F to protect the pipes, especially if you’re away.
What if you don’t:
Burst pipes can flood a house.

Chimney

Even if you don’t burn wood, your heating system probably has its own flue. It should be professionally checked­­—for nesting animals as well as residue buildup—and cleaned annually.
What if you don’t:
Creosote in the buildup can ignite, and the fire can spread to the rest of the house.

Gutters

Clear gutters and downspouts of leaves and other debris. Leaf-blower attachments, hose adapters, and similar tools can do the job. Also consider gutter guards; some do-it-yourself products cost less than $100.
What if you don’t:
Backed-up rain and water trapped beneath melting ice, known as ice dams, can get into the house and drip down from ceilings and walls.

Editor's Note:

This article also appeared in the November 2015 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

 


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