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If an electric mower is right for you, take advantage of a mower-exchange program

Consumer Reports News: April 14, 2010 02:18 PM

Get a deal on an electric mower.
Sales of electric lawn mowers are on the rise, and our latest review of mowers and tractors reveals that some electric mowers perform well enough to make them a viable option in certain situations. As efforts continue nationwide to curb carbon emissions, more mower-exchange programs are taking place, providing you with a money-saving opportunity to replace your gas mower with an electric model.

Corded and battery-powered electric mowers aren't ideal for every situation—for instance, some have short run times, making them a bad choice for large properties, and some are heavy, so it's real workout to use them on sloped yards and around obstacles.

If an electric mower still makes sense for you after you've checked out our free buyer's guide to lawn mowers and reviewed our ratings of electric mowers to find the best performers (available to subscribers), seek out a mower-exchange since doing so will save you a lot of money.

But finding a mower-exchange program isn't necessarily as easy as starting up an electric mower. To track down a program you might have to slog through a thicket of sites run by municipal, county/multicounty, and state entities since there's no single resource to turn to as there is for the cash for appliances rebate program or a helpful site like the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy.

"It would be great to see the federal government investing in this effort the way it did with cash for clunkers and providing the agencies with a funding source they could tap into," says Tom Hughes, president of Neuton Power, which makes electric mowers.

But Kris Kiser, executive vice president of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute trade group, says his organization prefers a broader approach than the mower-exchange programs to combat air pollution. "We represent manufacturers from a wide variety of fuels like gasoline, diesel, electric, and propane, and Husqvarna even has a solar-powered mower, so we're not in the position to say which technology is greener, and we support efforts to incentivize more efficient use of all fuels."

One issue for agencies who run mower exchanges is financing. "You need a big chunk of money to run a mower-exchange program like this," says Sarah Anderson, director of communications for the Regional Air Quality Council, which covers seven Colorado counties. "I've talked to administrators of programs in other states, who like us are primarily grant based, and funding is down this year. Our funding, which comes from public and private donations, is a little over half of what it was last year."

Increased public awareness has cut the need to buy print and radio advertising for the program, allowing the RAQC to offer the same number of mowers it did last year and expand its May 1 mower-exchange program to all Colorado residents.

"Places where events have taken place in past gather their own momentum, so a program in Denver or California can reduce the amount of funding needed to make a program a success, but in a new area, you have to do advertising to build a critical mass" says Hughes.

While Neuton extends what Hughes calls "essentially a wholesale price" on its mowers to the exchange programs, your actual cost depends on the program's outside funding. "In the Mow Down program in Sacramento, support from the California Air Resources Board let electric mowers be offered for as little as $99 this year, and they took well over 1,000 reservations online in the minutes they opened up the program," adds Hughes.

"Many programs this year have not changed the incentives offered or qualifications for the program but have greatly increased the number of mowers to be exchanged to benefit more residents in the community," says Kate Piche, program manager of mower events for Black & Decker. The manufacturer plans to participate in 11 mower events in Southern California and at least five additional events nationwide as part of its Convert America program.

One way to find out about mower exchanges is to check the sites of manufacturers like Black & Decker, Earthwise, Neuton, Toro, and Worx. Also visit the Web site of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, whose clickable map provides contact information for clean-air agencies nationwide.

Unfortunately, there's no link to those agencies' Web sites. Doing so would allow Southern California residents to learn about the steep discounts the South Coast Air Quality Management District is offering on the Black & Decker CMM1200 (normally $420, available for $100; shown), Neuton CE 6.4 (normally $470, available for $165), and two other electric mowers. Registrtion for the AQMD's Mow Down Air Pollution 2010 program launches April 21. (Free advice: The CMM1200 outperformed the CE 6.4 better in our testing.)

Other good sources to check for information on mower exchanges include the local air-quality board/air-quality management district where you live or your state's department of environmental protection. Or simply do a Web search for "mower exchange program in [your state]" see what you get. Doing so for South Carolina resulted in a link to the Department of Health and Environmental Control's announcement for the 2010 mower exchange.

We'll try to keep you posted on mower exchanges, so check back here and follow us at Twitter.com/CRHomegarden.

Gian Trotta

   

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