Should you buy a leaf blower or a rake?

Consumer Reports News: September 15, 2011 01:53 PM

It's a perennial debate—to rake or to blow? Consumer Reports has considered the issue from several angles, including time and convenience, noise pollution, personal health, and environmental impact. In the process, we tested more than 30 leaf blowers, as well as several types of rakes. There's no right or wrong answer to the overall debate, but some devices are clearly better than others.

If you want the job done fast, a leaf blower is the way to go. In our man-versus-machine rake-off, a handheld blower was twice as twice as fast as a rake. Backpack or wheeled blowers can clear a yard even faster, thanks to their added blowing power. Regardless of the type of blower, the models that do best in our Ratings are equally adept at sweeping leaves and loosening debris that's embedded in the lawn. You can spend as little as $50 on a recommended electric blower and up to $700 for a gasoline-powered wheeled blower. Gasoline handheld blowers average between $100 and $200, while gasoline backback blowers are in the $200 to $300 range.

Noise is also a major issue. Indeed, some communities have gone so far as to ban the use of leaf blowers. Others prohibit blowers that exceed a certain decibel level. Check out the state-by-state directory to see if any regulations apply where you live. In our tests, electric blowers are quieter than those that run on gas, and several models do a very good job of sweeping away leaves. Of course, no blower is as quiet as a rake.

The rake also wins in terms of personal fitness and earth-friendliness. Back to our rake-off, we burned more than twice as many calories raking as we did blowing, and no fossil fuels (barring those that went into the manufacturing of the rake). On the other hand, raking isn't healthy if you spend the next day in bed with a pulled back. Here's where the right rake makes a difference. In our tests, extra-wide rakes (36 inches) require more downward pressure, so we recommend a standard-width (24-inch) rake, ideally one with a soft grip. Ergonomic rakes with a bent handle are designed to reduce bending, but they aren't a good fit for everyone. Buy a rake that's comfortable for your height and strength, doing a few practice strokes in the store.

Daniel DiClerico

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