Electric mowers offer an alternative


May 21, 1994|By Ross Hetrick ZTC | Ross Hetrick ZTC,Sun Staff Writer

Mowing your grass used to be such a simple matter. You fired up your gasoline powered engine and let the blades fly. The biggest problem was cranking up the motor with that rope starter.

But that was before the Environmental Protection Agency told us that running a mower for an hour makes as much pollution has taking an 11 1/2 -hour drive.

What is an environmentally correct person to do while waiting for cleaner gas mowers to make their way to the hardware stores? Do you use a manual reel mower -- which is so proper, but so hard to use? Do you use an electric one with a cord and be in constant fear of cutting the line along with the dandelions? Or do you try one of the new cordless electric mowers?

With the idea of exploring this last alternative, the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. in August 1992 distributed cordless electric lawn mowers made by Black & Decker Corp. of Towson to about 100 customers, who paid $100 and gave up their old gas mowers -- which were passed on to the EPA for study.

The new mowers can cut about a quarter acre in an hour before losing their charge. Then it takes another 24 hours for them to recharge.

Other utilities that have done similar distributions have gotten glowing reports from participants.

The Potomac Electric Power Co. of Washington said 80 percent of the 300 people in its 1993 study preferred the new electric to the old gas mower.

A group of utilities in New England have also reported similar results.

BGE did not conduct formal follow-ups with the new owners of the electric mowers. But some of the participants said they liked the new machines, but they needed more power.

"It's much quieter, but it's less powerful," said Raymond L. Shipp, an auditor with the state government who lives in Catonsville.

He finds he has to mow twice a week during the spring to prevent the mower from having problems. "My wife says I'm obsessed with it," Mr. Shipp said.

Joseph P. Burns, the executive vice president of a medical trade association who lives in Laurel, still uses a spare gas mower about 66 percent of the time. "I'm not as prone to mowing the grass as often as I should," he said.

"The technology is not ready to compete with gasoline power mowers," Mr. Burns said, even though he said he has had a "good experience" with the electric mower.

These problems have not gone unnoticed at Black & Decker.

The company this February came out with new models that have more powerful batteries, allowing them to use mulching blades, according to David L. Myers, the company's group product manager for the mowers. So now instead of spraying the grass off to the side, the new mowers chew it up and drop it back down into the grass. The company has also redone the side bags so they fit more snugly.

The price also has come down from $500 to between $299 and $369 -- which is still about twice the cost of a gas mower.

Even though it still occupies a minuscule part of the $1.5 billion mower market, Black & Decker sales have more than doubled so far this year, Mr. Myers said. He expects the power problem to lessen as more powerful batteries are introduced. Likewise, price will drop as more are sold.

"Cordless is explosive" in its growth potential, Mr. Myers said.

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