The RTM of the Town of Greenwich, the town's legislative body, is expected to pass a new noise reduction ordinance at its meeting this coming Tuesday, January 16, 2024. This decision should be postponed because there are many problems associated with the current proposed regulations and all impacts have not yet been researched and addressed.
Many people, especially those with lots of neighbors, suffer from noise pollution in part coming from backpack blowers during the summer months. For those who work at home and participate in Zoom meetings, without the use of headphones, the noise is disruptive.
However, when you compare the Stihl battery powered backpack blower BGA300 with their lightest most powerful 4-stroke gas powered backpack blower the BR800 X Magnum, the electric blower produces 59 decibels of noise compared to the gas blower which produces 78 decibels. The noise reduction between electric and gas is 19 decibels. This is not an even comparison as the gas blower is more powerful and can clear the property in less time. A homeowner electric handheld blower, the EGO Power+ 670 CFM a handheld electric leaf blower, has a noise level of 64 dB is legally permitted under the proposed regulations even though it's much louder than the commercial Stihl BGA300.
The blowing force of the electric blower is 26 newtons with a maximum velocity of 192mph while the gas blower has a blowing force of 41 newtons and a maximum velocity of 239mph. The gas blower has 1.577 times the blowing force of the electric blower and 1.245 faster blowing speed in mph. This means that although the gas blower is noisier by 19 decibels, it can do the job in approximately 2/3rds of the time.
In terms of weight, the electric blower with battery weighs 37.9 pounds compared to the gas blower which weighs 23.1 pounds. This is a 14.8 pound difference in weight. Landscapers and their employees who are working all day with much heavier electric blower are at greater risk of back injury including disc compression. This will lead to a higher rate of back injuries, some permanent, with the electric blowers.
Some workers, because of the increased risk, will not take the job. Landscapers will likely face higher Workers Compensation Insurance rates that they will pass onto customers, something which has not been factored into the discussions, nor has the additional time it will take to clean a lawn with gas-powered lawn equipment.
The safety recommendation for regular backpacks is 15-20% of body weight. However, because landscapers often work on irregular terrain, there might be even greater risk of injury to workers' backs and especially their knees. Electric backpack blowers probably weigh more than the recommended safety limit for the average landscaping employee.
The final problem with the electric blowers relates to costs and battery charging. The BGA300 blower costs $700 plus the cost of two batteries which each last 2 hours and 20 minutes max at $1,300 each and a charger at $180 for a total of $3,480. Only one charger can be placed on a 15-amp line meaning that the landscaper would need one independent 15-amp circuit breaker per battery. With higher amperage, more could be charged per line. Since most equipment is stored in non-electrified sheds, the batteries would need to be charged elsewhere. Is under 5 hours of battery power, even under the best conditions, enough power to last for a whole day’s work? For some landscapers, the costs of compliance will be too high and they will be forced to leave the business.
Landscapers predict that the monthly fee for landscaping will increase by 40% if the new noise regulations are implemented.
The transition to electric backpack blowers, will not yield the expected results. Lawn-care will take longer at a lower noise level which is not necessarily an improvement. Costs will rise by 40%. Lawn care workers will be placed at higher risk of temporary and permanent back injuries. There are lots of logistic problems with transitioning to electric blowers. In the end is this all worth a 19 decibel reduction in maximum noise level which will be experienced at longer times as the battery powered blowers will be used for longer duration to do the same task as a gas powered blower?
Also, the batteries must be cool before charging and lithium ion batteries have been subject to recent spontaneous fires. If they have to be charged in the field, the landscaper will also need even more spare batteries because of the cooling time delay.
I believe that the RTM should do its diligence, take all factors into consideration including the issues raised in this article, publicize the results, and then hold open public hearings prior to making a decision how to address the noise issue in Greenwich. A poorly thought out ordinance that does not take into consideration all of the pros and cons will result in premature legislation which will cause issues well beyond the gain of quieter lawn equipment. Such potential consequences could become town or homeowner liabilities by directing landscapers and their employees how to do their jobs in a way that causes greater physical harm, and under OSHA, such landscapers my have to add additional breaks due to the increased strain which further reduces liability.
In addition, with this door to noise ordinance and manner of how one must conduct their business operations, as far fetched as it may seem, these policies could find their ways into other businesses like hair salons as hair dryers operate at 80-90 decibels which is lower than a vacuum but on par with most blenders.