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Cheap Leaf Blowers Buying Guide

Toro, Black & Decker, Craftsman, and Weed Eater dominate this market, but there are other worthy players, as well. We researched cheap electric and gas leaf blowers and identified several in each category that stand up to scrutiny.

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The best electric leaf blowers we found are the Toro 51609 Ultra (starting at $70) and Worx Trivac WG500 (starting at $88). These are both corded models; battery-powered cordless leaf blowers are generally less powerful and more expensive. Among gas leaf blowers, our top picks are the Hitachi RB24EAP (starting at $139) and Weed Eater FB25 (starting at $80). Two leaf blowers that disappoint are the gas-powered Ryobi RY09056 (starting at $99) and the electric Sun Joe SBJ604E (starting at $77).

The choice of gas vs. electric depends largely on your yard-maintenance needs and the size of your property. If you'll be clearing an area whose borders are within reach of a power source (usually about 100 feet), electric leaf blowers are typically lighter, less loud, and less costly than gas models. They start without the hassle of pulling on a cord and don't give off fumes. Most also vacuum and mulch leaves and other organic debris (occasionally small pebbles, too). On the downside, you must manage the power cord, which can be challenging if there are lots of obstructions.

If you need to clear layers of leaves, pinecones, and thick twigs off a broad swath of territory, a gas leaf blower is the way to go. Gas-powered models generally carry heftier price tags than electric but pack more of a punch and have no cord to confine your range. That said, gas leaf blowers are messier (you must mix gasoline and oil in the proper proportions and keep up with maintenance); starting the machine requires effort (and it may be temperamental); controlling the speed takes some practice; the cost of fuel and oil is ongoing; and you must be extra cautious about keeping flammable material around.

Before buying a leaf blower of any type, make sure local municipal ordinances permit them. Several communities -- particularly in California, which maintains strict emissions standards -- ban gas-powered leaf blowers. Others restrict or prohibit leaf blowers because of noise or limit their use to certain parts of the year.

A final note of caution: Leaf blowers, and gas leaf blowers in particular, are noisy enough to cause hearing loss, so wear ear protection. It's also a good idea to wear goggles and a mask as defenses against dust and pollutants, such as bird droppings and chemicals, that get blown around along with the leaves. And always remember to keep other people and pets away in case debris flies in their direction.

What We Looked for in the Specs

Light Weight.

Consumers want a machine that will be comfortable to carry. After all, the primary goal of using a leaf blower instead of a rake is to make wrangling leaves less physically demanding. Electric leaf blowers are generally lighter than their gas counterparts, even before factoring in the weight of a full fuel tank. That said, the heaviest leaf blower we researched is an electric model, the Sun Joe SBJ604E, which weighs in at 11.7 pounds. Compare that with our pick for the best cheap electric blower, the Toro 51609 Ultra, which weighs just 7.5 pounds.

Multiple Speeds.

Some budget leaf blowers operate at a single speed, while others feature multiple speed settings or a variable throttle. The advantage of multiple speeds is greater control over how much air shoots out of the nozzle and how quickly. Certain speeds are better for certain jobs: lower for working around delicate plants or landscaping, for example, and higher for moving large twigs, stones, wet leaves, and piles of mulch. The Worx Trivac WG500 is the one model on our list with only one speed, but it does have an airflow regulator, which offers some measure of control.

Vacuuming/Mulching Capability.

Many leaf blowers, including all the electric models we researched, are three-in-one machines that vacuum and mulch in addition to blowing leaves. In vacuum/mulch mode, the debris is suctioned through a fan-like impeller and collected in a bag with a shoulder strap (or out through a hose leading to a collection bin). The shredded organic material can be used as natural mulch around the yard. Vacuuming/mulching capability is comparatively rare among cheap gas leaf blowers; the Ryobi RY09056 is one example. Most blower vacs come with additional components, such as a dedicated vacuum tube with a large, round opening better suited to the task than a flatter nozzle designed for blowing.

Cheap blower vacs generally feature a mulching ratio of at least 10:1, which means a pass through the impeller reduces 10 bushels of leaves to one bushel of mulch. The higher the ratio, the less often the bag must be emptied. Vacuum bags tend to hold one or one and a half bushels. Our top pick among electric leaf blowers, the Toro 51609, boasts a 16:1 mulching ratio.

Low Noise Level.

Leaf blowers are loud enough to affect the operator's hearing and offend neighbors, even where their use is legal. Most communities with noise ordinances set a limit of 70 decibels (the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse maintains a library of related laws). Manufacturers measure the decibel levels of leaf blowers from 50 feet away, so they will be much louder to you, making ear protection vital. Most electric blowers come in under 70 dBA; the quietest we researched is the Worx TriVac WG500 at 63 dBA. By contrast, our top pick in the gas leaf blower category, the Hitachi RB24EAP, emits up to 107 dBA, although some users assert it isn't as loud as feared.

by Louis DeNicola (Google+ Profile)

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