Should 'obnoxious' leaf blowing have limits?

Leaf blowers are coming under new scrutiny at London city hall as the pandemic forces more people work from home during prime lawn care hours.

For those who work at home during the pandemic, it's a noise that can be inescapable

Should leaf blowers have limits?

2 years ago
Duration 1:46
Bruce Morton is a London, Ont., resident who wants to start a community conversation around leaf blowers, a power tool that he calls 'obnoxious' because it pollutes our air as well as our ears.

For Bruce Morton, who's working from his home in London's Sherwood Forest area during the pandemic, leaf blowers are a nuisance he can't seem to escape. 

"It's obnoxious."

"It's really hard when your kids are at home, trying to stay focused on stuff and you're trying to do a Zoom meeting and then you've got to grab your whole thing and go down to the basement."

"It's not just bothersome, it's stress-inducing."

Morton has requested a chance to speak to city councillors Tuesday at the Community and Protective Services Committee about limiting the use of leaf blowers in London. 

Favoured by landscapers as a cheap and easy way to clear yards of grass clippings, leaves and other debris without breaking a sweat, leaf blowers have become a common tool in the lawn care business. 

Study suggests leaf blowers kick up dust, rodent dung

A worker in protective gear uses a leaf blower in Ottawa during the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Thanks to the pandemic, many homes have become offices, putting more people at home during prime lawn care hours. 

London's bylaw enforcement department told CBC News Monday that it's not clear whether complaints specific to leaf blowers are up or not, since lawn maintenance noise complaints aren't coded separately. 

Bylaw officers investigated 491 complaints about general lawn maintenance noise last year compared to 475 in 2019 and 477 in 2018. 

Leaf blowers big polluters for their size

Meantime, data from the New York State Department of Environment and Conservation, breaks down noise levels associated with leaf blowers. At 105 decibels, they produce as much noise as a table saw. 

Leaf blowers also pollute on a larger scale than one might expect for their size. A 2016 study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggests running a gas-powered leaf blower for just one hour emits carbon monoxide equivalent to a 2016 automobile running for over eight hours. 

There are about 2.5 million leaf blowers in use in Canada, and more than 130 million in the U.S. (Brady Lane/Marshfield News-Herald/Associated Press)

It's why Morton said he wants to start a public conversation around leaf blowers. The City of London declared a climate emergency in 2019 and reducing the use of, or banning leaf blowers altogether would be more in line with what the city is trying to accomplish when it comes to reducing the community's overall carbon footprint.

"I see this as a great opportunity to start a dialogue around gas-powered equipment and lawn care and the place I want to start is leaf blowers."

"There are more sustainable alternatives that don't end up causing as much noise that a gas-powered instrument creates."

Morton said he's sympathetic to lawn care companies, some of which have invested a lot of money in gas-powered leaf blowers and he's hoping the conversation around their future will involve the perspective of local lawn care businesses. 

'Inappropriate' use is the problem, industry says

CBC News reached out to several city lawn care companies, who did not return the request for comment by publication time. 

A leaf blower at work in downtown Ottawa during an unseasonably warm spell in early November 2020. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Included in the city hall agenda for Tuesday's meeting where Morton's request will be discussed was a letter from Landscape Ontario, the association representing horticultural trades in the province. 

"It is the inappropriate use of leaf blowers that are the problem," the organization's executive director Tony DiGiovanni wrote in the letter to city councillors dated May 6. 

DiGiovanni wrote that Landscape Ontario and Geenius, a London, Ont.,-based company had produced a training video that teaches professionals how to use leaf blowers properly. 

He also noted Stihl and Echo, two of the largest leaf blower manufacturers, assemble the power tools in London and should be included in any discussion about potentially limiting their use. 

"I predict the issue will be solved within the next five years because manufacturers are continually improving their products," he wrote. 

The industry also saves up a third of its labour costs through using leafblowers, DiGiovanni wrote, suggesting that if the tools were ever banned, the lawn care companies and the manufacturers that build the tools would both be affected financially. 

While an outright ban of leaf blowers isn't currently on the table at London city hall, other communities have banned the tools because of their ear-splitting noise and concerns over emissions.