[OPINION] “Get Off My Lawn!”

Tommy Greenwald grew up in Westport. He’s still here.

The 1979 Staples High School graduate/Broadway advertising executive/children’s book author has seen it all.

Unfortunately, he’s heard it all too. Tommy writes:

No doubt about it, I spend way too much time whining about the cars that are getting bigger and bigger, the Halloween decorations that are getting excessiver and excessiver,  and traffic that is getting insaner and insaner.

But today, I’m talking about something much more down to earth.

Leaf blowers.

They’ve taken over Westport. Am I right?

It doesn’t matter if I’m going for my morning run (make that “jog”) (actually, make that “glorified stroll”) around Cob Drive, walking the dog up Blue Ribbon, or visiting a friend on Juniper Road. You can’t escape these infernal beasts. They are literally everywhere, every day. And somehow, some way, they’re just getting louder and LOUDER and LOUDER.

I’ve hated the damn things for years. Sometimes irrationally, I admit. I’ve been known to yell and scream way out of proportion when that unmistakable, jet engine-like cacophony touches down in our neighborhood. And when I do, most people (I’m looking at you, Cathy Utz) roll their eyes at me.

So for the most part, I’ve learned to hold my tongue. It’s hardly the most pressing issue in the world these days, right?

Well, as it turns out, not so right.

As Margaret Renkl points out in a recent New York Times piece (which has the beautiful title “The First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All The Leaf Blowers“), it’s not just a matter of noise pollution, as wildly maddening as that is.

It also turns out that leaf-blowers are an environmental violation in the extreme.

Did you know that running a leaf blower for a half hour is worse than driving a truck from Alaska to Texas? I certainly didn’t, until Ms. Renkl pointed it out.

These gas-and-oil-powered backpacks from hell also endanger a whole ecosystem of fauna and flora that live among our grasses. And before you plead concern for the landscapers who run the machines — and I understand that, believe me — it might interest you to know that those who handle leaf blowers regularly are subject to an increased risk of lung cancer, asthma, cardiovascular disease, premature birth and other life-threatening conditions.

Noisy. And very, very unhealthy.

There are many remedies to this curse. The first, of course, is to let sleeping leaves lie, or mulch them with your (battery-powered) lawn mower — according to Renkl, “the ideal fertilizer for a lawn is a tree’s own fallen leaves.”

But for those who can’t sleep at night if there is so much as one leaf soiling their stunning green lawn, the good news is: There are newer, safer, and quieter technologies on the market. That’s good news for both the earth, and her residents.

We’re coming up on an important election here in Westport. I, for one, would love to know where Jonathan Steinberg, Jen Tooker and TJ Elgin stand on the issue of leaf blowers. It is way past time to ban, or at the very least, heavily regulate these “monsters” (Renkl’s word, not mine) ASAP.

I don’t deny having become one of those proverbial crabby old guys who yell, “Get off my lawn!” But when it comes to leaf blowers, I hope all Westporters join me in yelling, “Get off our lawns!”

58 responses to “[OPINION] “Get Off My Lawn!”

  1. Bruce Fernie - SHS 1970

    Outlaw the gas powered blowers and require all lawns to be managed with acoustical leaf removing devices…
    we used to call them RAKES.
    It will cost everybody a bit more in labor but the peace and quiet will be worth it.

    • Typical Liberal Westporters. It’s like a mini California. You guys are definitely nuts. C’mon man

  2. With you 100 percent! (And let’s not talk about sipping coffee quietly on the porch early Saturday mornings until…. Ugh!)

  3. Actually there are effective, much quieter, battery-powered blowers now available. Also a new regulation about the beasts is working its way through the RTM. But they are SO loud, we’d need a similar reg in Norwalk, Wilton, Weston and Fairfield to be rid of the noise. More data here (cited in NYT): https://fallows.substack.com/p/gas-powered-leaf-blowers-the-end

  4. Love Tommy and Cathy Greenwald!! Best neighbors. And yes, he really does have this aversion to noise ☺️

  5. I second Tommy’s motion.

    You’re right to be concerned about the health of everyone in the proximity of gas powered leaf blowers… we should prioritize the health of those who work on our land whether they are employed by the town or private contractors.

    If we also consider the plight of those who are assaulted by the noise and pollution in their own homes: those who work at home, those folks needing to recuperate from operations or illnesses in a peaceful environment, and our children whose exposure to pollution could lead to life long asthma… we’d pass the regulation being considered by the RTM Environment Committee.

    I have had too many Thanksgivings ruined by the constant and persuasive din of gas powered leaf blowers that—well, gee, Tommy, I’M MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE.

  6. I remember when we used to rake the leaves up to the edge of the road, and then burn them. When that was banned, the miracle invention came along- the leaf blower!

  7. Julie Van Norden

    Couldn’t agree more!

  8. David J. Loffredo

    How has Dyson not invented a superior electric option yet? Or ask Elon to do it.

  9. michael brennecke

    I am possibly the only resident around here who doesn’t use a lawn service. I would be happier if there was a schedule which limited the audio assault to a single day of the week for any particular area. Instead, they seem to be somewhere nearby almost every day. Those monster triple lawnmowers are just as loud as the leaf blowers. And just like motorcycles, I know that they can be made much quieter. Mufflers work really well. And Tesla should take a look at the lawn care industry.

  10. Tommy, if you succeed in your quest, I guarantee you there will be a celebration on Main Street that will look just like this: https://youtu.be/mkhrUM35CQo

  11. Valerie Seiling Jacobs

    Did you know that Westport has the highest levels of ozone in CT? Or that last summer, we exceeded the EPA’s maximum on 12 days–and on 5 of those days we were about 30% higher than the max? Gas blowers produce huge amounts of ozone and fine particulates, both of which are dangerous to public health, esp. for older adults, children, and those with pulmonary problems. According to the American Lung Association, ozone and fine particulates are linked to cardiovascular damage and developmental and reproductive harm and particle pollution can also cause lung cancer. New research links air pollution to the development of asthma and dementia.The proposed ordinance is reasonable: people can still use battery blowers year round and they can still use gas blowers for big cleanups. But Westporters (and workers!) will get a break all summer from the noise and fumes. It’s time for Westport to join the 200 towns around the country that have come to their senses about these machines. (For more information, email me at valerieseilingjacobs@gmail.com)

    • Agree- and as usual, I will comment on the number of people who sit in their vehicles with the motor running! Asking lawn services to switch over to cleaner equipment is a big ask….but where there’s a will, there’s a way.

  12. Ban the gas. Rake the leaves or leave the leaves. Test the electric. Time to move on from gas leaf blowers. Regulate this for the common good.

  13. Carol Buffinton

    I wholeheartedly agree! The noise is unbearable and the pollution unacceptable.

  14. For a town that projects a green image, Westport is behind the times on this issue. This issue is MUCH bigger than straws or plastic bags. It is time to act. Ban the gas blowers! Rake or electric, or just mulch the leaves in place.

  15. Tommy makes a lot of good points here, especially the on about his stroll versus jog. I was “involved” for 13 years with the leading manufacturer of small gas engines. We worked very hard at transitioning the industry from gas to battery before having to file for Chapter 11 (yes, technology transformation is hard and affects many). The process of regulating gas blowers is not a new one. California, of course, has led the way. The most followed track is to 1) begin with shortened and clear times that they can be used and not used (making this more restrictive over time is okay) 2) encourage the use of battery powered blowers (residents can push this among their lawn service providers 3) create a timeline (two years) for full ban. This process allows for all of the stakeholders to change habits and equipment. This is the same process (consistent, habit forming, goal oriented) that maybe can get Tommy from strolling to running the annual Turkey Trot.

  16. I ditched my gas Leaf blower two years ago .. Now I own two versions of battery powered units .. A DeWalt 20 volt unit and newer 56 volt Ego blower … They work Fine for me .. The Technology with Battery powered equipment is getting Better and Better these days …

  17. Adrian J LIttle

    Well here’s an idea – find the political will and compromise and just ban them as did the City of Naples FL

    https://www.naplesgov.com/sites/default/files/fileattachments/parks_and_recreation/page/44261/noise_ordinance_amendment_-_leaf_blowers.pdf

    Let this be one of the first items on the agenda for the incoming First Selectperson!

  18. Donald Bergmann

    I am so delighted with all the supportive responses. The RTM is trying to address this issue, a sensible ordinance will be up for a vote very soon. There are some RTM members who have concerns about the Ordinance but, upon examination. the points appear to me to be narrow and miss the point and the bigger picture. Please e mail your RTM Representatives to vote in favor of the proposed ordinance.

  19. Stephen Axthelm

    Wait a minute.. this sounds like another extreme example of the libs’ governmental overreach! You’re trying to takeaway my freedom! Noise is a beautiful thing and good for us otherwise God wouldn’t have made thunder would He of! And I heard that radical lefties are secretly spreading the poison particulates, funded by Soros, so they can blame it on oil and force us all to put panels on our roof that the government will use to control our thoughts!

  20. I totally agree Tom. We can’t escape the noise and it’s maddening after awhile. Also, I didn’t know how detrimental they are for the environment. Unacceptable.

    • This is a good example of a well-thought out process to get to the right place…that takes into consideration all stakeholders.

    • John, the California legislation is not law yet and will likely be challenged (and changed) before it is law.

      But it’s a step in the right direction.

      As one who does my own lawn work, I see this in a couple of ways:

      1) Noise. Agreed that leaf blowers make noise. So do lawn mowers, chain saws, jackhammers, power saws and many other pieces of equipment that are in our neighborhoods every day.

      2) Pollution. Also agreed that small engines, especially two-stroke engines that combine and burn oil that’s in the gasoline, pollute more than four-stroke fuel injected engines of the same displacement. But two-stroke engines are in week whackers, chain saws, hedge trimmers and other common machinery. If we are looking at pollution, we should look at ALL two-stroke powered machines.

      Along the same lines as pollution, I’ve used plug-in tools for years. They’re great. Good power, run all day, inexpensive. The problem is the cord. Batteries kind of address this. Power is almost to that of a corded tool. But don’t forget the waste that goes along with disposing of a battery. We as a nation and world have not seriously looked at what is going to happen to all of the batteries from tools and cars that last a few years and are then discarded. Batteries have nasty (toxic) and sometimes rare chemicals and components in them. Batteries may be “clean” to the consumer, but not necessarily for the environment.

      My point is that it’s not as simple as saying “ban leaf blowers.” It’s a far bigger issue than that.

  21. Linda Montecalvo

    And….. the most significant argument against leaf blowers, the variety used by landscapers is run on gasoline so the users are directly breathing in these flues all day long. I’d be willing to bet that their employers have not explained the potential health issues associated. And what about the widespread public health ramifications? We need to rethink our approach to keeping well trimmed lawns & removing every spec of leaf!! Makes no sense.

  22. We are a society that is overcome by machines many of which only satisfy the users attachment to them to the point of unproductive dependence.

  23. While we’re on the topic of air pollution, am I the only Westport resident who thinks fire pits are out of control? We can’t burn leaves (not that I would want to) but we can have huge wood-burning fires in our backyards!! As a homeowner without central air, I can’t tell you how many summer nights we’ve sweltered because we had to shut our windows thanks to all the neighboring fire pits!! Not very eco or neighbor friendly!!

  24. Nancy Dodderidge

    I agree 100%. I would support a ban.

    • Battery powered leaf blowers are the future just as battery powered cars are the future! Upgrading is the answer to keep people in their jobs. Also, I’m not sure a court challenge could be upheld too. Shall we ban all motorized lawn mowers next?

  25. I care for my own lawn and enjoy doing it. I use a an electric leaf blower and a gas powered mower. Sure, it’s a little bit of noise for a short time once per week in the season (takes me about an hour). I’d be disinclined to have a limitation or worse yet a “ban” on this. I believe one can be a good neighbor and responsible citizen without oversight.

  26. You people are nut

  27. I am hesitant to support this movement because it will take food out of the mouths of the people who are doing the work. I agree it is noisy and dirty. Why doesn’t the town offer some sort of subsidy to help the landscapers upgrade their equipment. Also, why doesn’t the town set an example and make sure their landscapers use battery powered equipment to clean the golf course, fields, school properties etc?

    • Naomi, why don’t the LAWN OWNERS subsidize their landscapers’ upgrades by allowing an upcharge…starting this fall.?

      • I agree that it seems reasonable to have the lawn owners each pay subsidies to their lawn care companies. A modest surcharge would cover the landscapers’ upfront cost of switching to the electric blowers. I have read that the investment pays for itself in about two years, because the gas blowers are more expensive to operate.

        • Alice, I hear the same claim about gas blowers being more expensive to operate. Please find the source before posting this. Speaking from my own personal experience of using my own tools, which include a lawn mower, leaf blower and chain saw for my property, about the only maintenance I have is a couple of gallons of gasoline per year and the occasional oil for lubrication. Note that a typical rechargeable battery for a tool lasts maybe two years and costs more between $100 and $150 each. Some tools, such as lawnmowers, use TWO batteries in order to provide sufficient power. From my experience, gasoline powered tools cost less to operate than battery powered ones.

          Note that I’m not against electric tools. I have plenty of them. I just want to ensure we discuss the matter based on facts rather than rumors and that we look at all of the components and ramifications before making a decision, must less passing legislation.

          • Mark, sorry for my delayed reply. I had to track down the facts as you suggested. The battery-powered blowers are indeed more efficient to operate. This data may differ from your own experience as it is based on landscaper not homeowner use: The American Green Zone Alliance, which is an organization that helps landscapers, municipalities, and others transition to greener equipment, calculates that the operating cost of a battery-powered backpack blower is 24 cents per hour, versus $1.25 per hour for a gas-powered backpack blower, resulting in an annual saving in operating costs of more than $450 per blower.

  28. I agree with those who worry about the tremendous damage these gas powered leaf blowers can inflict on the environment and our health. For all who wish to understand the issues better, as well as the proposed ordinance that would limit their use, please put Nov. 8 at 7p.m. on your calendars, and come with your questions to the panel discussion at Wakeman Town Farm. Register to attend via the link at wakemantownfarm.org

  29. Please please let’s get rid of these awful leaf blowers. If you live in an are where the houses are close together, as we do, it’s a constant nightmare. People come to visit us and they can’t believe the noise pollution. Today they started at 7:00am. It’s daily around here. We never used leaf blowers ourselves, but a few months ago, we hired a new person to cut our lawn. He finished the job by using a leaf blower everywhere. When he came up next to the house to blow off our patio, all the exhaust from the machine blew in through our open doors and windows, filling the whole house with smoke and setting off all our smoke alarms! What a nightmare it was!! We told him no more leafblowing. FYI I recently passed a landscaping company who was using large electric leaf blowers. They are bit quieter and a definite improvement but still make a good amount of noise. I asked if they knew how much their machines cost, and they told me $1K-2K. I just really wonder about having to use these things at all. That company name is Pyoor Lawn Care if anyone is interested in a service that uses electric blowers.

  30. Valerie Ann Leff

    I absolutely support a full ban. There is not a day during the summer that someone on my street isn’t roaring away. I like having people over outdoors, especially during COVID, and I never know when the noise level will get so obnoxious and the air noxious.

    Commercial and noncommercial gardeners will figure out how to garden without these horrible machines. They may even need to buy the electric trucks now available so they can recharge their electric blowers during the day, and that will be another great benefit to our lives in Westport and to the world.

  31. Took us all a while to switch over from plastic bags, but we did it. And so did many surrounding towns. I don’t think subsidies would necessarily be needed if it was a phased process allowing them to replace their equipment over a given time, with clear deadlines. If a business gets it done at an earlier incentivised date they could get a rebate or some other discount. Make it fair and painless as possible, but needs to happen.

  32. I’ve been surrounded by varying projects of construction by different neighbors for almost 7 years now. Seems like a never ending symphony of back hoes, dump trucks, and of course, hammering and nail guns in action from sun up to sun down. Can we please ban outside construction and eliminate all this noise? Or at least mandate the use of rubber hammers and plastic nails. ( A little tongue in cheek)

  33. Well, I guess I’ll add to this. When I was a kid I mowed lawns all over Westport with the owners’ push mowers. I made lots of money and went to New York to buy Asian antiques! What do kids do for money these days? Because the lawn business has been taken over by teams of guys who arrive with a four-wheeled trailer full of powered mowers, cutters, whackers, and blowers. The noise really was one of the reasons I left Westport. It’s also barbaric to mow your lawn so low – like an Army crewcut. Five inch grass is beautiful when it’s even. I have a battery mower that is far more powerful than I expected, but quiet and even fun to start with a push button.

  34. I, too, would love to hear how Jonathan Steinberg, Jen Tooker and TJ Elgin stand on this issue. I have tried to find out with no success (no response to my emails). If you hear anything, please pass it on!

  35. While we’re at it, how about better mufflers on lawn mowers? Does a 5hp mower really need to be multiple times louder and cause far more pollution than any ten cars on the road? And while I’m on my soapbox, why do the “righties” always call anyone who wants clean the environment or believes in climate change a “lefty”? There is more to politics (and life) than just supporting nothing other than the mantra of “less taxes and more guns”!

  36. Hope okay to say this but the worst offenders are the landscaping guys. All their work is with power equipment and they send 2 and 3 guys to leaf blow the same area. They refuse to use rakes and I see that they will spend time trying to move small amount of leaves in a corner because they will not bend down and pick up with their hands or rake. They blow the leaves in one place and the other guy blows the same leaves elsewhere! Incredible toxic fumes after they leave. Homeowners seem to use rakes as well as blowers.

  37. Jonathan Steinberg

    The Steinberg Savin campaign is glad to respond.

    I’ve been involved with the efforts to limit gas blowers and shift to electric for about a year, working with Valerie Seiling Jacobs, Kristin Schneeman and others to prepare the proposed ordinance for consideration by the RTM.

    So, yes, I’m a supporter of the cause and hope we’ll eventually institute some limits and perhaps incentivize a transition to all electric.

    — Jonathan Steinberg

    • Valerie Seiling Jacobs

      As one of the leaders of this movement, I can attest that Mr. Steinberg has supported a leaf blower ordinance for years–he even helped obtain clarification from Hartford that the town has the power to regulate this type of noise. Bravo!

  38. Referendum/write in your vote to abolish gasoline powered blowers! Citizens act on November 2.

  39. I would vote that every household in the new Hiawatha development be furnished with a gasoline powered leaf blower,.subsidized by the fine, upstanding, ‘woke’ citizens of Westport.

  40. KATHRYN E OREARDON

    Get off our planet!

  41. Absolutely 💯 agree 👍

  42. Matthew Raymond Doering

    To all the whiners that can’t handle the sound of a leaf blower. I hope a Dodge Charger Hellcat moves in next door and leaves for work early. Get a life

  43. I couldn’t agree more. They are all obnoxious.
    Their owner’s appear mesmerized by them
    Hi about a good arm workout with a rake instead?
    That way the leaf blower owners can save money two ways: drop their gym membership because they get rake exercise.
    And.
    Sell the blasted contraption.

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