Updated on 09.28.11

Saving Pennies or Dollars? Electric and Gas Lawnmowing

Trent Hamm

saving pennies or dollarsSaving Pennies or Dollars is a new semi-regular series on The Simple Dollar, inspired by a great discussion on The Simple Dollar’s Facebook page concerning frugal tactics that might not really save that much money. I’m going to take some of the scenarios described by the readers there and try to break down the numbers to see if the savings is really worth the time invested.

Matthew writes in: Electric vs gas lawnmowing

This is an interesting issue because one of our neighbors uses an electric lawnmower for her yard. We use a gas mower. Thus, for these calculations, I looked at data for several different electric mowers and used numbers from our own mower for comparison.

Initial cost The initial cost of electric and gas mowers both vary widely for various reasons, usually related to engine size and the width of the mower. Generally, gas-powered mowers seem to be about $50 less expensive for comparable features.

Cost per mowing A typical electric mower can mow about a third of an acre with a single charge. A typical pushed electric mower requires about 3.5 kilowatts to recharge, and with an electriciy rate of about $0.11 per kilowatt hour, that’s about $0.38 per recharge.

As with electric mowers, there’s some variability in gas mowers. Our push mower is pretty typical. We can mow about half an acre on a single tank, and our tank is about 2/3 gallon. At a price of $3.50 per gallon, that’s about $2.35 for a single mowing.

Per acre, you can use an electric mower for $1.04. You can use a gas mower for about $4.70. How much of an impact this has depends heavily on the size of your yard. The larger your yard, the more worthwhile the electric mower will be.

Time per recharge Here’s where the “catch” is with electric mowers. Once you’re out of charge, you have to spend 12 hours (or so) with the mower attached to an outlet in order to recharge the engine. On the other hand, if you run out of fuel with a gas-powered mower, you simply add more fuel and restart.

Of course, with some electric mowers, you do have the option of simply buying a replacement battery, keeping the replacement charged, and swapping batteries if one of them runs out. This requires a mower with a replaceable battery, the extra cost of the second battery, and the initiative to keep both batteries charged up.

Yes, there are also some mowers that actually stay plugged in as you mow, but the cord hassle with those mowers – and the fear of what might happen if I cut that cord – would keep me from ever owning one.

So, which is the better deal? From my perspective, if you have a tiny yard (0.1 acres or less), it’s going to take a very long time for the energy savings for the electric mower to catch up to the initial savings on the gas-powered mower. Similarly, if your yard is larger than a single charge of the electric mower than cover, the hassle probably won’t be worth it.

The sweet spot is when you have a yard that begins to approach the size that a fully charged electric mower can cover – say, 1/3 of an acre. You’re going to be using the mower enough that the savings on energy use will quickly add up over time and eventually overtake the initial extra cost of buying an electric mower.

Simply put, if you have a tiny yard (0.1 acres or less) or a big yard (much over 0.5 acres), a gas mower will save you money. Otherwise, an electric mower is probably the better deal.

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  1. George says:

    I had an electric cordless push mower when I lived on a 1/3 acre lot. Worked very well and I still have that mower, but it’s not of much use on the current 1 acre lot.

    Trent left replacement batteries out of his equation. You’ll need to replace the battery in a cordless mower after 5-7 years of use, sooner if you don’t treat it properly.

    And, on the other end of the spectrum, Trent left out the convenience factors in favor of an electric mower: they’re quiet, always start, and you never have to handle smelly gas/oil.

    If someone made a cordless electric RIDING mower, then I’d buy it for my acre.

  2. George says:

    And then I go to amazon and discover that there ARE electric riding mowers… oh joy! Something that might tempt me to part with $2k.

  3. Andrew says:

    I would have liked to have seen at least a small discussion of old-fashioned manual push mowers–very suitable for small yards,.

  4. Josh says:

    There are also push reel mowers that don’t require electricity or gas to run, and are actually quite easy to push. For most (smaller yards) they work just fine. All you need to do is sharpen the blades every now and then.

    Search amazon for push reel mower to see some examples.

  5. valleycat1 says:

    The typical lot size in the towns we’ve lived in (& those on our short list we may move to in the future) are a quarter acre or less.

    We have a corded electric mower & love it. George is correct re convenience, & we never see a huge difference in our electric bill using it. We’ve had it almost 16 years with no maintenance other than keeping the blades sharp. The cord is not a problem for us, as they’re designed to reduce the danger, though we do pay attention while mowing; it’s easy to avoid – basically you just start near the outlet & work your way outward.

    And there are always the purists who use a man-powered push mower instead.

  6. Jonathan says:

    Or you can use an electric lawn mower with a cord. It only took me couple of weeks to find an “optimal” path which kept the cord out of the way. No recharging and 100% power the entire time. No gas, no oil, no fumes.

  7. Laundry Lady says:

    As the owner of a small city yard, I am definitely on board with the non-motorized push mower. I consider it multi-tasking, exercise and yard maintenance. Plus the up front cost was quite low. We do have a electric week-whacker but also do some trimming with hand shears.

  8. Other Jonathan says:

    How powerful are these electric mowers? I was in charge of mowing our lawns all growing up (probably 15,000 sf of lawns) and we had a nice self-propelled Honda gas mower. In addition to mowing the grass, we would sometimes use it to pick up piles of leaves or even piles of small sticks, which it would chop up with ease. It seems unlikely that a battery-powered motor could match the horsepower needed for that.

    If I had a tiny patch of grass to mow, I would DEFINITELY opt for the electric mower – the gas mower is a hassle (you have to keep gas and oil around in cans, you have to yank the starter a bunch of times, you have to let it warm up, it’s noisy and hot and heavy…). I imagine a small, light-weight electric mower would be a huge convenience, even if it is slightly more expensive (and when you’re talking about a tool that you’ll use for many years, a $50 difference in cost is irrelevant to me).

  9. Des says:

    This seems rather biased. It is clear that the electric saves dollars, so then we have to invent reasons why it is a bad idea (worry about cords, when many many people use electric mowers without issue). We have three acres and use an electric weed whacker without issue. Never used an electric mower, but I love that we don’t have to drive down to a gas station every time we run out of gas. I would think that inconvenience would cancel out the cord concern.

  10. valleycat1 says:

    I don’t know about the battery-powered mowers, but the corded electric mows just like a gas one, & ours is self-propelled & easy to handle.

  11. jackie says:

    When I had a house, I used an electric mower with a cord. It wasn’t really a bother at all. Prior to that I had a reel push mower that was really really terrible and difficult to use. Part of that difficulty was because it was a very old mower (30 years old) and needed more TLC than I had time to give. Also, reel mowers are extremely difficult to use on longer grass. If I missed a week of mowing (rain, work later than daylight, vacation, work trip…) I’d have to borrow my neighbor’s mower to get the job done or use my weed wacker on the whole thing. I hated it!

  12. Fawn says:

    I would pay $50 extra over the life of a mower for the quiet, non-smelly mower, even if the per use costs were equal.

  13. Tamara says:

    I use a non-gas, non-electric push mower. That actually saves money.

  14. Maureen says:

    I have used the same corded electric mower for the last 20+ years. It cost about $100 back then. It really isn’t that hard to wrangle the cord. I did manage to run over the extension cord for the first time last year. I was running from an outlet with a ground fault interrupt so nothing dire happened. I did have to replace the cord. I think handling and storing combustibles is much more dangerous.

    Electric mowers are easy to start, quieter and can be used on ‘smog alert’ days when they ask homeowners not to run gas powered mowers.

  15. jim says:

    I have an electric black and decker rechargeable CMM1200 mower. I used a kill-a-watt meter to measure the power consumption to charge it. It takes about .25 kwH to recharge after a mowing so it costs me 3 cents to mow my lawn. My lawn is only about 1/20th of an acre so thats about 60 cents for an acre. We have a pretty typial suburban lot and its not a ‘big’ yard but I would not call it ‘tiny’.

    My mower will do 1/3 of an acre on a full charge. I assume thats bigger yard than most Americans have. If your yard is bigger than that then an electric mower may not work out for you.

    I used gas mowers the whole time I grew up and used all types, push, self propelled and rider. I mowed multiple lawns all summer in my teens.
    For my current home I first bought a electric mower with a cord. Now I have a cordless electric mower with the battery built in and no cord.

    In my experience the electric mowers are a lot more dependable. My first one lasted me 10+ years without any problems. I always had more problems with gas mowers breaking down and not starting. Electric mowers always start. Maybe my experince with gas mowers being undependable has changed over time but I doubt it.

    The cord with a corded electric can be a little bit of a hassle, but not much. you operate a vacuum cleaner? WEll.. there you go.

    Rechargeable mowers are significantly more expensive than the corded ones. The current B&D 19″ rechargeable retails for over $400. A corded mower should be closer to $150-200.

    I think the electric mowers do have less total power than a gas mower and high wet grass can bog down my electric mower to the point that it will lock up and not function. I don’t recall that being a problem with the gas mowers (but its been a long time).

    Gas mowers pollute the air worse than cars do.

  16. kristine says:

    Yeah, what kills me is when I see people pack up gear in the SUV they bought “to hold all the gear”, to go to the gym, or some other contrived expensive sport, then use a smelly loud gas powered mower, and then a high decibel leaf blower for hours in the fall (so futile!), then complain about how expensive everything is. Kill the membership, ride a bike to the corner store, and go manual- and save a small fortune! No gym fee, no gas fee, and more unbroken calm quiet time in the neighborhood! We mowed my grandma’s half acre of steep hill with a push mower for 10 years. I was fit as a fiddle! I wonder where that mower ended up-loved it!

  17. lurker carl says:

    One of my tenants used an electric push mower for years. It wasn’t strong enough to mow lush grass so they had to mow every few days instead of weekly. Even so, they preferred mowing more often to dealing with problematic gas mowers. It was a very small yard, it only took a few minutes to mow.

    I don’t know anyone who has cut a lawn using a manual reel mower for more than a few weeks. It is hard work and most lawns are not cut out for that style of mower. The grass can’t be too thick or too tall or weedy, the lawn surface can’t be rough or rocky or littered with sticks and debris, and the reel and cutting bar must be kept aligned and sharp. Reel mowers are very expensive to sharpen, provided you can find a shop that is still able to do it. That is why there are so many at yard sales and flea markets.

    I’ll keep my 30 year old commercial gas machine. I mow my yard and the yards of several neighbors unable to cut their own grass, over one acre total. No worries about batteries dying or tethering to non-existant outdoor electrical outlets. I remove the mower deck around Thanksgiving and hook up the snowblower attachment for winter fun.

  18. Fr33d0m says:

    Gee, I wonder if someone will one day invent a electric lawnmower without a battery?

  19. lurker carl says:

    Fr33d0m, they did. It’s called an electric mower. The one with a battery is called a rechargable or cordless electric mower.

  20. jim says:

    I agree with Lurker about the manual reel mowers. I’ve used a manual reel mower in the past too. I It was very hard work and I wouldn’t recommend it unless your yard is especially small and flat.

  21. Fr33d0m says:

    lurker carl, no kidding? Wow, I bet they stopped making them because they were super dangerous and killed hundreds and caused thousands to go crazy because of the extreme hassle of moving the cord around, yes?

  22. kristine says:

    Yes, the push mower is very hard work. But a great workout! Grandpa sharpened it himself every week or so, so it always cut clean. The trick to steep inclines is going side to side, following the contour of the hill, not up and down. And yeas, midsummer- 2x a week.

  23. SwingCheese says:

    @Lurker: I’ve used a manual push mower for two years now. And yes, in the summer, I have to mow 2 times a week – but I had to do that with a gas mower, too. It takes me about 45 minutes to do the front, back and side (when it’s nice – when it’s super hot and I’m moving more slowly, it takes about an hour). I count it as a workout, and I don’t plan to own a gas or electric mower ever.

  24. Maya says:

    I’ve also used a manual push mower for two years now. We mow every couple weeks or so. But then again we only water once a week in summer so the grass doesn’t grow as fast. The one species of fescue that sends out tall seed heads that the push mower can’t handle are really easy to weed whack (or clip); and we’re digging out those clumps anyway. The push mower doesn’t take significantly more time to use than a powered mower, and I think it is also easier to push than a non-propelled powered mower. It’s not really fair to compare it to a propelled mower.

  25. Josh says:

    It amazes me that people think it is hard to use a push reel mower on anything less than an acre. (Even more than that is really not that hard for anyone who cares about their health)

    Unfortunately, most of us have been led to believe that walking for anything more than a few minutes so strenuous we should be allowed to watch TV for the rest of our lives. What a sad world we live in.

  26. Barb says:

    I am totally on board with electric mowers. So quiet compared to gas engines, and so light too. I did have to purchase a special long extension cord, but it will last forever. No fussing with adding oil to a mix, no storing combustible (explosive!) gasoline. I like the idea of manual push-mowers but I just can’t hack the extra effort.
    Yes, you do need to take special care with the cord, but it doesn’t cost much effort.
    Bonus, the cord for the mower also powers my electric weed-eater! No need for hearing protection for me or my neighbors, although I do enjoy wearing my iPod while I mow.
    BTW, I could not find a good price locally for a low-end electric mower so I ended up buying one (with free shipping!) from Amazon.

  27. jim says:

    Maya said : “The push mower doesn’t take significantly more time to use than a powered mower, and I think it is also easier to push than a non-propelled powered mower.”

    Hmmm… I remember the reel mower I used being much harder to push than a regular gas (non propelled) mower. Maybe the one we had wasn’t a very good one.

    Josh, An acre? Thats 43000 sq ft. Lets say your mower is 2 feet wide. You’d have to walk 21,500 feet or about 4 miles to mow an acre. I think calling a 4 mile walk a ‘workout’ doesn’t qualify you as a lazy couch potatoe who is responsible for the downfall of society. (someone double check my math please)

  28. jim says:

    Another detail: The battery powered rechargeable mowers are noticeably heavier than the typical gas mower or electric corded mowers. My rechargeable is about 80 pounds versus 40-50 pounds for comparable size electric or gas. Pushing 80 pounds up an incline is harder than pushing 40 pounds uphill. (probably even for Josh too)

  29. deRuiter says:

    A sheep or two will keep those large yards mowed neatly. You can use a long chain with a swivel on a metal post which you hammer into the ground, and yes, you do have to move it twice a day. On the other hand, it looks great, operates quietly, pelletizes the grass into wonderful (non petroleum based) fertilizer and distributes the pellets on the lawn. When the lawn stops growing for winter you eat your lawn mower. Sometimes the old fashioned ways really are best!

  30. Tom says:

    For 1/10th of an acre, I think a corded electric is probably the best bet. Hard to find a gas mower for $150. They can’t operate efficiently more than 100 ft from a power source, but that’s not a problem with a lawn that small.
    We had a corded electric that had the handle flip over the engine so the cord always stayed to one side of the mower. That was a real convenient feature.
    Are rechargeable batteries smart enough not to drain electric when they’re fully charged? IE, if someone left their battery plugged in for days, is it wasting a significant amount of electric?

  31. Katie says:

    Unfortunately, most of us have been led to believe that walking for anything more than a few minutes so strenuous we should be allowed to watch TV for the rest of our lives. What a sad world we live in.

    Oh my God, could you be any more sanctimonious?

    More to the point, I bet there’s some household chore you don’t like either. Please, share, so we can all explain why it makes you responsible for all of society’s failing.

  32. Elizabeth says:

    I would have liked to have seen a discussion on reel mowers as well.
    On a flat suburban lot (avg size less than 1/4 acre) it takes my son 1 hr once a week to mow. and that includes lots of breaks and daisy picking.
    The environmental impact is minimal (cost of production) the lack of noise is wonderful and I never have to worry about whether it’s charged or gassed. The initial cost for a high quality reel mower is on avg $100 less than your cheapest mower.

  33. Johanna says:

    “Allowed” to watch TV? Who are you, my mother?

  34. Matt says:

    When I bought my mower a couple years ago, I wanted to buy a cordless electric one… but I couldn’t find one I was convinced would cut through my thick grass, hold enough of a charge to get me through my 1/3 acre without power fade, and last long enough to make it worth buying.
    I ended up with a gas-powered Toro, which I expect will last at least 10 years (if not 20). Yes, it uses gas… but I save way more gas by biking to work instead of driving than I use mowing my lawn.

  35. Ryan says:

    Unfortunately, most of us have been led to believe that walking for anything more than a few minutes so strenuous we should be allowed to watch TV for the rest of our lives. What a sad world we live in.

    If I want to go for a walk, I’ll go for an actual walk, (or run 50 miles a week like I did in high school) Push mowing a 4 acre yard would not be my idea of a good time.

  36. SLCCOM says:

    Umm, Trent, you don’t just put more gas in when the mower runs out of gas, I hope! It is crucial that you let the mower cool first so that you don’t find yourself engulfed in flaming gasoline. SO there is a waiting time when the gas mower runs out, but not as long as having to recharge a rechargable.

    Also, it is equally crucial that people spend the $30 or so for a gas can with a lid that automatically closes when your hand releases. Otherwise, once the fire starts, you burn the entire amount in the can. Those cheapo plastic gas cans are death traps.

  37. Lady D says:

    For the smallest yards, (0.25 acres or less), yes, the non-powered push mower is the best idea. Not for the larger yards though, or if you let the grass grow wild for too long…

    If my yard were any bigger than the 1/4 of an acre, I’d likely opt for the gas-powered mower…

    I’m not into the corded electric motor types at all, cord would just be in my way, and an irritant that I wouldn’t want to tolerate.

    Cordless electric, I could do – if my yard was small enough that it could be mowed on just one charge, or a bit less. However, I have the best of all worlds – apartment living with no responsibility for lawn mowing. The maintenance staff does that every Monday (unless there’s rain)…

  38. valleycat1 says:

    #37 Lady D – we live in the 2nd best of all worlds – xeriscaped the yard with ground cover instead of grass – we do have to water it (on automatic systems) and mow it down once a year, so it’s very low maintenance.

  39. Monique Rio says:

    I’ve had a manual push mower for 3 years. It works fine on my smallish yard.

    Granted, I live in a neighborhood where perfectly manicured lawns aren’t a requirement.

  40. Henry says:

    When I was a kid my father had an old fashioned electric lawnmower, the kind with a cord. I hated it with a passion. It was underpowered as well as miserably inconvenient to use in a yard with trees and a garden. In the process of running over the cord (more than once) I became rather adept at the art of splicing electrical cables.

    I noticed once I moved away from home, my father replaced it with a gasoline powered lawnmower.

    I have owned two cheap MTD push lawnmowers powered with 4 cycle Briggs and Stratton engines. They both lasted about 10 years, before ultimately succumbing to metal fatigue. You can’t kill a Briggs and Stratton engine with a hammer. I believe I only changed the oil on the second lawn mower one time during its life. I just added a little every now and then. It started until its dying day when the entire front wheel assembly broke off. Admittedly, it didn’t start very easily in its old age though both of them started easily for most of their life.

    Cheap push mowers use plastic wheel bushings rather than bearings. Therefore, the center of the wheels wallows out into an ellipse, sending the owner off on a scavenger hunt to the town lawnmower graveyard. Replacements could be found and purchased for a dollar or two if you were willing to take them off yourself.

    My current lawnmower is a self propelled top of the line Honda. After two years of service I pronounce it a thing of beauty. It is powerful enough to mulch even long wet grass. It starts on the first pull every time and can move faster than its owner.

  41. Joanna says:

    It seemed pretty clear from your math that the electric mower was significantly cheaper, then you said the gas mower was better anyway?

    Sure, the gas mower may save you time, such as when you have to recharge the electric and possibly mow the lawn a portion at a time rather than all at once. You probably don’t want a push more at all if your lawn is that big. It may save you a tiny bit of worry, about being careless with the cord, which is so easy to avoid.
    But it will NEVER save you money.

  42. SwingCheese says:

    @Jim #27: I have found a large variance in push reel mowers. Ours is easy to operate, and like a previous commenter, it doesn’t seem any more difficult than the memory I have of pushing my parents’ old gas mower around. A few years ago, though, my dad picked up an old reel mower, like the one he remembered my grandfather using as a kid. I asked to borrow it once when my mower needed some fixing up and man oh man, was that a godawful experience! It was heavy, hard to control, and stopped short on every little bump in the grass!! I gave it back to him and opted to wait and deal with long grass and raking up the yard rather than fight with that blasted mower any longer. So it really depends on the mower itself.

  43. lurker carl says:

    SwingCheese, I think you hit on the problem. It’s unfortunate that you aren’t able to test drive a reel mower, or any residential mower for that matter, before buying.

  44. Zach says:

    I use the old-fashioned reel mower on our smallish lot (quarter acre or so, maybe a bit less) and have done so for years. I do not have weeds, I do not water (in Texas!), and I can still bring it down if I miss a few weeks and the grass is a foot high. The secret to a good lawn is to not cut it too close. Keeps the grass tight and prevents weeds from setting in, and also helps prevent excessive water loss when it’s hot. My only problem is that I can’t figure out how to sharpen it – the cutting bar is adjustable, so it acts like a self-sharpener, but I’d still like to get it wicked sharp someday.

    And, yes, I use the manual edger (*that’s* a workout) and grass shears for trimming. I haven’t invested a dime in my yard for over four years, and the initial start up cost was about &110 for the tools.

    I live next door to a gas station on a rental property that was neglected for years (decades?). Weeds and rough ground were a problem for the first two years, but everything has been worked over enough that my time investment is less than it would be for a powered setup.

    I recommend manual tools for anyone with less than a half acre. One additional benefit is the fact that I can (and do!) mow when the kids are napping. Or at five in the morning. Or in the rain/sleet/hail. Or at midnight, in the rain, while the kids are asleep.


    — Zach

    p.s. The very first thing that I will do when I become ruler of the world is to ban leaf blowers. They are perhaps the most useless tool ever devised – I’ve watched landscape crews spend hours blowing grass and leaves around in circles and then leave the property looking exactly the same way it was before they arrived.

  45. Gus says:

    I am dissapointed that the article does not look at maintenance cost.

    For cordless electric:
    – What is the typical life span of the batteries? How much to replace?
    – What is the typical lifespan of a cordless electric mower?

    For Gas:
    – Oil changes? Spark plugs? Life span?

    Express those in $/year and amortize over lifespawn…

  46. Gretchen says:

    As my neighbor just started up his leaf blower this afternoon, I hate all of them and their noise.

    We use a reel mower and it’s not so much the “work” I dislike ( still only takes me about 20 minutes, it’s a rowhome) but the quality of the cut. Any bumps or ruts, forget it. You do also have to do it what seems like constantly, as others pointed out.

  47. Jude says:

    i have a large yard. For me, the greatest advantage to an electric mower is that it requires almost no maintenance. That’s why I purchased one. I don’t have a rechargeable; I have long power cords. I’ve had mine for about ten years. It still works great, and I’ve had to replace/repair nothing. Also, it’s nice to not spew exhaust into the air.

  48. Beth says:

    If you have a tiny lawn, you get a manual push rotary mower like I have. No gas, no electricity, no emission, no noise. Free exercise and it is self-mulching and restores nitrogen to the lawn. No need to calculate anything!

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