Are electric mowers ready for prime time, particular on hilly terrain?
March 7, 2012 5:45 AM   Subscribe

Lawnfilter: Are electric mowers ready for prime time, particular on hilly terrain?

I live on a 1/3 acre lot and my preference is to get an electric mower (preferably cordless) but I'm concerned that it will be problematic with a steep lawn section at my house. In the past I used a gas self-propelled mower and still found that I had to push pretty hard to get up one section of my yard. Going side to side helps to some extent with this problem, versus going direct up the hill.

There are some previous questions about this (here and here) but a lot can change in a few years and I didn't see any particular mention of flat versus hill terrain. I'm looking at models from Black and Decker and Neuton if that helps.

I don't mind if I need to do the lawn in two stages between charges and I'm okay with the maintenance costs for battery replacement down the road. I can store it in the garage year-round. If this can work I would appreciate the quiet and fume-free mowing experience.
posted by dgran to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The main advantages of electric mowers seem to be weight, lower noise levels, and to a lesser extent, price. My experience is that, if you can live with a cord, and don't plan to be cutting grass a long way from the house, electric mowers can be very good (I'm really pleased with my Bosch Rotak mower). But I've tried a couple of battery garden tools, and in both cases they were much less powerful than the corded equivalents, and the battery life was too limited for use in a garden the size of mine (and mine is probably a fifth the size of yours).

For steep areas, provided you're going to cut to grass regularly, I don't think you can really beat a hover mower. They're incredibly light and very manoeverable. But you don't get grass collection with that, so I wouldn't buy one if I also had a lot of flat areas to mow.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 5:57 AM on March 7, 2012

I can't speak to a cordless, but I have a corded electric mower and I love it. It's much lighter than a gas mower so I imagine it would be easier to push up a hill (although that's generally considered an unsafe practice). It's so quiet and fume free that I almost don't hate mowing the lawn now. The cord isn't really that difficult to manage and I'm on a 1/4 acre lot. There's more power in a corded mower, so if you're like me and you let the lawn go a little longer than you should, maybe rethink the cord.
posted by elsietheeel at 6:03 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd use an electric just for the longevity of the mower. Air-cooled mower engines are splash lubricated, and don't like being on uneven ground for long periods of time. Before wide spread electric mowers, I had a two-stroke Lawn Boy. Lighter engine, and aluminum mower deck. There are no more new two-stroke Lawn Boys.
posted by narcoleptic at 6:46 AM on March 7, 2012

I own a Honda self propelled mower, and our last house had roughly half the lawn area that you have. My neighbor had a top of the line electric mower as of perhaps two years ago, with less area to cut. His mower struggled to cut the grass, and more importantly, did not have enough power to cut it well, even with fresh blades on it. I think with as much area as you have i would bite the bullet and get a gas mower, or else be prepared to cut very frequently so that the electric mower can actually do a decent job. A 1/3 acre is a lot for even a cheap gas mower, let alone a better one. Unless they've gotten orders of magnitude better I would save the electric for something that has a smaller job.
posted by chosemerveilleux at 7:35 AM on March 7, 2012

I can't speak to electric vs. gas but I can speak to a solution to your desire for quiet. I have a pair of these ear protection headphones with a 1/8" plug for an mp3 player hookup. It isn't silent but it is a lot quieter and certainly quiet enough that I can listen to podcasts at a normal volume while cutting grass. This has been quite the quality of life improvement for me since it makes doing the yard work tolerable if not fun.
posted by mmascolino at 7:52 AM on March 7, 2012

I replaced my Neuton with a corded electric [can't recall the brand, bought it from a guy on CL for $30]. It cuts as well as the gas mower I've borrowed from my neighbor with no noise and much less weight [even if I let the lawn go too long]. If you're in MN and want a free Neuton, come on over and take this one out of my garage.

When I first bought it [also secondhand], the Neuton would do my whole standard suburban lawn in one charge IF I didn't let it go more than a week. After two weeks, it took two charges to do the lawn.

The nice safety aspect of an electric mower on a hill is that if you lose your grip the blade stops as soon as your hands come off the handle.

For convenience I'd rather have a cordless, but dealing with the cord is, for me, a more than acceptable tradeoff for knowing:
  1. I'll never have to replace a battery and
  2. I'll always be able to finish the lawn in one go

posted by chazlarson at 7:58 AM on March 7, 2012

How thick is the lawn? Would you consider manual? The Fiskars reel mower is really, really light. Like, my neighbor's eight-year-old can push it with one hand light. It does a great job.
posted by notsnot at 8:00 AM on March 7, 2012

Response by poster: @notsnot -- I should have mentioned that I tried a reel mower in the past, but the incline issue made it quite impractical. I loved using it on a former flat lawn though.
posted by dgran at 8:01 AM on March 7, 2012

I used a B&D cordless mower from 2009-2011 on a plot of land about the size of yours. We have thick turf here, centipede grass in front, and a delightful melange of weeds in back, and the mower lacked the power to finish the whole area between charges, and charging took 8 hours or something. Also, the mower went to the shop twice, once because the cable from the battery popped off the motor (bad solder), and again because one of the motor bearings disintegrated, which caused the shaft to rattle around and wreak all kinds of havoc.

I finally threw in the towel and went back to a gas mower.
posted by reverend cuttle at 8:31 AM on March 7, 2012

My own experience with two different cordless electric mowers (B&D and Greenworks) on a similar-sized lawn: 1) needed multiple charges (I wound up doing the front lawn one day and the back the next); 2) not good if you needed maneuverability; 3) heavy as heck unless there was a self-propelled feature (then again, I'm a small woman); 4) useless if the lawn got too long or too damp (and I had a shady lot).
posted by thomas j wise at 9:51 AM on March 7, 2012

I'm betting you'd be a lot more satisfied with the corded version than with cordless. The cord is inconvenient to deal with, but you get used to it once you figure out the right mowing pattern. A cordless mower has to have a lot of BATTERY to be at all decent, and batteries are heavy. Pushing all that battery weight up a hill is much harder work than stepping over a cord.
posted by Corvid at 12:44 PM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

agree with Corvid that a cordless mower would be too heavy for a hilly area. We have a slight incline from the back to the front on one side and while that's fine I wouldn't want to do more than that given the weight.
posted by evening at 5:08 PM on March 7, 2012

Response by poster: I just wanted to come back here and update everyone on this. While I wouldn't normally bet against the mefi hivemind I decided to go ahead and try it knowing that I could clean it up and return it within 30 days.

I couldn't be more pleased. I bought a Black & Decker 36v 19" wide self propelled model. It the top of the line model as far as I can tell. It works better than the craftsman gas mower I used for years. It takes two charges to do my whole lawn, but I normally would break it up into two attempts anyhow so I'm okay with this.

As far as the hills, it is easier. I attribute much of this to the fact that it is rear drive whereas my old mower was front drive. This alone makes it much easier pushing up a hill. It is lighter too. It isn't stupid-easy though. I still need to give a hard push to get through some steep sections but that is acceptable to me.

I'm rather surprised that it worked out this well, so I'm back here to say that yes indeed they are ready for prime time but it might help if you are used to a really bad gas mower when you make the switch.
posted by dgran at 10:56 AM on March 20, 2012

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