One of the most common complaints about leaf blowers is that they’re noisy. Complaints about leaf blower noise are so widespread that over 400 cities in the U.S. currently either ban or regulate their use!
Leaf blowers’ reputation as loud machines has caused the outdoor power equipment industry to reexamine how they’re used and how they’re built.
Nevertheless, homeowners and landscaping pros alike might wonder, is there a quiet leaf blower? And how do people know if they can use leaf blowers in their area?
Like other kinds of outdoor power equipment, leaf blowers produce a certain amount of noise. So what is it about leaf blowers specifically that has made them a target for regulation?
Noise is measured in a unit called a decibel (dB). Decibels work on a logarithmic scale, meaning that we perceive every increase of 10 dB as a doubling of the sound. A leaf blower that operates at 70 dB will sound twice as loud as a leaf blower operating at 60 dB.
You'll also see ratings for A-weighted decibels, or dB(A). The dB(A) system assigns lower decibel values to low-frequency sounds, which are harder for the human ear to hear.
The World Health Organization suggests that healthy daytime indoor noise levels should fall around 55 dB(A). However, in the past, leaf blowers typically have operated anywhere between 70 and 90 dB(A).
Manufacturers’ leaf blower noise ratings are usually measured from a point 50 feet away. But as we know, leaf blowers often come closer than 50 feet to where people are sitting, working, or even sleeping. For professionals using a leaf blower, that noise is closer and even louder—and they’re hearing it for eight hours a day. Always be sure to wear the proper PPE, like earplugs, safety glasses, gloves when operating a leaf blower.
Studies have suggested that consistent exposure to loud noises can lead to all sorts of health risks:
Additionally, one study published in the Journal of Environmental and Toxicological Studies has suggested that the reason that leaf blower noise is so pervasive is that it occurs at lower frequencies than the noise from other types of power equipment, allowing it to pass through walls.
As a result, some cities have tried to pass leaf blower laws banning their use. But critics have a number of practical objections.
Landscapers and lawn care companies point out that leaf blower bans negatively affect their business. Such laws require them either to spend money on new equipment or to spend more time using less powerful tools to clean an area, which usually means they end up billing for more hours—never a popular result.
Homeowners and residential users also say that leaf blower bans also have a negative effect on people who are physically unable to use manual tools such as rakes to clean.
Because of these objections, other cities have encouraged a compromise: the use of low-noise leaf blowers.
Some cities such as Burlingame, CA, have not bans but regulations on the books. Burlingame permits the use of leaf blowers and other power tools that are rated for 65 dB(A) or less.
Why 65 decibels? Because most human speech falls around 60 dB(A), with louder speech falling around 65 dB(A). This limit puts leaf blower decibels in the range of noise that people can expect to hear inside a crowded room.
Because more cities are instituting such regulations, and because more people in general are expressing interest in a quiet environment, more manufacturers have begun listing the decibel ratings of their leaf blowers.
Some manufacturers continue to work on making handheld gas leaf blowers and backpack blowers to produce noise around 65 dB(A). However, on average, you’re more likely to find a quiet leaf blower if you shop for an electric leaf blower.
According to the American Green Zone Alliance, an organization that promotes zero-emissions landscape care, the average electric blower produces noise at about 65 dB(A). Compare that to the average noise ratings of common gas backpack blowers:
But don’t think that you have to sacrifice power if you choose an electric or battery leaf blower. Technology has advanced, and many of today’s cordless leaf blowers are as powerful as their gas counterparts.
To find the best quiet leaf blower for your money, look for not only the decibel ratings but also the ratings for air speed (MPH) and air flow volume (CFM) to get an idea of the blower’s power. For battery-powered blowers, also look for the battery's voltage and amp-hour ratings to assess its power.
But what if your city has banned leaf blowers altogether?
To find out if your town has a ban or restriction on leaf blower use in place, you can always call your city clerk’s office or do an Internet search for terms like “what cities ban leaf blowers” or “[the name of your town] leaf blower.”
If leaf blowers are banned in your city, don’t fret. There are other quiet tools that you can use for yard cleanup:
Whether or not your municipality has restrictions on leaf blower use in place, homeowners and professionals alike can take steps recommended by the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) to make sure that using a leaf blower is less likely to disturb others in the area:
By engaging in habits like these, anyone can make sure their leaf blower use is courteous and helpful—especially if they’re using a leaf blower that’s known to be quiet.