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Choosing the right lawn mower

A homeowner will typically mow the lawn up to 30 times each season. With so much effort spent to keep the yard tidy, selecting the right lawn mower for your lawn and your lifestyle is essential.

Many new features and innovations make it easier than ever to choose the right mower for the job. Mower decks mulch grass much more effectively than past models, while safety controls can stop the blades and keep the engine running. Battery-powered mowers are becoming more popular with newer innovations, yet gas mowers still tend to be the preferred choice.

You know it's time for a new mower when your current machine is hard to start, inefficient, or lets off a lot of fumes.

Right lawn mower for your needs

UNDERSTAND YOUR NEEDS

  1. How large is your lawn?
  2. How much effort do you want to extend to mow the lawn?
  3. Would an electric start be preferable over a traditional pull-cord?
  4. Is noise and exhaust a problem for you or for the neighbourhood?
  5. How much storage space is available for a mower?

Right mower for the job

Compare the differences between each type of lawn mower based on the lawn size, power requirements, mowing times, maintenance recommendations, storage issues, and their eco-friendly qualities.
Lawn Size
Min. Recommended Mower Type; Power Needed
Time
Maintenance
Tips
Storage
Noise/Eco-friendly?
½ acre and larger
Lawn tractor; powerful
More than one hour
Yearly tune-up; may require professional care.
High initial cost, difficult to use & to maintain.
Uses a large amount of space in a garage or shed.
Loud, emits exhaust, uses gas and oil.
½ acre
Gas mower; powerful
One hour
Conduct all maintenance yearly. Sharpen blades. Check the spark plugs. Change the oil and filters. Drain the fuel and mix in a stabilizing additive.
Consider purchasing a self-propelled version for larger lawns. A variety of cutting widths are available.
Must remain on the floor of the garage or shed and take up 4 square feet. Some models have handles that fold down for compaction.
Loud, emits exhaust. Four- stroke engines emit less pollution than two-stroke. Uses gas and oil.
½ acre
Large electric mower; modest power
One hour
Clean housing, sharpen blades yearly.
Select a version that has a cord long enough for the lawn size. Varieties of cutting widths are available.
Can be attached to a hook in the garage or shed.
Quiet, no exhaust, uses electricity.
⅓ acre
Battery-powered (rechargeable) mower; modest power
45 minutes
Clean housing, sharpen blades yearly.
Battery will need to be recharged after completing 1/3 acre. Varieties of cutting widths are available. The batteries need to be replaced every two years.
Can be attached to a hook in the garage or shed.
Quiet, no exhaust, uses electricity.
2,000 square feet or less
Push reel (manual) mower; human power
45 minutes
Sharpen blades every three years. Clean & dry unit regularly.
Uses the greatest amount of effort and exercise. Cutting width options are limited.
Easiest to store because of its light weight; can be attached to a hook in a garage or shed.
Quiet, no exhaust, uses human effort.
Lawn Size
Min. Recommended Mower Type; Power Needed
Time
Maintenance
Tips
Storage
Noise/Eco-friendly?
½ acre and larger
Lawn tractor; powerful
More than one hour
Yearly tune-up; may require professional care.
High initial cost, difficult to use & to maintain.
Uses a large amount of space in a garage or shed.
Loud, emits exhaust, uses gas and oil.
½ acre
Gas mower; powerful
One hour
Conduct all maintenance yearly. Sharpen blades. Check the spark plugs. Change the oil and filters. Drain the fuel and mix in a stabilizing additive.
Consider purchasing a self-propelled version for larger lawns. A variety of cutting widths are available.
Must remain on the floor of the garage or shed and take up 4 square feet. Some models have handles that fold down for compaction.
Loud, emits exhaust. Four- stroke engines emit less pollution than two-stroke. Uses gas and oil.
½ acre
Large electric mower; modest power
One hour
Clean housing, sharpen blades yearly.
Select a version that has a cord long enough for the lawn size. Varieties of cutting widths are available.
Can be attached to a hook in the garage or shed.
Quiet, no exhaust, uses electricity.
⅓ acre
Battery-powered (rechargeable) mower; modest power
45 minutes
Clean housing, sharpen blades yearly.
Battery will need to be recharged after completing 1/3 acre. Varieties of cutting widths are available. The batteries need to be replaced every two years.
Can be attached to a hook in the garage or shed.
Quiet, no exhaust, uses electricity.
2,000 square feet or less
Push reel (manual) mower; human power
45 minutes
Sharpen blades every three years. Clean & dry unit regularly.
Uses the greatest amount of effort and exercise. Cutting width options are limited.
Easiest to store because of its light weight; can be attached to a hook in a garage or shed.
Quiet, no exhaust, uses human effort.

Pro tip

Different types of lawn mowers come with different types of warranties. Both gas and electric mowers have two- to five-year warranties. Electric starters have special warranties. Plastic decks typically have lifetime warranties.

Lawn mower terminology, parts, and features

Lawn mowers are often selected based on their specific parts and features. For example, larger domed hoods allow the grass to mulch more efficiently, and an electric start may be preferable over a pull-cord. The larger the motor size, the heavier the machine and the more likely a user would select a self-propelled model.

Deck

The wider the deck size, the wider the blades and the fewer passes are needed to cut the entire lawn. Deck widths vary from 13 ½" to 22". Other than size, decks come flat or domed, metal or plastic. Domed hood decks allow more room for the blades to efficiently chop the grass clippings. While metal lasts longer, plastic does not corrode.

Blades

Blade sizes and types vary regardless of the type of mower. Blades are designed to either cut or mulch between one to four inches. Cutting blades require the use of bags to gather whereas mulching blades grind the grass during the mowing so that it can compost quickly into the lawn. It is recommended to sharpen blades yearly. Push reel mowers have limited blade widths and need to be sharpened every few years.

Wheels

The 4-wheel adjustment option is recommended regardless of the type of mower selected. The larger the wheel size, the easier the manoeuvrability. Also, larger wheels in the rear make the mower easier to push. Innovations such as ball-bearing wheels, pivoting wheels, and PVC-wrapped are available

Motor

The type of motor varies with either gas or electricity fuel. Regardless of the fuel type, the size also varies from a small 7A motor to one as large as a 17A, with the amperage serving as an indicator of the motor’s power level. Larger motors are longer-lasting, heavier, and can handle greater loads. Most homeowners select a mower in the 7-9A range. Anything above a 12A would be considered a step-up.

For both gas and electric engines, the power is measured by foot-pounds of torque or cubic centimetre (cc) of cylinder size, depending on the manufacturer. Torque typically ranges from 5 to 7.5 foot-pounds while cylinder (cc) size ranges from 125 to 190.

Gas motors come in either 4-stroke or 2-stroke versions. The 4-stroke engine is more commonly selected based on its lower levels of pollution, greater durability, and its lower noise levels. The oil should be changed every 25 hours of usage which translates to once or twice yearly. Between conventional and OHV options, OHVs supply more power, better fuel economy, and are quieter.

Gas motors with 2-stroke engines are designed for heavily-inclined terrains and are therefore less commonly selected. Maintenance is easier because the engine is mechanically simpler with a gas/oil mixture. Though noisier, this engine will typically last longer than its 4-stroke counterpart. 2-stroke gas mowers are lighter than 4-stroke but emit more exhaust.

Electric motors need different sizes of power cords based on the motor’s amperage needs. If a 50-foot power cord length is sufficient, then a 16 gauge cord is recommended. Additionally, a 100-foot cord would need 14 gauge. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations when purchasing a cord for an electric mower. Rechargeable electric mowers simply need one or two batteries in order to complete the lawn’s surface.

Optional components

When shopping for a new lawn mower, there are several optional components that can impact how the mower runs and handles that you should be aware of.

Self-propelled

The self-propelled option for a mower is a fairly new innovation that minimizes the hardship of mowing. The ability to control the mower is greater with a push mower, yet many self-propelled models have variable speeds. Homeowners may consider a self-propelled model for larger lawns and for heavier mowers. Self-propelled mowers are available as either front or rear-wheel driven with front-drive as the more common choice.

Electric start

The traditional pull-cord is either an invigorating or a terrifying experience for the homeowner. Fortunately, even gas mowers now have electric start options as well as all electric-powered mowers. The electric start begins either with a push button or with a key ignition.

Innovative handles

Ergonomically-designed handles are another new feature that is designed to lessen the hardship of mowing. Overall, ergonomic handles reduce fatigue and improve control with their designed shape and adjustable height features. Many mower handles now fold down over the deck for compact storage needs. Though not new, reversible handles are also still available.

Discharge options / bags

As grass is mulched, it is usually discharged to the side. Discharge bags are available for either the side or rear of the mower’s deck; however, rear bags help to keep the mower balanced. Bags collect the grass to make disposal more efficient. It is recommended to use bags when cutting seedlings or after heavy rains when the clippings are too long for a mulching blade.

Safety

Various safety features are available with some new innovative options. For example, safety control switches can stop the blade while keeping the engine running.

Kits

Some mowers can be purchased as a part of a kit that would include companion trimmer device(s).

Lawn mower care and maintenance

Proper and timely maintenance will keep your lawn mower running as it should for many years to come. Here are some basic maintenance tips as well as good mowing practices that will help prevent wear and tear.

Maintenance

  • Sharpening the blades yearly will keep the grass maintained with clean cuts.
  • Apply lawn mower graphite once yearly to the underside of the deck to prevent grass clippings from clinging to its surface.
  • Maintain clean and dry mower parts to prevent rusting.
  • Always remove spark plugs before performing maintenance work on the machine.
  • Regularly lubricate the wheels.

Recommended Mowing Practices

  • Trim the grass no more than one-third of the grass blades’ overall height at a time.
  • Set up a weekly mowing schedule.
  • Weeds can be naturally blocked from growing if the grass blade length is three to four inches long.
  • Changing mowing patterns helps to keep the grass healthy.
  • It is best to mow the grass when it is dry.
  • Mowing on inclines and hills can be dangerous.
  • Wear eye protection regardless of the project size and wear ear protection when using noisy mowers.
  • Push reel mowers provide the user with a good workout. Keep in mind that users exert only one fourth the amount of energy with a self-propelled mower than with a manual push reel mower.

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