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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.

The Right Lawn Mower for Your Needs

UNDERSTAND YOUR NEEDS

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

Types of Lawn Mowers

There are many different types of lawn mowers to choose from, each with their own unique features. The model you select should be based on your ability and lawn needs.

Gas lawn mower

The popular gas lawn mower allows you to cut up to 5,000 square feet with superior power on all types of terrain. While gas mowers demand more maintenance than any other type of mower, an annual tune-up will keep the mower working effectively. The oil needs to be changed regularly, and fuel additives can be added once the fuel tank is drained and refilled every year. Items such as the spark plugs and air filters need to be changed as well. Gas engines are either two-stroke or four-stroke, but the four-stroke is the more common variation.

Two-stroke engines are advisable for users who need the greatest level of power due to lawn size or uneven terrain. Self-propelled models are helpful if mowing is overly laborious with a standard push model. Most gas mowers have mulching blades and electric start options. Gas mowers also need more floor storage space than other types of mowers.

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Cordless lawn mower

The battery-powered cordless lawn mower is recommended for lawns 5,000 square feet and under. Many of the same options available for gas mowers are available for cordless lawn mowers, and all electric mowers come with electric starters. While the size of the hood and motor vary like those of gas mowers, the electric engine does not require oil, gas, or annual engine and motor maintenance.

Additional features may include LED battery power level indicators and on/off charging board options. Most often, electric models are selected because of the elimination of noise and emissions.

Depending on the brand and model, batteries are expected to last for about 30 to 60 minutes. Newer technologies allow for a full charge in as little as 60 minutes, up to a few hours. Extra batteries may be needed to ensure that the task can be completed without recharging. Most brands now offer full battery platforms, with batteries that are compatible with all the outdoor tools of the same voltage and brand.

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Corded electric lawn mower

The corded electric lawn mower is an option that provides continuous electrical power. At the same time, however, it is limited to the length of the extension cord. Therefore, corded electric mowers are recommended for lawns under 5,000 square feet. 

Blades and sizes of motors are usually equal or smaller than options available for gas and cordless mowers. Electric mowers are lightweight and are simple to store with the option of hanging them on a garage wall hook. Like the battery-powered models, corded electric mowers are also quiet, require no mechanical maintenance, and produce no emissions.

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Push-reel lawn mower

The push-reel lawn mower is recommended for lawns no larger than 2,000 square feet.  The homeowner who finds value in a push-reel has a small lawn and the ability to mow frequently as long grass cannot be cut with manual mowers. Push-reel mowers are environmentally friendly, use no fuel, are lightweight, quiet, long-lasting, and have blades that need sharpening every few years. Nonetheless, the cutting efficiency is greatly limited.

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Lawn tractor

Lawns larger than half an acre (21,780 sq. ft.) will require the speed and power of a lawn tractor. This will save you a lot of time and physical exertion when cutting grass, without sacrificing the quality of the cut. Generally, you will want to look for a deck size of up to 42 inches if your lawn is smaller than an acre (43,560 sq. ft.), and greater than 42 inches if it is bigger than an acre. When it comes to horsepower, a stronger engine (from 19 to 23 HP), is a better choice for those who cut their lawns infrequently, as it will have an easier time with taller grass.

Features like automatic transmission and cruise control will allow the tractor to do most of the work for you, while manual transmission will give you more control over the engine. Other features you should consider when looking for a lawn tractor include pulling capability (for aerators and tow-behind carts) and zero-turn capability for optimum manoeuvring.  A lawn tractor with an overhead valve engine will also help control emissions.

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The 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
Minimum Recommended Mower Type
Time
Maintenance
Tips
Storage
Noise/Eco-friendly?
½ acre and larger
(21,780 sq. ft.)
Lawn tractor
More than one hour
Yearly tune-up; may require professional care.
High initial cost, more difficult to use and to maintain.
Uses a large amount of space in a garage or shed.
Loud, emits exhaust, uses gas and oil.
½ acre
(21,780 sq. ft.)
Gas mower
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-cycle engines emit less pollution than two-cycle ones. Uses gas and oil.
½ acre
(21,780 sq. ft.)
Large electric mower
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
(14,374 sq. ft.)
Cordless (battery-powered) mower
30-60 minutes
Clean housing, sharpen blades yearly.
Battery will need to be recharged after 30-60 min. Varieties of cutting widths are available. The batteries need to be replaced every two years.
Can be attached to a hook in a garage or shed.
Quiet, no exhaust, uses electricity.
2,000 sq. ft. or less
Push reel (manual) mower
45 minutes
Sharpen blades every three years. Clean and 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
Minimum Recommended Mower Type
Time
Maintenance
Tips
Storage
Noise/Eco-friendly?
½ acre and larger
(21,780 sq. ft.)
Lawn tractor
More than one hour
Yearly tune-up; may require professional care.
High initial cost, more difficult to use and to maintain.
Uses a large amount of space in a garage or shed.
Loud, emits exhaust, uses gas and oil.
½ acre
(21,780 sq. ft.)
Gas mower
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-cycle engines emit less pollution than two-cycle ones. Uses gas and oil.
½ acre
(21,780 sq. ft.)
Large electric mower
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
(14,374 sq. ft.)
Cordless (battery-powered) mower
30-60 minutes
Clean housing, sharpen blades yearly.
Battery will need to be recharged after 30-60 min. Varieties of cutting widths are available. The batteries need to be replaced every two years.
Can be attached to a hook in a garage or shed.
Quiet, no exhaust, uses electricity.
2,000 sq. ft. or less
Push reel (manual) mower
45 minutes
Sharpen blades every three years. Clean and 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 fewer passes are needed to cut the entire lawn. Deck widths vary from 13 ½" to 22." Apart from 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 grass, 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 wheels are available.

Motor

The type of motor varies with either gas or electricity fuel.

For gas engines, the power is measured by foot-pounds (ft-lb) of torque or cubic centimetres (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-cycle or 2-cycle versions. The 4-cycle 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 a year.

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.

For electric engines, the size 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.

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 cord. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations when purchasing a cord for an electric mower. Cordless 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 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 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 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 and good mowing practices that will help prevent wear and tear.

Maintenance

  • Sharpen the blades yearly to keep grass maintained with clean cuts.
  • Apply lawn mower graphite to the underside of the deck once a year 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.
  • Change mowing patterns to help keep 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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