If you’ve looked at electric lawn mowers at your local big box hardware and wondered if one would fit your needs, we’re here to help. They’re great pieces of hardware, but they’re not for everyone—or for every lawn.
Comparison of electric vs. gas lawn mowers
No one wants to spend money on a product that doesn’t fit their needs, especially one as bulky and expensive as a lawnmower. However, despite their growing popularity, many people are understandably unfamiliar with electric lawn mowers.
Let’s break it down and look at some of the things that will factor into choosing an electric lawn mower over a gas lawn mower or vice versa.
For the purpose of comparison, we will talk about gas mowers and battery electric mowers. Corded electric mowers exist (and may be suitable for some people in specific situations, such as mowing a very small lawn), but they are largely impractical and not the most popular form of electric mower on the market.
Next, while we’re going to talk about larger electric mowers, we’re focusing primarily on push mowers because they’re both the most popular size of mower and the best fit for most lawns.
Size and type of lawn
One of the biggest factors and the first one you should consider is the size of your lawn (followed closely by the type of lawn and the mowing you are doing).
The average lawn size in the United States is about 1/4 acre, although this size varies widely from region to region. For people with smaller to medium-sized yards, such as those commonly found in subdivisions and urban neighborhoods, an electric push mower is a good fit and can easily replace a gas push mower.
I have one of those small city lawns and replacing my gas push mower with an electric mower has been a major improvement. I bought a Ryobi 40V 20″ push mower, but any similar mower like the EGO Power+ 56V 21″ push mower will give you the same experience.
However, as your lawn grows in size, you may find that some of the limitations and higher prices of larger electric lawn mowers make going electric less appealing. There is also something to be said for the performance of the gas mower.
While someone who mows a plain old suburban lawn probably doesn’t think much about how powerful their gas mower is, if you frequently mow large areas of tough grass and weeds, then the performance of gas mowers has a clear advantage. But unless you’re trying to use the lawnmower like a brush hog, it’s not that important.
In addition, if you use the mower in such a way that you need to refuel it quickly, gas has a clear advantage here. Electric mowers can be great for someone who mows the lawn and calls it a day, but if you run a lawn service or even want to be neighbors and knock out a few lawns on the block, battery life is a major limiting factor.
Either you need spare batteries on hand or you have to be willing to take a break and let the battery you have recharge. Even with a fast charger, you will have about an hour of downtime.
The smaller your lawn, the more attractive an electric lawnmower becomes. The larger your lawn, the more expensive it is to replicate the performance of a gas mower with an electric model.
As of this writing in August 2022, there is fairly even parity between the cost of electric and gasoline push mowers. You’ll spend about $300-$600 for most models.
However, once you get over the size of a push mower, there is a fairly quick difference between the cost of gas or going electric. While modern electric push mowers use lithium-ion batteries, larger electric lawn mowers, such as riding lawn tractors or zero-turn form factor mowers, use either sealed lead acid (SLA) batteries or lithium-ion batteries.
The cost of SLA batteries is lower, but so is the life and performance. Maintaining the battery health of a rechargeable sealed lead acid battery is a huge problem. Earlier electric push mowers used SLA batteries and this certainly contributed to many people’s negative opinion of the product category.
If you do not maintain the battery and use it regularly, the performance will suffer significantly. SLA cordless mowers are more expensive than equivalent gas mowers, but not shockingly so. On average, you will pay 20% more.
However, large lithium-ion batteries are expensive, and the price of riding mowers that use them reflects this.
To get a large lawnmower with lithium-ion batteries, you will easily pay 50-100% more than for an equivalent gas mower.
A $3,000 zero-turn gas mower can easily set you back $6,000 when you buy an equivalent electric model. It was cheap for me to replace my rickety old push mower with a Ryobi electric push mower. It would cost me $5,499 for an EGO zero-turn model or $6,999 for a Ryobi zero-turn model to replace a large zero-turn gas mower with a lithium-ion electric model.
If you end up buying a riding mower, we have a tip for you in the fine print. Companies often pair their SLA cordless mowers with lithium-ion tools. At first glance you might be fooled into thinking the whole package is powered by lithium-ion, but in fact the mower is powered by SLA batteries and the included tools, such as the leaf blower, are powered by lithium-ion batteries. Double check the specifications of the mower and even download the manual to make sure you get the type of battery you expect.
Running costs and maintenance
Once the initial purchase is out of the way, the running costs of the electric mower will be lower. Even taking into account the possible need to replace batteries, electricity is a significantly more economical fuel source than gasoline.
In fact, you might actually be shocked at how little it costs to run an electric lawnmower compared to a gas lawnmower. We’ve broken down the costs and compared using an electric mower versus a gas mower to mow a typical American lawn. Even if gas prices somehow fell to a dollar a gallon, that would happen still be cheaper to “refuel” an electric mower by a staggering margin.
And maintenance costs are negligible with an electric mower. There are no air filters, spark plugs, oil changes or other common costs. You’ll still need to do maintenance like sharpening your knives, but going from an internal combustion engine to an electric motor throws a whole lot of traditional routine maintenance right out the window.
Where sticker shock can come in, however, is when it’s time to replace the batteries. For a smaller push mower, the battery replacement cost is usually around $200. Replacing the set of batteries that power a larger ride-on mower can easily cost $1,000 or more. But despite the shock of spending a lot of money all at once to replace batteries, when you calculate how much it costs to fuel and maintain a larger mower over time, it’s not as bad as it seems.
But most people reading this article probably aren’t weighing whether to buy a $5,000 to $8,000 lithium-ion mower, but are instead considering picking up a sub-$500 push mower at their local hardware store. . In that case, the cost of replacing the battery is much more reasonable.
Ease of use, noise and emissions
So far we have primarily talked about expenses. And when I’m giving my neighbor a rave review about my electric lawnmower, I’ll be sure to mention that it costs me pennies to mow my lawn. That’s not an exaggeration, it costs pennies – you can do the math yourself if you’re curious.
But second to that, I can’t say enough good things about the overall experience. Replacing a walk-behind mower with an electric model with the ability to start is a big improvement in convenience. Even switching from a gas mower with an electric start to an all-electric one is a big upgrade – because you get all the convenience without having to worry about the maintenance of a gas mower.
Electric mowers are also quiet. Even incredibly quiet. While a traditional lawnmower is a noisy combustion engine, an electric lawnmower is—when you really think about it—more or less a fan. It is an electric motor that spins the blade and will always be quieter than a petrol engine. My mower is so quiet that often neighbors come out to walk their dogs and express surprise when they see me mowing because they didn’t even hear the mower running.
You might even find yourself mowing more easily because you don’t smell the mower. One of the downsides to using lawn mowers, snow blowers, leaf blowers and other traditional gas power tools is smelly gas and exhaust.
While we won’t get into a debate about the overall environmental impact of a gas lawnmower versus an electric lawnmower (as that would require analyzing the impact of things like lithium mining and battery manufacturing), it’s certainly safe to say that electric lawnmowers are cleaner in terms of consumption energy, as well as in terms of emissions from the point of view of the end user.
Grid-supplied electricity has a lower emissions impact than burning gasoline, and there will be no emissions in the immediate vicinity of where you mow. Using lawnmowers in the United States uses about 1.2 billion gallons of gasoline each year, and even some people who switch to electric lawnmowers would be doing a lot of damage.
In the foreseeable future, there will be room for gas mowers of all sizes. And we certainly cannot recommend that anyone attempt to maintain a golf course or run a lawn with only electric mowers.
But if you maintain a modest lawn and are looking to buy your first mower or replace an aging gasoline mower, it’s hard not to recommend an electric mower. It gets the job done with lower emissions, lower noise and at a lower price.