The California Landscape Contractors Association acknowledges and understands that public opposition to the use of leaf blowers is based upon concerns about noise, air pollution, and exposure to particulate matter. A leaf blower ban is not only a severe and unnecessary remedy, but one that would eliminate its many benefits.
A more reasonable course of action is for municipalities advocate leaf blower users follow the manufacturer’s recommended best practices for safe and courteous use. As residents, business owners, and employers in our communities, we want to work with community leaders, homeowners, equipment dealers, and other stakeholders to find common ground and compromise. Therefore, we respectfully offer the following information for consideration.
Leaf Blowers Are An Essential, Time-Saving Tool
Leaf blowers are essential for landscape maintenance professionals. This is because they do more than just blow leaves. They are a tool used by landscapers as well as homeowners and other business owners to clean parking lots and sports stadiums, remove snow, clean gutters, and remove flammable debris from around buildings during fire season. Business owners want clean parking lots and landscapes, communities want neat and clean parks free of debris that can harbor insects and pests, and homeowners want attractive yards. Leaf blowers are often the best equipment to achieve those goals. In fact, since their development in the 1970s, leaf blowers have largely supplanted brooms, hoses, and rakes. Leaf blowers even perform functions that no other tool can handle effectively, such as cleaning areas covered by rock, gravel, bark, or mulch – with minimal disturbance.
Leaf blowers can save enormous amounts of time. When developing bids or price quotes, most landscape industry estimators work on the assumption that it takes four to five times as long to clean a typical landscape site with a broom and rake than it does with a power leaf blower. A similar estimate was provided in 2018 when the Public Works Director of Redondo Beach estimated their new leaf blower ordinance will result in the city’s work crews taking at least four times as long to do the work they used to do with a leaf blower.  The bottom line is that without leaf blowers, public agencies and private owners would have to spend more time on outdoor work or accept a lower level of upkeep.
Manually cleaning a site takes more time, which results in higher labor costs. Those costs are ultimately passed on to the customer – whether that is a homeowner, building owner, HOA, or municipal government. Those costs are ultimately passed on to the customer – whether that is a homeowner, building owner, HOA, or municipal government. In 2018, the tree maintenance vendor used by the city of Redondo Beach increased their fees by 10 percent after the passage of a leaf blower ordinance due to the additional labor required to do the jobs previously done with leaf blowers.  CLCA members report that many clients can’t afford or are not willing to pay for the additional costs of performing landscape maintenance without the use of leaf blowers.
Leaf Blowers Save Water
The leaf blower is also an alternative to hosing down walks and driveways with water, which became prohibited with the passage of California’s Water Conservation in Landscaping Act of 2006.  The reality is that people know that hosing down walkways and driveways is much easier, quicker, and more efficient than broom cleaning those surfaces. Using potable water in this manner is simply not responsible in drought-prone California.
Modern Equipment is Quieter
Some of the newer model leaf blowers are actually quieter than many other types of lawn and garden power equipment. The U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) requires a hearing protection program for employees when sound exposures equal or exceed an eight-hour, time-weighted average sound level of 85 decibels. CLCA members typically require their employees to use hearing protection whenever power equipment is used along with other recommended personal protection equipment (PPE) such as ear plugs, safety goggles or glasses, and respiratory masks.
The sound from newer model leaf blowers are well below the OSHA threshold since most of the newer machines are rated at, or less than, 70 decibels at 50 feet at full throttle. And, unlike landscape maintenance personnel, who need hearing protection because of their long hours of exposure to sound coming from a machine a few feet away from their ears, residents and homeowners are exposed to leaf blower sound for only a few minutes a week at much greater distances.
CLCA recognizes that manufacturers have invested millions of dollars and more than 15 years of research into the development of quieter leaf blowers. Many modern leaf blowers are as much as 75 percent quieter than blowers manufactured just a decade ago.  Today, landscapers have access to blowers, both gas and electric, that are quieter and considered acceptable in many cities and municipalities.
CLCA believes that landscape maintenance professionals and homeowners should be informed about the sound levels of leaf blower equipment before purchase. We believe that most buyers, if properly informed, would opt for the quietest equipment, all other factors being equal. Unfortunately, this information isn’t always readily available to the public.
Although CLCA prefers other methods of dealing with leaf blower sound, we do not oppose efforts to prohibit outmoded equipment – as long as the standards are not unreasonable in light of the existing technology on the market. We suggest that efforts to prohibit outmoded equipment be accompanied by buy-back programs that permanently remove the equipment from service. At a minimum, bans on outmoded equipment should go into effect at least one year after a decision is made. This would give users crucial lead time to phase out their non-compliant equipment.
Not as Much Air Pollution and Particulate Matter as Previously Thought
Now that manufacturers are making quieter equipment, criticism has shifted towards dust and air emissions concerns. The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District in California commissioned a study that concluded daily driving of automobiles generates 100 times more dust than leaf blowers.  Properly used leaf blowers do not raise inordinate amounts of dust and safe practices for operators on blowing debris when in public should be stressed. For the safety of employees of CLCA member companies and limited exposure, we again strongly recommend the use of personal protection equipment (PPE) to reduce the operator risk. We also recommend users inspect equipment before each use to ensure all parts are in working order. By doing so, they ensure that equipment remains compliant with applicable safety standards, noise ordinances, and emission regulations.
CLCA believes that air pollution issues are being addressed, and will continue to be addressed, by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the regional air quality districts. In fact, equipment manufacturers have been working with the U.S. EPA and California Air Resources Board for nearly two decades to reduce small engine emissions – the same small engines used in leaf blowers, and they have accomplished a lot. Gas-powered small engine emissions have been reduced by as much as 90 percent.  That’s a noteworthy number for the landscape industry.
Landscapers also have access to electric battery-powered blowers that have zero exhaust emissions. This technology is used in communities that prohibit gas powered blowers. CLCA members have noted that electric leaf blowers are expensive compared to their gas-powered models and we hope that new technology improves battery life so that these blowers will become more suitable for daily use by maintenance professionals.
Our Recommended Best Practices for Safe and Courteous Use
CLCA believes the vast majority of commercial operators use their leaf blowers responsibly. Nevertheless, we acknowledge that improper use is a problem caused chiefly by lack of knowledge, but, regrettably, is sometimes a result of lack of courtesy for others. Cities, municipalities, and the CLCA should partner together to educate the public as well as the landscape industry about proper use of leaf blower equipment. Educational campaigns should include the following information on practicing safe and courteous use of leaf blowers:
- Inspect the blower before and during use to make sure controls, parts, and safety devices are not damaged and are working properly. Review your safety manual if needed. Never modify a blower in a way not authorized by the manufacturer.
- Be aware of local restrictions on equipment operation, and don’t use your blower during neighborhood quiet hours. Limit the number of blowers used on small residential sites to reduce noise.
- If the debris is excessively dusty – like construction debris, dry topsoil, or large amounts of gravel – consider using a different tool for that particular job.
- Check wind direction and intensity so dust and debris aren’t blown toward open windows or doors.
- To reduce dust and suspended particles, use the lowest possible throttle speed to get the job done.
- Start with the nozzle close to the ground at first – then raise it to a height where it generates the least amount of dust.
- Do not blow debris onto an adjacent property, the street, vehicles, people, or pets.
- Never use a blower indoors or in poorly ventilated areas.
In conclusion, CLCA believes blanket leaf blower bans are a severe and unnecessary remedy that communities have found to be expensive and difficult to enforce. Following the above guidelines for safe and courteous use will alleviate more of the public’s concerns through responsible use. As always, CLCA is willing to collaborate with community leaders, homeowners, equipment dealers, and other stakeholders to find common ground and compromise on the issue of leaf blowers.
- Parks and Rec Business Magazine, December 7, 2018, Jefferey Spivey “Leaf Blower Bans”
- Parks and Rec Business Magazine, December 7, 2018, Jefferey Spivey “Leaf Blower Bans”
- California Assembly Bill 1881 (2006)
- City of Long Beach Memorandum, January 10, 2017, Kelly Colopy, “Early leaf blowers averaged about 78 decibels, with some machines measuring even louder…. Many new blowers are at or below 65 decibels. For every six-decibel reduction, sound intensity is actually reduced by 50 percent. That means many of today’s units are four times quieter than older blowers.”
- More fuss than dust, leaf blowers not big polluters, study says. Mark Grossi (technical contributions by Fitz, D.), Fresno Bee, February 23, 2006 “The first dust study ever done on leaf blowers portrays them as an insignificant polluter in the San Joaquin Valley.
- U.S. EPA Regulatory Impact Analysis and Regulatory Support Document, (Phase 1) Control of Air Pollution; Emissions Standard for New Nonroad Spark-Ignited Engines at or Below 19 kW, May 1995 “All of the prototype engines meet their respective standards. Phase 2 Final Rule: Emission Standards for New Nonroad Handheld Spark-Ignition Engines At or Below 19 kW, March 2000; U.S. EPA 2018 Small Spark-Ignited Engine Certification Database.
Approved by the CLCA Board of Directors on June 5, 2019