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Illinois Country Living


Save money with electric yard tools
Mow one-third acre for just 10 cents worth of electricity

Dear Jim: I want to use cordless and electric tools, especially yard tools and a lawn mower, instead of gasoline ones. Will using them increase my electric bills much, and which rechargeable batteries are best? — Kelli F.

Dear Kelli: Using electric or cordless tools make more sense than using gasoline-powered ones for many reasons. Obviously, the United States has to import huge amounts of oil to make gasoline. Anything a homeowner can do to use less gasoline is good. If you have access to an electric outlet, plug-in tools offer lighter weight and more power than cordless ones.

Electric or cordless tools also cost much less to use than gasoline tools. For example, a cordless lawn mower can cut a one-third acre lot for about 10 cents’ worth of electricity to charge the battery — usually an overnight charge at a rate of 45 to 90 watts depending upon the battery voltage. Also, there are no maintenance costs associated with a cordless or electric tool.

There are differences in the life, weight, cost and effectiveness of various types of rechargeable batteries for cordless tools. The four basic types of batteries used are lead-acid, nickel-cadmium, nickel metal-hydride, and lithium-ion.

Lead-acid batteries are used in cordless lawn mowers because they can store the most charge. Lead-acid batteries are also relatively inexpensive for the amount of power they can store. Their drawback is heavy weight. In a tool such as a lawn mower that rests on wheels, this is not a major problem. For hand-held yard tools, having a lead-acid battery hanging on the handle could wear out your arm quickly.

Ni-Cd (nickel-cadmium) batteries were used on the earliest cordless tools and most tools still use them. They are relatively inexpensive, and they maintain their performance at cooler temperatures — an important feature for tools used outdoors. Ni-Cd batteries are relatively heavy, so they are not often used on the highest voltage cordless tools.

Ni-Mh (nickel metal-hydride) was the next generation of rechargeable batteries. These batteries can store more electricity for the weight. They are more expensive to make than Ni-Cds so they are used on fewer cordless tools. They are ideal for indoor use but tend to lose runtime in colder outdoor temperatures. Also, their life (run/recharge cycle) is less than for Ni-Cd batteries.

Li-ion (lithium-ion) batteries are the newest type. These are the most expensive but also are the lightest for the power they can store. Li-ion batteries operate very well at cold temperatures, so they are effective for outdoor use. Some take longer to charge than Ni-Cd or Ni-Mh batteries, so they may not be the best choice if you are constantly running them down and trying to recharge them quickly. Having a second battery pack on the charger is a good idea.

Don’t necessarily look for the highest voltage tool with the most power. No matter what type of battery a tool uses, higher voltage means more battery weight. If you primarily do light shrub trimming or drill small holes in soft wood, lower-voltage is your best choice.

Of your outdoor power tools, you’ll use a lawn mower most often. Most of the newer rechargeable cordless lawn mowers are designed to have enough electric charge to cut the typical one-third acre lot. This is assuming a medium length grass — perhaps one-week growth maximum. With no maintenance, cordless mowers are very easy and quick to use. The only drawback is they are somewhat heavier than a gasoline-powered mower.

I have used a 24-volt cordless mower for many years and still do sometimes. The 36-volt models provide additional power to cut a wider path, which reduces cutting time. For convenience, select a model with a removable battery so the mower can be stored in a shed while keeping the battery in the garage for charging and wintertime storage.

Black and Decker has just introduced a self-propelled, 36-volt cordless mower. It has a variable-speed motor to drive the wheels so you can set a comfortable walking speed. The electric motor that drives the wheels is a soft-start design, so it will not jerk the mower each time you start.

Another new handy cordless tool is a 12-volt pruning saw with a lithium-ion battery to reduce weight, which is important because a pruning saw is often used overhead and can tire shoulder muscles quickly. This lithium-ion battery also holds its charge longer when not in use, an advantage for tools like this that are not frequently used.


The following companies offer cordless lawn mowers/tools:
Black & Decker, (800) 544-6986,; Homelite, (800) 242-4672,; Husqvarna, (800) 438-7297,; Neuton, (800) 798-2921,; and Toro, (888) 384-9939,

Have a question for Jim? Send inquiries to James Dulley, Illinois Country Living, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit





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