EQUIPMENT OPTIONS: Blown away

Powered blowers have become a standard piece of equipment for anyone in the business of maintaining landscapes. As a matter of fact, most landscape contractors will tell you that blowers are indispensable. Without them, cleaning up even a small yard would take an unacceptable amount of time — time that could be spent getting to another job before the end of the day.

Choosing a blower

With so many makes, models and types of blowers available, it's important to choose the one best suited for how you plan to use it. Backpack blowers are often more powerful than hand-helds, and are better-suited for commercial use in a variety of ways. They have larger fuel tanks and air filters that allow you to use them longer without cleaning or refueling them. Before selecting a blower, consider your useage: Will you use the blower for long periods of time without shutting it off, or will you start and stop it several times during the course of one job? Also think about how powerful you really need it to be: Will you be using it to sweep piles of wet leaves, or will you be using it to just clear sidewalks and driveways of grass clippings? Generally, backpack blowers are geared toward landscape contractors, offering more power and larger fuel tanks for longer use.

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One of the most important things to consider before purchasing a blower is how quiet you need it to be. Many cities have ordinances that impose noise restrictions and stipulate maximum-acceptable decibel levels, so it is important to check with city hall before you select a blower.

Noise levels

Americans' No. 1 neighborhood complaint — above crime, traffic and poor public service — is noise. Every day, more than 138 million Americans experience noise levels that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rates as “annoying and disruptive.” Among city-dwelling Americans, 87 percent are exposed to noise so loud that it has the potential to degrade hearing capacity over time.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) considers noise above 85 decibels dangerous. To put this in perspective, 78 decibels is louder than most alarm clocks, and every 10-decibel increase represents a doubling of the loudness.

Blower manufacturers are aware that noise level is one of the most important factors customers consider when purchasing a blower, and most seem to be heeding the call for quietness. According to tests conducted by Consumer Reports, “…most gas-powered leaf blowers are indeed quieter than they used to be.”

Even if your city currently has no restrictions on noise, it is a good idea to look for blowers that have decibel ratings in the 60s or 70s. These are levels that satisfy many communities' standards, should your city decide to impose noise-related ordinances in the future.

Power

Backpack blowers generally have engine displacements of 30 to 60-plus cc. These engines can generate air velocities of 160 to 250 mph, with air volume of 400 to 640 cfm. Some of the more powerful models — those with blowing power of 190 mph or more — can easily clear heavier debris, such as piles of wet leaves, and even move bricks. However, if you're just looking to clear light debris from hard surfaces, such as patios and sidewalks, power is not as important. You'll want to choose a blower with a smaller engine (about 40 cc) that is capable of blowing air at 160 to 180 mph.

Comfort

Backpack blowers are some of the easiest equipment to handle and operate. Most of them are relatively lightweight, weighing in at around 20 pounds. Look for models that offer adjustable throttle controls that lock into position for easy starting. Also look for a padded harness that will reduce vibration. Harness design and comfort will vary, so be sure to try on the blower and make sure it's comfortable to you before you buy it.

What a difference a few years can make. No matter what kind of chore you have to do, manufacturers are making sure you can do it faster and more comfortably than ever before.

James Mansell is a power products technology instructor at Francis Tuttle Technology Center (Oklahoma City, Okla.).

Who: Cub Cadet Commercial

What: BB 45

Description: Its 44.8-cc engine can handle grass clippings to wet leaves. Its fan delivers air speeds up to 180 mph and air volume up to 400 cfm at the pipe. Features include rugged engine and fan housings, plus a two-part air filter and dual piston rings for engine protection. It weighs 19.6 pounds and is equipped with a padded backrest that features adjustable shoulder straps and ventilation grooves for added comfort. A tube-mounted throttle control swivels for ease of operation and locks for easy starting and continuous operation.
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Who: Echo

What: PB-650

Description: The PB-650 provides more than 205 mph and 650 cfm. It features a 63.3 cc, commercial-grade, dual-ring piston Echo engine and has a fully adjustable, hip-mounted throttle with cruise control. Extra-large-diameter pipes are designed to enhance blowing performance. Other features include a 69-fluid-ounce, see-through fuel tank. The unit weighs less than 21 pounds with pipes and comes with a two-year commercial warranty.
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Who: Husqvarna

What: 155BT

Description: The 49-cc engine powers a fan that delivers air velocity of 183 mph and air volume of 398 cfm at the tube. The blower weighs 19.4 pounds and is equipped with a 2-liter fuel tank and tube-mounted throttle.
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Who: John Deere

What: BP50

Description: With 185-mph air velocity, 470-cfm air volume at the end of the tube and a 48.6-cc engine, the BP50 is designed for commercial use. A soft-tone muffler system lowers sound levels for quieter operation. A “pistol-type” throttle on the tube is designed for ease of use and provides precise control. The 19.4-pound blower also features a 54-ounce fuel tank. The blower has a 69.5 dBA rating at 50 feet.
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Who: Kawasaki

What: KRB400B

Description: Designed to minimize noise, weight and vibration, the KRB400B features a 3.2-hp Kawasaki engine that blows leaves and debris with air volume of 418 cfm and air velocity of 198 mph, yet operates at several decibels quieter than last year. A joy-stick throttle includes a fully adjustable throttle lock and engine-shutoff switch. A muffler with glass-wool lining also helps suppress noise. Its high-density padded backrest and wide, padded shoulder harness minimize vibration. The unit weighs about 18 pounds.
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Who: RedMax

What: EB4400

Description: The EB4400 blower is powered by a 41.5-cc, 2-cycle RedMax engine. It moves up to 565 cfm of air at a speed of up to 160 mph and has a noise rating of 72 dBA. The blower weighs 19.4 pounds and comes with a one-year commercial warranty. An optional two-year warranty is available.
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Who: Shindaiwa

What: EB630

Description: Shindaiwa's EB630 blower delivers air velocity of 201 mph. It has a 62-cc, 3.9-hp engine with a noise rating of 75 dBA. The unit weighs 19.7 pounds.
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Who: Stihl

What: BR 420

Description: Its 36.5-cc engine delivers air speeds of up to 180 mph and is equipped with a new heavy-duty filter system, which includes a vertical pleated air filter. The Stihl IntelliCarb compensating carburetor allows long running times at full power without the need for frequent air-filter cleanings. The blower weighs 19.6 pounds. Optional features include a sprayer conversion kit, metering pump kit and dusting and granulate-spreading attachment.
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Who: Vandermolen Corp.

What: Windmill 542BTx

Description: The 542BTx is CARB-compliant and equipped with a low-tone muffler. It weighs 18.75 pounds (including blowpipes) and is powered by a 40.2-cc Kawasaki engine that generates 590 cfm air volume and 250 mph air speed. Its throttle- and air-direction control are combined in a tilt-adjustable pistol grip with an all-position speed lock and thumb-slide on/off switch. It also features a ribbed back cushion.
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