Making the Switch to Electric Tools to aid in Ecological Restoration
It’s a clear, crisp, quiet morning. You grab a cup of fresh brewed coffee and find your favorite spot on your deck. The birds are chirping, the bees are buzzing, and you are just loving your peace and tranquility. Then, all of a sudden, your eager beaver neighbor, starts up his old two stroke, gas dripping, weed whip and proceeds to do some aggressive trimming right along your property line. Instead of birds, you hear a high pitched whine of fossil fuel combustion and clouds of oily smoke fill the air.
It’s a given that all of us at some point have been annoyed by these gas-powered lawn tools. On top of the noise and smoke, these engines are responsible for a substantial quantity of carbon emissions. In the United States, over 26 million tons of pollutants are produced by 2 stroke garden equipment each year.
As part of our operations, we have used gas-powered weed whips and chain saws to prepare sites for restoration, and also in maintenance, cutting down invasive weed species. Every season at Natural Shore, we challenge ourselves to look for ways to reduce our carbon emissions in our operations as we work to create exceptional natural habitat. With the ever present concern of climate change, it is a great idea for everyone to collectively think of new ways in which we can tread lightly and have sustainability in mind.
This season we decided to give electric powered tools a try. Our goal is to reduce emissions, while at the same time, continue to use equipment that can stand up to the tough jobs we put them through. We received a grant from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to replace some of our gas-powered implements with electric powered tools. We purchased an electric chain saw, two leaf-blowers, three weed whips, and several replacement batteries. Our hope is that our fleet of e-powered equipment can be high powered, durable, quiet, and clean.
Gas-powered tools are, and have been for many years, an essential part of most industries that manage land. We have been using these tools for well over 20 years. As with any change to the normal way of doing things, the idea of transitioning from gas to electric powered tools can cause apprehension at first. Will they have enough power to get the job done? How long will the batteries last? Are the batteries charged? We had many of these thoughts as we began to learn more about the benefits electric tools offer over their gas counterparts.
So what did our staff like about the new e-tools? Our installation crew found that they are lighter, making them easier to use and carry across long distances. We enjoy the ability to pick up a tool and quickly turn it on and get to work. Too often, weed whips or augers have difficulty starting and time is lost troubleshooting and cord-pulling. Any chance to reduce the overall noise on a project site is greatly appreciated, especially without substantially reducing the tool’s power. They save money due to less maintenance required, no need to buy gas, and no lost productivity from being in the shop. We do keep some gas powered equipment in the truck as backup, just in case we lose battery power.
Our maintenance crews use their weed whips every day, on almost every site, for almost every maintenance visit. It is a critical tool to remove flowering heads of weeds or cutting down plant material that is shading out desirable native plants. For our gas weed whips, a full tank of gas will last about 1.5 hours of constant weed whipping. In comparison, a full battery will last about an hour. The e-weed whips also go through less line, and hold more, meaning we are saving time by changing line less often. The electric weed whips do seem to have less power than the gas-powered weed whips but it isn’t a large difference. We carry several extra batteries with us to the job sites. At the end of each day, we put the batteries back on their docking stations for charging. The maintenance crew would prefer longer lasting batteries, but we still very much prefer using the electric-powered weed whips over the gas-powered ones.
The administration is thrilled that the electric tools are safer for employees: eliminating engine exhaust, reducing odors and respiratory effects, reducing loud noise and the risk of cuts and burns. And lastly, it is rewarding to know that we are working to improve community health by reducing air and noise pollution.
With the encouraging results this season, our next step in this endeavor is to add a sustainable source of power to fuel this new equipment. Over the winter, we will be researching the possibility of installing solar panels at our office. Please stay tuned as we will report on our progress in making our work activities entirely earth-friendly!