NC State’s Grounds Management is hoping you won’t hear its latest sustainability innovation — a new line of electric lawn care equipment that results in quieter and cleaner landscape maintenance on campus.
“They produce zero emissions and are quiet around offices and residence halls,” said Grounds Management turf superintendent Mark Tennant of the new electric weed and hedge trimmers, leaf blowers and even a lawn mower that are part of a pilot program to evaluate the equipment’s productivity, safety and cost-effectiveness.
Air quality and noise reduction benefits are the driving motivators for the product testing, which could result in greater adoption of electric lawn care technology on campus, according to Grounds Management director Sarah Ketchem.
“Both the operator [of the electric equipment] and the campus community will have less air and noise pollution when this equipment is utilized,” she said. “From an efficiency and productivity standpoint, we are hoping that this quieter technology will allow us to work in areas that we previously had to avoid at certain times of the day. This is a big step for campus in addressing ongoing concerns — particularly related to blower fumes and noise.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency indicates that gas mowers may account for 5 percent of the nation’s air pollution. In fact, one study found that operating the average gas-powered lawn mower for an hour is equivalent to the amount of air pollution emitted by the average 100-mile car trip.
While the air quality benefits are mostly invisible, the “electric equipment lessens our noise impact. It’s a different type of noise that we hope will be less noticeable on campus,” said Grounds Management program manager Jeff DelPinal.
For example, when actively cutting grass, the new electric mower operates at 82 decibels, according to the manufacturer. This level is below the 85 decibel threshold for harmful exposure and comparable to sound levels of being within close proximity to the average food blender, blow dryer or busy highway. At up to 20 decibels quieter than some gas-powered mowers, the electric mower could be perceived by some listeners as up to four times quieter. Without the blade engaged, the new electric mower moves about campus at noise levels similar to an electric vehicle.
Though the purchase cost of the electric equipment is more than gas-powered equipment, operational cost savings are being tracked and are expected to add up quickly since the cost to recharge batteries is cheaper than the cost of gasoline or oil. The university’s average gas mower uses annually about 1,000 gallons of fuel in the 36-week mowing season.
“At Grounds Management, we want to lead the industry on the latest technology,” Ketchem said. “Whether it is in regards to the equipment we use, finding alternatives to environmental hazards or planting the right plants in the right place, our goal is to be a part of the Think and Do culture that drives NC State.”