Homeowners who like a neat lawn but like clean air even more are reconsidering the old-fashioned reel mower. That's a planetary relief: The Environmental Protection Agency says a single gas mower creates as much hourly pollution as 11 cars. People Powered Machines, an online vendor in Ipswich, Mass., sold 4,000 this year, up from 3,000 in '07. "I am 150 percent happy," says pharmacist Scott Podolan, 36, of Dublin, Ohio, who sold two old gas mowers at a yard sale this year and used the proceeds for a $240 Brill Razorcut 38. That's about $100 more than the garden-variety model, but the blades are supposed to last eight years before they need sharpening.
Podolan is glad to be rid of his gasoline mowers, which emitted carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. He says the 17-pound reel mower is easy to push and quiet enough that he can chat with family and friends while mowing.
Keep in mind that a reel mower is not for everyone. Slower than its power cousin, it is best suited for lawns a quarter acre or smaller. It may need to take a second pass over stubborn spots. If grass or weeds are taller than 4 inches, they'll just bend over.
The grass itself, meanwhile, might prefer a power trim. A power mower's fast-moving rotary blades make a sharper cut, says Tom Voigt, turf specialist at the University of Illinois. The scissorslike blades of a reel mower leave ragged edges, exposing more surface area. The lawn is then quicker to dry out and more vulnerable to disease-bearing organisms. Another downside: Reel mowers typically cut grass to about 1½ inches. A power mower can be set for a 2-to-3-inch height, enabling the grass to form deeper roots that help it weather a drought.
The reel mower does provide the benefit of a slightly better workout, when compared with a power mower. In 15 minutes, a 150-pound person burns about 102 calories with a reel mower vs. 93 for using a gas-powered mower.
Then again, a push mower might spare you a workout altogether. In a modern version of Tom Sawyer's fence-painting escapade, Podolan's neighbors and his 7- and 8-year-old sons are eager to grab the handles of his retro mower.