Dollars and Cents: Gas vs. Electric Mowers
Electric or Gas for Lawn Mowing?
By now we all recognize the benefits of battery electric power. Whether it’s a car, lawn mower, weed whacker, or leaf blower, electric power is low impact. It reduces noise, cuts emissions, and sunsets much of the inconvenience we associate with gas-powered equipment (refueling, gas runs, gas spills, spark plugs, pulleys, belts, air filters, etc.).
Nevertheless, when you shop for battery electric equipment—and here we will focus on lawn mowers—you quickly understand that you will almost always have to pay a premium price versus the cost of an equivalent gas-powered option. Even knowing that you will no longer have the expense of gasoline and related maintenance, it isn’t always easy to pay the upfront cost difference. But the right approach is to do the math, then make your decision.
So, let’s shop for a new lawn mower—setting aside the social and environmental issues—and focus purely on the dollars and cents. The question we will try to answer is “given, the higher upfront cost, can you recoup the extra cost for an electric lawn mower in the form of operational savings, and, if so, how long will it take to get there?” Our method will apply to virtually any size or type of lawn mower. The first step is to choose a gas mower and an electric mower to compare.
Research and Collect Information
Shop around and settle on two equivalent mowers to compare. Here are the key numbers you will need to gather:
A. Enter the price of the battery-electric model that you will compare to a gas mower (B). Make sure the two mowers have generally equivalent features and include all the accessories you would want with each.
B. Comparable gas mower price.
C. Enter the number of hours you expect to mow on an annual basis.
D. Enter the price per gallon you expect to pay over the next few years. Of course, it’s hard to know what the price of gas will be in the future, but you could simply enter what you currently pay at the gas pump.
E. How much gas a mower consumes per hour varies with the type of mower and the conditions. You may be able to find documentation when you research costs. If not, we recommend a low value of .5 gallons per hour (for smaller push mowers) up to a maximum of 2.5 gallons per hour (for wide zero-turn mowers).
F. Your electricity cost (in KwH) can be found on your electric bill.
G. Enter the cost for an annual tune-up for the gas mower (a cost you won’t incur with a battery electric mower). If you are unsure, enter $100 for a walk-behind or $200 for a riding mower. If the value entered in C. is greater than 50 repeat the cost for every 50 hours of use.
Based on the information you have collected, it’s time to make some calculations. We have run a few examples for you, and, for simplicity, we have assumed in each case that the battery electric mower costs TWICE as much as the gas equivalent. Your own research will provide different inputs, so these are just examples.
In this scenario, it takes about two years of use before the total electric mower investment is equal to that of the gas mower. Any electric mower life beyond that will prove it to be the better long-term investment. If you play with the numbers, you will find that the calculations are quite sensitive to the inputs in A-G, so use the most reliable information you can find.
Here we have bumped the gas consumption (for self-propulsion) and the hours mown on the assumption that the user has a larger property. The “break even” in this scenario is getting close to three years.
We have, again, bumped gas consumption and the hours mown, and we have included two maintenance expenses ($200 x 2). Here the “break even” is approaching four years.
Extra Wide/Zero-Turn Mowers
Again, we have increased the hours of mowing, gas consumption and maintenance ($200 x 3).
Mowers are available in a huge range of options and prices so it’s important to research and plug in your own numbers. At this writing, gas has soared over $5 per gallon but we’ve kept it at $4.50. Of course, by the time you read this, things could be quite different!
The walk-behind scenarios in our samples present solid financial cases for going electric. With riding mowers, the longer “break even” periods might leave you without a clear direction, at least in financial terms. One thing to consider, if you are still undecided, is the warranty. Electric mowers typically have separate warranties for batteries and the rest of the machine. So, comparing the warranty terms to the payback period may increase (or decrease) your comfort level about paying more for electric power.
That said, well-maintained lawn mowers outlive their warranties a high percentage of the time. If the battery life is your main concern, add an extra battery to your electric mower price (A) and see how that affects the payback term (M/N)
It’s Not Just About the Money!
While we said this topic was all about the money, it shouldn’t necessarily get the last word. Electric power has many benefits beyond potential savings. The ease-of-use that electric mowers afford, including push-button starting, quiet operation, lack of fumes, and lack of interruptions for refueling make them more enjoyable products to use. Going electric may also feel like an act of good citizenship, but, even if that doesn’t resonate for you, some classes of gas-powered mowers are illegal in certain locations, most notably California. And many other locations and municipalities are considering (or have already adopted) similar bans.
Check Back with Us for More Products and Information
We offer an array of gas and electric lawn mowers and we invite you to browse them. And we will soon bring more products to our collection and additional articles that will help you navigate the rapidly changing landscape of outdoor power equipment, so visit us again soon! Meanwhile, you can sign up for product and content udates and we will deliver them righ to your inbox.
Last updated: 8/12/2022