Thursday, April 17, 2014
By Ray Routhier firstname.lastname@example.org
Picking up leaves is all about convenience.
Husqvarna's Gas Backpack Leaf Blower ($299)
The Ames 24-tine leaf rake ($12.97);
Manufacturers are always trying to make leaf-gathering gadgets that make fall chores more convenient. And less like an exercise boot camp.
Gadget makers, though, don't want to take all of the work out of leaf gathering, and neither do most of us. Because taking all the work out of it means hiring someone to rake for you. And hiring someone means you don't get to spend hours in the fresh fall air and sunshine getting some exercise.
Hiring someone also usually means a lot less money in your pocket.
So the mantra of many homeowners when it comes to fall cleanup is -- I want to do it myself, I just don't want to kill myself doing it. Avoiding blisters and back injuries would be a big plus for most weekend leaf warriors.
Keeping the convenience idea in mind, here are some newer leaf gadgets available this fall that are designed to make your leaf-raking load a little lighter.
IT'S A BLOWER; IT'S A VAC; IT'S BOTH!
There were a few years when owners of leaf blowers and leaf vacuums argued over which was better. A leaf blower made quick work of pushing leaves into a pile without raking. But a leaf vac, while slower, picked the leaves right up so you wouldn't have to.
Well, in the past couple of years, manufacturers have been working on combining the two machines, and the blower/vac is the hot leaf gadget this fall.
"We have some really cool products this fall that let you use them as a blower then switch to a vac, and mulch too," said Benjamin Leavitt, an assistant store manager at Home Depot in Portland. "You can make a pile, suck them up, mulch them, all with the same machine."
Electric blower/vacs start at around $50, like electric blowers, while gas-powered machines can be $100 to $200 or so. Some of the blower/vacs require you to do a little re-assembling to change from one function to another, but increasingly, more models let you simply flip a switch.
One of those is the Worx Trivac, an electric model that sells for about $89 at big box stores. The Trivac is so named because it allows you to use the three functions -- vacuum, blower, mulcher -- with a flip of a switch.
CAN IT GET ANY MORE CONVENIENT?
Most leaf vacuums/blowers/mulchers attach to a bag. This means you have to empty the bag into a barrel or another bag, probably dozens of times while collecting all your leaves.
So maybe the next thing leaf gadget inventors will come up with is a way for your leaf machine to be attached to a hose that you can then attach right to a paper leaf bag, trash barrel or other curbside receptacle.
Gerard Giordano, a sales specialist at Lowe's in Portland, says such things are available and used by commercial leaf collectors. Over the years, there have been some consumer-oriented devices as well that let you attach your leaf vac to a trash can, but they didn't work very well, and currently the Portland Lowe's is not carrying them. But who knows what the future may hold?
A PUNCH IN THE GUTTER
Cleaning leaves out of roof gutters is a pain, no two ways about it. Home improvement stores carry various devices to make it a little more convenient, though it'll never be easy.
Some stores sell attachments designed to be hooked to a power washer and then sprayed into a gutter, blasting out the debris. But those are usually more than $100. For about $25, you can buy a telescoping wand that attaches to your garden hose and allows you to spray your gutters.
Or you can look for a telescoping rake designed to fit a gutter. One model simply called "The Gutter Rake" sells for about $10.
ROAM WHERE YOU WANT TO
In Maine, lots of people have yards that take a while to walk across. So an electric blower with an extension cord is not ideal. Bigger yards also often have a lot more leaves, which means you need something powerful that allows you to roam freely.
That's where the gas-powered backpack blower comes in. Again, this is something that a few years ago you mostly saw being used by landscapers and folks working for lawn-care companies. Husqvarna -- known for heavy-duty power equipment -- makes a backpack blower for the consumer market that has a 50.2 cc gas engine and sells for about $299.
One way to tell how powerful your leaf blower is -- whether it's gas or electric -- is to look for two numbers on the box, Giordano says.
One will indicate miles per hour -- mph -- which tells you how fast the air is blowing. The other will indicate cubic feet per minute -- cfm -- which tells you the volume of air that's being moved.
Giordano says you want to look for as high a number on both as you can find. The Husqvarna, for instance, is listed at 251 mph and 710 cfm.
LEAF LONG AND PROSPER
If you buy any electric or gas-powered leaf gadget, it's important to know what maintenance it needs and to take care of it, says Giordano.
Right now, before leaves drop completely, is a good time to take your gadgets to a small engine repair shop or do some yearly maintenance yourself. And always use a fuel stabilizer in any gas-powered gadgets to help ensure long engine life.
Buying leaf gadgets, after all, is all about taking care -- of your yard and yourself.
"Raking is brutal -- on the hands, the back," says Leavitt at Home Depot. "So people are going to want things that make it easier.
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:
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Leaf Scoops by Gardex ($7.49)
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Toro's Ultra Blower Vac ($69.97)
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The Gutter Blaster ($19.98)