Cutting the cord

I hate mowing the grass. Its not the exercise or movement; its just a time-sink that you have to do many times a year. If my neighborhood didn't have restrictions on the presence of a green lawn of grass that is less than a specific height, I would just say we should replace it with ferns or cactus. Less work, less cost and better for the environment.

But I don't live in such a forward thinking place, so I suffer through fertilizing, seeding and mowing on a regular basis. It may be unpleasant, but at least I get some much needed exercise out of the deal.

Besides the general annoyance, the equipment has always frustrated me as well. Gas mowers are loud, noisy, fuel-inefficient and need more maintenance than I feel they should. My first car, in 1992, was a 1965 Ford Mustang and it needed less maintenance than any mower I've ever owned.

So when my 11 year old gas mower refused to start (or eventually restart), I realized it was time to change tactics. My nephews tended to make salad out of my yard, so there was no going back to having them do it, this time using their own equipment. The mower needed replacing and there was no getting around it.

I've been following the development of electric cars for many years. As a person who commutes long distances, about 630 miles a week, I prize fuel efficiency. The day where long-distance electrical, self-driving vehicles are a reality cannot come soon enough for me. But as they are not here yet, I must continue to wait and wish for their arrival.

If my next automobile will be an electric, then it stands to reason that my mower, which is arguably worse than any automobile I've ever owned, should be as well, right? Yes, it most assuredly does.

This is a decision I've considered a few times in the past, looking for a mower that looked as rugged and capable as my gas-powered beasts. Unfortunately, no such machine has existed... until now.

Enter the 80-volt monster from Lowe's... their Kobalt.

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The problem with prior incarnations of electric mowers was horsepower... or lack thereof. I was replacing a relatively mid-range push mower with a 6.5 HP engine and 21' cutting deck. For my third of an acre lawn which slopes about 20' feet from back to front, it means quite a workout pushing even a relatively light gas mower. If the grass goes two weeks between mowings during prime growing season, then the gas machine will likely bog down in several parts of the yard. What always kept me from picking an electric was the (justified) concern that an 18v or even 24v mower would be unable to push through any type of heavy grass.

This meant a lot of research and reading was a must before investing a significant amount of money, greater than what would be needed to simply buy a new gas mower, in a new piece of equipment. I read reviews in many different places online and it seemed as if 80v was the sweet spot. It was enough to get through all but the worst of the yards. Given the neighborhood restrictions, my yard was unlikely to ever be in the worst condition, so going electric was at least a possibility.

But is the additional cost of an electric offset by not needing to pay for gas and oil? Not even close. Frankly, even if I assume the mower lasts for 10 years without any service that I can't do myself and having no need to replace a battery, I will still be out more money than I would if I had just purchased a cheap gas mower. Don't think you're making a good investment of your money going electric; you're not. There are great other benefits though.

The Good Stuff

First up is noise. An electric mower isn't exactly quiet, but compared to a gas mower, it is significantly less noisy. With the old mower, I needed to keep my ear buds in and just one level below the loudest setting to be able to hear music. Forget spoken word, that wasn't intelligible even on the loudest setting. With the electric, the volume for spoken word is one level above the half-way point. For comparison, in a quiet house, I usually use 25% as my standard volume level.

Yes, the mower can still be heard inside the house, even when I'm in a far part of the yard, but even when right next to the house, it is nowhere near as obnoxiously loud as a gas mower is at the far edge of the yard. I've even taken a phone call while mowing the grass, and if you use a set of AirPods, its possible the person on the other end of the phone won't realize you're mowing the grass.

The trimmer is actually louder than the mower; I usually have to increase the volume to hard audio, often two or more levels higher than what I use for the mower. This was somewhat surprising to me, but I feel the difference to be in how the mower has its housing as a shield where the trimmer has no such noise suppression mechanism. Noise pollution isn't the only thing good about this mower though!

With the old gas mower, when I had finished the yard, my hands ached from the vibration. Even more impressive than the reduction in noise is the reduction in vibration. I don't feel like I'm being shaken apart by the Kobalt, which is something I had not expected.

All good things, you say, but how does it, you know, actually cut?

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In two words... not bad.

I'm not going to lie to you and tell you this thing is better than the gas mower; its not. In most cases, its comparable. It does bog down in the same places as the gas mower did and about as many times. It definitely wasn't worse, but didn't improve on the 6.5 HP mower with a freshly sharpened blade, either.

I have noticed that in very thin-bladed grass in parts of the yard where the grass isn't as thick (shady spots, next to the fence, etc), it does do noticeably worse than the gas mower. Much of this lack of performance comes from the throttling of the RPMs that the mower does as a battery saving measure.

The Meh

So, I know you're thinking, how is that battery life? In two words... it depends.

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I have three of the 2 amp batteries. I purchased the mower, which comes with two, and the trimmer, which came with one more, and also had one charger with each device. That means that I can have two batteries charging while I'm mowing, and you do need that kind of capacity in some situations.

The best I've done in mowing my third of an acre is just under two batteries to complete mowing and trimming. The trimmer uses significantly less electricity than the mower. Because of a back-yard retaining wall and a full fence, I have more than the average amount of trimming to do, but even when the grass is tall, the trimmer will barely use any energy from a single charge to finish up that entire part of the mowing process.

But the mower is a completely different animal. If the grass has grown only a small amount since the last cutting and I've cut it recently, I can get through the entire yard easily on those two batteries. We're talking it being nearly drought conditions in Kentucky to make that happen, though.

A more average usage is three full batteries, and possibly a bit of a fourth, to finish the entire yard. My back yard, being at the top of the hill and flatter than the rest of the yard, holds water more than the front yard, where it all runs down the edges, due to blockage by the house, driveway and fence.

At its worst, the backyard can take two full batteries to cut, but that has only happened twice in the entire three months I've been using the electric. Usually it is one and a quarter to one and a half, to finish the back.

The front, with the small side yard in front of the fence included, usually takes one, to one and a third battery to mow. At its worst, its taken two full batteries, and that was only one time.

Summing it up, the best I've done is just under two batteries for the entire yard, mowing and trimming, and the worst was five batteries. Its that worst case scenario though that has more caveats.

While it was only five batteries, it wasn't just grass length that caused it; heat played a major role as well. When its really hot out, the batteries discharge more quickly. I haven't determined why this is, but it is clear that they do. When you put the batteries back to charge, the charging stations spend a significant period of time cooling off the batteries before beginning the charging process. This only happened when it was above 85 degrees Fahrenheit outside, but it had a doubling effect on the charging time.

With three batteries, the usual process is that as soon as I exhaust the first battery, I remove a fresh one from the charger and place the empty one on the charger in its place. By the time I exhaust the second and third battery, the first one is charged again. This is great, because I can keep mowing with no stoppage. When the temperature rises about about 85 degrees Fahrenheit, that pattern falls apart completely.

Regardless of temperature, the batteries take essentially the same length of time to charge, but when its hot out, the charging process doesn't start immediately when the battery is inserted into the charger. The fans on the charger spin up immediately, but they spend at least the same amount of time they charge in first cooling the battery down to a lower temperature. I keep the charging station in my garage, and when I'm mowing the overhead door is always open, so there is plenty of air movement in the space. The batteries are simply too warm coming out of the mower to begin charging immediately. Given what I know of battery technology, I believe this to be a safety measure, to ensure the batteries themselves do not rupture due to thermal expansion. I'm all for not having exploding batteries, but the time expansion does make completion time during the hottest, and heaviest grass growth, times of the year a lot more difficult.

While the batteries charge, I have changed my habits to go inside, cool down myself and do some hydration. As I am aging, this is probably a smart thing to do so that I don't collapse in the yard from heat stroke. As much as I just want to be done with this burdensome chore, the battery charging cycle being slow during the heat is probably a good thing for me.

If I wanted to, I could remedy this problem by investing in a 4-amp battery. This would mean that during the worst times of the year, I would not need to wait for the charging cycle to complete on two of the batteries in order to finish mowing. The obvious downside here is that the battery purchase would make the economics of the mower significantly worse than it already is. So for me, its just time to take a break while the batteries recharge.

Final Judgment

In all, I have to say, I am happy with my purchase. It is not without its trade-offs and it isn't something I would recommend for all consumers. If you purchase knowing the caveats and you can accept them, then you will likely be happy with your purchase. The positives of less maintenance, less vibration and less noise is worth the higher price and battery life annoyance. For me, this was the right purchase, even if it wasn't the perfect purchase.

If your existing mower is working just fine, I would suggest you keep it for the time being and not rush out to replace it with an electric. If your mower has seen better days and are willing to put up with those few limitations, an electric mower might be a good option for you.