Here’s Why Leaf Blowers Are Evil Incarnate

Welcome to fall, which means one thing: leaf blowers.

The leaf blower is to suburban life what the 3:30 a.m. rave in the short-term-rental apartment upstairs is to city life. They happen. They are completely out of your control. They make you want to commit murder.

To be fair to leaf blowers, there are lots of things that make noise in the suburbs. Lawn mowers, garbage trucks, generators and Joe, the old guy down the street with the jacked-up Dodge Ram 1500 Hemi with a Flowmaster Super 10. They all cause a certain amount of country-style agita. But no other suburban noisemaker has the ability to infuriate as quickly and thoroughly as a leaf blower can, even if your local noise ordinances restrict their use to the hours between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Gas or electric, it makes little difference. Both are loud—up to 100 dB at 50 feet, or the equivalent of a chainsaw. The gas variety has the added benefit of belching exhaust fumes all over the neighborhood. And they are hellishly ubiquitous in the ‘burbs.

No other suburban noisemaker has the ability to infuriate as quickly and thoroughly as a leaf blower can.


Shawn Michael Jones for The Wall Street Journal

The reasons that leaf blowers are ultimately so insufferable boil down, as most things do, to three main causes. They are:

Timbre: Is there a sound in the world more annoying than that of a leaf blower? It’s basically a gas- or electric-powered mosquito attached to the world’s largest megaphone, and the mosquito was already designed to produce the single most annoying sound in the world. Yet, mankind has managed to amp up, to an excruciating level, what nature had already made unbearable. Thanks, Mankind.

In addition to the volume of noise it makes (the window that can block the sound hasn’t been invented), the leaf blower is an auditory water torture. First, it’s ON at an ear-breaking, entirely too-close range, getting louder, then softer, then louder then…OFF. Is it done? Can I turn the TV back on or resume my telephone conversation? Can I relax—ON! EVEN LOUDER THAN BEFORE! As long as this torment continues, all other life activities cease as you wait and wait for it to be over…then wait for it to begin again. You’ll be mentally exhausted by the time the final leaf is blown.

Timing: The time at which a leaf blower starts up is always the worst possible time. Perhaps you’re putting your tiny golden baby child down for a nap. Maybe you’ve had a chance, after a trying day of doing whatever you do all day, to sit down with a cocktail and that bestseller you’ve been dying to start. Or you and your loved one are finally going to have a hard discussion about a certain situation that you’ve been avoiding for, like, 20 years. Whatever it is, no matter when it is, a leaf blower will start up in your neighborhood somewhere (which means it will sound like it’s in your kitchen) the instant you begin. Your plans, however crucial, will be postponed and/or canceled. You will never get those three hours of your life back. They were stolen by the leaf blower.

The time at which a leaf blower starts up is always the worst possible time.


Shawn Michael Jones for The Wall Street Journal

Torpescence: Leaf blowers evolved from farm equipment and burst into popular usage in the late 1970s. I was a child in the pre-leaf-blower 1970s. I don’t remember there being an annual, autumn crisis in which layers upon layers of fallen leaves covered every single square inch of suburban America, halting all commerce and transport, because there was NO POSSIBLE WAY to get rid of them. That’s because we had rakes! We used the rakes to gather all those leaves up and put them in bags to take to the dump. Or we burned them. It took hours. It got us out of the house (parental bonus). It exhausted us and we didn’t bicker or squabble and fell asleep promptly after dinner. Plus raking leaves was fun, mostly. We created enormous mounds of leaves. We jumped in them. We were occasionally impaled by some sort of sharp lawn tool left prongs-up underneath those leaves, but it was just a minor inconvenience because we were wearing Toughskins, which were mostly puncture-proof. Plus we were up to date on our tetanus shots.


How do you cope when your neighbors pull out their leaf blowers? Join the conversation below.

But, today, heaven forbid we should demand that our precious, over-scheduled children tear themselves away from the Tik-gram and Mortal Theft Auto and Mario Duty or whatever and go outside and rake the yard and get some exercise and fresh air or, in fact, do anything to contribute to the upkeep of the family homestead. We certainly can’t ask hardworking parents to spend a few hours outdoors on lawn maintenance when there are weekend century bike rides and golf outings and tennis and spa days and an endless litany of children’s team sporting events to attend both far and wide. Clearly, leaf blowers are the only possible way to deal effectively with fallen leaves.

So, in summation: the loud, obnoxious, ubiquitous leaf blower is evil incarnate. Unless it’s yours.

Today, heaven forbid, we ask our precious, over-scheduled children to tear themselves away from the Tik-gram or from Mario Duty and go outside and rake the leaves.


Shawn Michael Jones for The Wall Street Journal

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