CR tests leaf blowers and gutter guards

BY CONSUMER REPORTS Modified: August 19, 2010 at 1:25 pm •  Published: August 17, 2010
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Gas leaf blowers are still the fastest way to clear a yard full of leaves. But Consumer Reports' latest tests of more than 30 models show that lower prices and comparable performance for the best electric blowers make them a smart choice for most homeowners, especially if you care about noise.

Toro's corded-electric Ultra Blower Vac 51599, $70, and Super Blower Vac 51592, $60, swept away leaves and loosened stubborn fragments almost as well as the top gas blowers. And while some gas models are less noisy than others, electrics are quietest overall.

Keeping your neighbors happy might be the best reason to choose a less-raucous blower. A quieter engine and a smaller impeller made the $230 Kawaski KRB300A backpack blower the least noisy gas backpack model tested. It's among a growing breed of relatively compact, lower-priced models that are essentially handheld blowers with backpack straps. But don't expect the power you'd get with most full-sized backpack blowers.

HOW TO CHOOSE

-- Know the law. A few areas prohibit gas blowers, and a handful in California ban all blowers, no matter how quiet the machine is. Check with your community or go to www.ConsumerReports.org/blowernoise for a nationwide list of regulations.

-- Decide whether you need to vacuum. Many handheld blowers also pick up yard debris. But their relatively small tubes limit how much you can suck up at one time.

-- Factor in other features. Flatter nozzles tend to be better for sweeping leaves, while rounded ones are usually best for loosening them. Adjustable speeds let you power down around fragile garden beds, and a clear gas tank shows fuel level.

-- Look for labor savers. Handheld models that scored well in CR's handling tests have better balance and, often, a second grip for added control. A convenient shut-off switch lets the user cut the motor or engine quickly. And while the wheeled Little Wonder 9502, $700, is a heavyweight, its pneumatic tires took some of the fight out of pushing it over uneven terrain.

-- Skip dirt-cheap models. At less than $40, the corded Weed Eater WEB160 and Homelite UT42100 may be tempting for sweeping smooth driveways and other light-duty chores.

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