What Type of Lawn Mower Do I Need?
Mowing your yard can either be a somewhat pleasant experience or a downright miserable chore. It really all depends on whether or not you have the right type of lawn mower for the job. And how do you know if you’ve got the right type of mower? That’s what we’re here to talk about.
Questions to Consider
- What size is your lawn?
- What’s your budget?
- Are you interested in electric or gas power?
- What features are you looking for?
What Size Is Your Lawn?
The first thing you’ll need to figure out is how big the area is that you’ll need to cut. The type of mower you’ll choose will depend largely on the space that needs to be mowed. Trying to mow an acre with a push mower will exhaust you, while tackling your 1/8 acre with a 72″ zero turn is pretty much overkill for homeowner use.
If you’re not entirely sure how much area you have, there’s a few ways to figure out how much space you’ll need to account for. The easiest way we’ve come up with is to hop on Google Maps, click to the satellite view of your yard, and drag out the dimensions. Google will let you know roughly how large the area is.
The other way to estimate your area is to go take a walk around your yard. Walking off large rectangles of space, you’ll count up your steps. Then you’ll add up the areas of those rectangles. The average man’s stride amounts to about 30″, while a woman’s is around 26″. Granted, this isn’t particularly precise, but we’re really just looking for a rough estimate.
An acre is 42,560 square feet. If you divide that by four, you get 10,890, which is a 1/4 acre, and about as much as you’ll probably want to mow with a walk-behind mower. Anything over that, and you might want to think about upgrading to something you can ride on.
Balancing Your Budget With Your Acreage
Once you’ve figured out how much space you’ve got to maintain, you probably ought to work out a budget for your new mower. Obviously, the type of lawn mower you’ll purchase will depend also on what you can spend.
Walk-behind push and self-propelled mowers will likely run you anywhere from $200 to $500. Of course, these prices have the potential to raise to up to $750 if you’re making the jump to cordless electric mowers.
Like we said, if you’re mowing more than a 1/4 acre, you might want to move to a rider, though plenty of battery-powered and all gas mowers can tackle more than a 1/4 acre on a charge or a tank of gas. It’s just that, with their typically 19″ – 21″ decks and 3 mph top walking speed, you’ll be mowing for a long time.
Rear engine riding mowers, might be the next logical step in this progression. These will likely fit the bill if you need something more than a walk-behind mower, but less than a full-blown lawn tractor. They’ll have deck sizes in the 30″-33″ range, and typically sport a single-cylinder engine that manages around 10 hp. They’ll typically cost anywhere from $1200 to $2400.
The next step up from here, the lawn tractor, will likely run you anywhere between $1300 and $3000. These mowers have larger decks (usually between 42″ to 54″), larger front-mounted engines (18-25 hp) and more available features (EFI, hydrostatic and continuously variable transmissions, etc).
How Do I Know How Much Acreage A Riding Mower Can Handle?
You can usually get a good idea of how much acreage these can handle by taking the deck size and dividing by twelve. So, a lawn tractor with a 42″ deck could potentially handle up to 3-1/2 acres.
Zero Turn Mowers
Finally, we come to the queen mother of residential mower options: the zero turn mower. This type of mower has gained a ton of popularity in recent years, both on the professional and residential level. This owes a lot to the fact that these mowers are not just highly maneuverable, but they can also tackle a lot of acreage quickly.
This type of mower has a design that operates a bit more like a tank and less like your steering-wheeled traditional lawn tractor. Because the steering is generally controlled with lap bars that toggle dual hydrostatic transmissions, your forward and reverse movements are controlled independently from one another, meaning that the steering allows for pivoting in one place (hence the name). The result is a mower that is easy to turn quickly and maneuver in and out of tighter spots.
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Because these mowers typically come with anywhere from about 450cc to 700cc engines that can crank out between 12 hp to 25 hp, they can cover a lot of ground quickly. It also helps that they can feature deck sizes from 32″ to 60″ (commercial models can get even larger).
For this type of residential lawn mower, you’re probably going to be looking at a price tag somewhere between $1200 to $6000.
Should I Go Electric?
Battery power is all the rage these days, but is it right for you? Let’s look at the pros and cons of electric battery powered mowers.
- Instant torque
- No messy gas or oil needed
- No emissions or fumes
- Easy storage
- Much quieter
- Little to no maintenance
- Higher intial costs
- Less power than gas
- Less runtime than gas (though efficiency and power management has been steadily improving)
- Lithium-Ion Batteries will need replacing every three to five years
For a more in-depth discussion of the gas vs battery power debate, check out our article on this very subject.
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What Features Am I Looking For?
You might find that there are some particular features that will make your next mower purchase a whole lot easier to figure out. There are tons of options out there, from front caster wheels and integrated wash-out fittings to larger fuel tanks and improved transmissions. You’ll have to shop around some to help you figure out what type of lawn mower works best for you, but here are some of the featues we look for in a mower.
Some folks like the extra exercise that comes with shoving a 75 lb mower across a yard, but we prefer the mower to do the hard work for us. A self-propelled drive will spare you some fatigue, especially when it comes to hills, or when you’ve got a full bag of grass clippings. You even have options between front wheel drives, rear wheel drives, and all-wheel drives.
We don’t see much variety in the world of gas-powered mower decks, but with cordless electric, you have a few options. Steel is pretty much the default, but some manufacturers have started to use poly and plastic materials to construct their decks. These tend to be a good deal lighter than steel, but they will also be less durable.
Some of your higher-end models will include a blade brake clutch, which will allow you to take your hands away from the operator controls without the engine shutting off. This is helpful when you need to empty your grass bag or when you need to move something out of your path.
Honda’s Roto Stop system, which we had the chance to experience with one of their commercial models, was a particularly effective example.
Around our shop, everyone pretty much just mulches, and we don’t generally bag up or side-discharge our clippings. However, it’s nice to have options sometimes. Most mowers give you the option of mulching, bagging, or side-discharging, but some only have two of the three. You’ll have to decide if this important to you.
You typically see three different ways that manufacturers set up their cut height adjustment. A single-point adjustment allows you to set the height at all four wheels at once with a single lever. The downside is that this single point can create some flimsiness at the wheel base if the mower has some heft to it. We prefer this setup, assuming that the mower has a sturdy build.
A four-point adjustment means that you need to set the height at each of the four wheels. This is more precise, but it can be a hassle to set your height four seperate times.
Some manufacturers have incorporated a two-point adjustment at the front and back of the mower. This is a good compromise between the other two options.
What Type of Lawn Mower Should I Buy?
Really, a lot of your decision will come down to your preferences, but it won’t hurt to talk over the decision with whoever is selling you the mower. Let the sales team know how big your yard is, as well as your general preferences of the features you want and what type of grass you’ll be cutting. Ultimately, your budget will dictate a fair bit of the actual decision making process. And, if you find that that mower that you really want is financially out of reach, it never hurts to take a gander at the used market.