Push vs. gas mowers



What is the better choice for mowing your grass… a manual push reel mower or a walk-behind gas mower (push vs. gas mower)?  It really depends on your situation and priorities, but for the average joe, a push mower probably saves more money even though it takes a little extra time.

Push mowers have a lot of other benefits as well, including being much better for the environment, producing less noise, and keeping your grass healthier with cleaner cuts.  But they do have downsides.

In my experience, manual push reel mowers miss a blade of grass here and there, and when the grass is really long the problem gets worse.  And forget about chopping through small sticks and yard debris… this stuff will just dull the blades and jam the mower.

On the whole, however, the downsides aren’t that big of a deal to me.  I don’t need a super crisp, manicured lawn… I take a more utilitarian approach to the yard.  It also doesn’t hurt that I have laid back hippie neighbors that seem to take a pretty utilitarian approach as well.

Even if that isn’t the case in your neighborhood, I don’t mean to imply that you can’t get a nice cut with a push mower… you might just have to cut a little more frequently, keep the blades sharper, or invest in a higher-end reel mower, which is still cheaper than most basic gas mowers.

Beyond the false dichotomy

so 20th century

So before I get into the numbers, I want to step back a little bit and point out that lawns can be pretty big money pits.  Think about all the time you spend cutting the grass or the money you pay someone else to do it.  Add on the watering costs, time spent weeding, growth treatments, etc.  and you get the point.

This post assumes that you are a typical American with a 10,000 square foot grass-covered yard, but it doesn’t have to be like that man!  There are all sorts of alternatives to traditional lawns that require less maintenance and water.  I’m talking about shady moss gardens, fragrant chamomile and mint ground cover, hearty and nitrogen-rich clover, flowering and rugged blue star creeper, garden yards, mulched foot path with native shrubs and trees, etc.  These non-traditional approaches seem to be catching on more and more, and my bet is that they will only become more ubiquitous in years to come.

moss garden

japanese moss garden in portland

The numbers:
  • 10-Year NPV: $796
  • 10-Year ROI: 41%
  • 10-Year Payback: 0.6 years
roi - push vs gas mower

click for link to live spreadsheet

chart - push vs gas mower

Not nearly as exciting as I was hoping, a manual push mower only saves $800 over ten years versus a gas mower.  Why so little you ask?  What really eats away at the ROI in this example is the extra time it takes to use a push mower.

A push mower takes an extra 20 minutes per cut (1 hour versus 40 mins) by my estimation, which adds almost $700 in extra time and labor costs over 10 years.  In other words, if time and labor costs aren’t a concern of yours, the value of using a push lawn mower almost doubles to $1,500 every 10 years.

kid on skateboard

sometimes it pays to kick it old school

Based on my research, the average American mows their yard 300 times in 10 years.  I guesstimated that the median yard size was about 10,000 square feet because I knew that the average was 14,000 (the larger yards skew the average); plus 10,000 is a nice round number.  Using these numbers with a few extra assumptions (including $5.00 hourly labor costs… lower than normal because of exercise benefits) I came to the following conclusions:

  • It costs about $6.41 per mow with a push reel mower
    • Or $0.83 excluding labor costs
  • It costs about $8.00 per mow with a gas walk-behind mower
    • Or $4.67 excluding labor costs

Obviously, there is a lot to like about push mowing, but with an estimated all-in savings of only $1.60 per mow, it might not be worth it for everyone.  Maybe your time is worth more than $5.00 per hour even including the exercise benefits of mowing… I’m thinking of a hard-working parent with young kids and relatively little free time to spend at home with them.  I mean, let’s face it.  This isn’t a slam dunk.

washed up rock dude mowing grass

maybe this just isn’t your thing… no worries electric mowers are pretty good too

If you’re still not in the push mower camp, I’ll at least throw out the electric mower option.  With all the great batter technology out there, electric mowers are getting pretty sophisticated these days.  According to Trent at the Simple Dollar, gas mowers have 450% higher fuel costs than electric mowers.  So running the numbers for an electric mower I get the following:

  • It costs about $6.18 per mow with an electric mower
    • Or about $2.84 excluding labor costs

So an electric mower is basically break-even with a push mower in terms of total costs, maybe even a little cheaper!  Excluding labor costs, though, a push mower is still the way to go.  Regardless, an electric mower is a fine middle ground approach; plus it could be an equally green choice as well if you have renewable electricity powering your home.

  1. Yard size = 10,000 square feet (adjusted average from Audubon Society)
  2. Push mower takes 1 hour to finish (experience)
  3. Gas and electric take 40 mins to finish (experience)
  4. Average yearly mows = 30 (lawnsite.com)
  5. Have to mow yard more frequently with push mower = 33 mows/year (experience)
  6. Gas mowers use 1 gallon per hour (answers.com)
  7. Gas prices = $3.50 per gallon (estimate)
  8. Electric mower fuel costs are 22% of gas costs (Simple Dollar)
  9. Time is worth $5.00 per hour (50% as much as normal because of exercise benefits) (self)
  10. Gas and electric mower maintenance is about $40 per year, push is $10 (guesstimate)
  11. Push mower costs about $150 (amazon)
  12. Regular gas mower costs about $300 (amazon)
ROI: cloth vs. paper towels
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  1. I have had an old school reel mower for years. Main reason is that my property is small and the portion covered by grass-like-stuff is tiny! Another reason is even if I had a gas push mower, I wouldn’t burn a tank of gas a season so I’d just waste gas.

    I have so much shade, so I’m trying to get some moss going so my yard is prettier than mostly bare dirt 🙂

    • Nice! We have some unintentional moss stuff going on, which is nice cause we have a ton of shaded areas, although somehow it only seems to work in the places our dog doesn’t hang out 🙂

  2. And a little something from the health perspective on alternatives to a perfectly fertilized and maintained lawn – http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/11/opinion/sunday/the-toxic-brew-in-our-yards.html

  3. I’ve gone from gas to electric with battery to now owning electric plug-in. That can’t work for every yard, but I’ve found it to really hit the sweet spot. It’s light enough to not strain my back but actually more powerful than a standard gas mower (surprised me). Cheaper, still requires pushing so I get the good exercise (no self-propulsion) and *better for the environment than the gas one I had.

  4. thomas sherman says:

    i modified a reel mower for a few bucks that make it 1/3 faster rather than 1/3 slower than a gas mower. to wit remove the roller then tie a cord around the roller rod then pull the other end tight and tie it around the handle. on some models i have lifted the cutting height to 9 inches to cut grass as high as a foot. ‘ goggle’ tom d sherman on facebook then go to noise reduction for details. the labor costs therefore are not $700 more over 10 years but that much less.

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