Remember when I used to write about cute things like shoes and dresses and DIY projects? Now that I’m a fancy grown-up homeowner, my life revolves around glamorous subjects like ant control and backed-up drains. More than anything this summer, my life has revolved around learning how to maintain a lawn.
One of the things I really liked about my house when I was thinking about buying it was that both the front and back yards are very small. I’m deeply relieved that I went for a house with a small yard, because even the postage stamp-sized patches of grass I do have take more attention than I anticipated. (Did you know that in the spring, grass grows fast? This was news to me.)
From the start I wanted to choose an eco-friendly lawn mower, but I wasn’t sure exactly what kind I should get. I researched powerless reel mowers, which would be the ideal green option, but I read several reviews saying they tend to get stuck on sticks, and my trees drop a copious amount of twigs. I also read that they don’t work well if the grass gets too long, and I think we all know how frequently I was prepared to mow. (Not often.) I would definitely be interested in trying a reel mower at some point, but it seemed intimidating to try as a total lawn newbie.
I decided to pursue an electric solution instead. For me there were both practical and sustainable benefits to an electric mower over a gas mower: I didn’t want to have to keep gasoline on hand to power it, I didn’t want to smell like gas every time I mowed, and I didn’t want the mower to be noisy and produce air pollution. I’m also a member of the green power option with my local utility, so even though Indiana’s electricity is produced by polluting coal-fired power plants (boo), the electricity I use is matched by renewable energy certificates (RECs), which help offset conventional electricity generation by supporting wind farms. And of course I wanted to get a used mower if at all possible, to extend the life of still-useful equipment and eliminate the environmental impact of manufacturing a new one.
For the first couple of months of spring, I actually cut my grass with a hand-held electric trimmer (much to the chagrin of my neighbors). At first I was experimenting to see if my yard was small enough to even need a mower at all. While the trimmer solution technically worked, it did take about twice as long as mowing does, and the trimmer makes a loud, shrill drone that I didn’t think was fair to subject the neighborhood to for an hour every week. I decided it wasn’t a viable long-term solution and that my little lawn did in fact call for a real mower.
Mower #1: Lawn Hog = Fail Whale
My first lawn mower purchase was a fail but a valuable learning experience. I had noticed an electric lawn mower for sale at the pawn shop where I get most of my music equipment, and having always had good luck with pawn shop purchases in the past, I decided to give the mower a try. It was a corded electric Black & Decker Lawn Hog. I quickly turned it on next to the store to make sure it worked. Nothing seemed remiss, so I bought it (and thankfully the $2 warranty) and took it home.
I got about a third of the way through mowing my back yard when the mower suddenly stopped cutting—it continued to spin but was no longer cutting the grass. After some disassembling and Googling, I discovered that the fan blades were all broken off, the blade wasn’t securely fastened, a couple of key components were fused together, and the motor itself was completely unattached from the body except for a few thin wires. I learned a lot about small motors that day, and I also learned that there’s more to vetting a lawn mower than just making sure it turns on.
Mower #2: Crushing It with Craigslist
I kept up the search for a few more weeks with no luck. But over Memorial Day weekend I checked Craigslist again and lo and behold, the perfect mower was for sale! It was a cordless Neuton brand electric mower being sold by a local couple. The price was right ($55!) and the sellers turned out to be incredibly gracious and helpful. The mower itself is a dream—no cord, easy to push, quiet enough to talk over, and it can do both the front and back yards on a single charge. I actually enjoy cutting the grass now, because it’s just like taking a series of very short walks in my yard on a nice day.
Tips for Buying Secondhand Tools & Equipment
The seasoned homeowners among you (or people who have ever done lawn care in their lives) are probably scoffing at how long I took to choose a mower, and I admit that my learning curve about lawn care was probably steeper than it should have been. However, I learned a lot through the process, and for those of us who are beginners to home maintenance and want to avoid buying a lot of new gadgets and tools to take care of our homes, I have a few important tips to keep in mind:
- If you’re going to buy used tools or equipment, don’t expect to find exactly what you need right away. It may take days or weeks for the type of equipment you want to come onto the secondhand market, or the available items may be in poor condition or unfairly priced. Be prepared for the shopping process to take time.
- Always test used equipment for its intended purpose before buying. Just because a tool powers on doesn’t mean it works properly. If it’s a mower, cut some grass. If it’s a drill, drill a hole in something. Five minutes of testing will save you the grief of getting home and finding out your purchase was useless.
- It’s better to buy directly from a person if possible. What I learned from comparing my two lawn mower-buying experiences is that at the pawn shop, I had no sense of how well (or badly) the mower had been taken care of. I didn’t know how old it was, I didn’t have the manual, I didn’t know if it had any quirks; I was buying it pretty much blind. None of that occurred to me at the time, but when I bought the second lawn mower from Craigslist, the difference in the experience was like night and day. The sellers described the ways they took care of the mower and provided helpful background information about the battery and the attachments, plus they gave me the manual and an extra blade. They also suggested I test out the mower on their yard before I could even ask. Obviously not all Craigslist experiences are this stellar, but buying from a person at least gives you the opportunity to ask questions and get a sense for how well-maintained the equipment might be.
With what I’ve learned from this process, I think I’ll definitely feel more prepared when buying secondhand the next time I need a new tool for my house. Have you ever bought used tools or equipment for your home? How did it work out? What kind of lawn mower do you use?