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California's green lawn care law: What you need to know

Amanda Shiffler

Lawn Care

Homeowners in California are about to undergo a significant change in how landscaping is done. Starting Jan. 1, 2024, homeowners and lawn care and landscaping professionals can no longer purchase gas-powered lawn and garden equipment from California retailers.

The new legislation aims to reduce the harmful air quality endangering the health of residents across the state. As the first state law of its kind, it does present weighty implications for anyone needing to buy a new mower, leaf blower, trimmer or chainsaw.

Highlights of the new law include barring the sale of new gas-powered lawn care equipment manufactured after Dec. 31, 2023. Covered equipment includes lawn mowers, string trimmers, leaf blowers and chainsaws.

It also includes $30 million in state rebates to homeowners and landscapers and additional incentives are often available at the county level.

The federal Inflation Reduction Act in 2022 includes large, commercial grade lawn mowers, which can qualify for a 30% tax credit up to $7,500.

The change fuels the great debate of “power vs. environment.” Gas-powered tools are more powerful but contribute to air pollution and can damage the hearing of the operator. Battery-powered tools generally aren’t as powerful, especially commercial mowers, and have limited runtimes.

It leaves some questions unanswered, such as cross-border purchase of gas-powered lawn care equipment. Will sales of new lawn care equipment boom in cities in border states for use in the Golden State? Will online sales and delivery of new gas-powered lawn care equipment be blocked to California? In theory, yes. Will the secondhand market for tools see a big increase? Will prices soar for gently used 2023 or earlier gas-powered lawn care tools for use by lawn care pros and homeowners?

Jeremy Yamaguchi, founder of Lawn Love, said the law’s phased-in impact and state incentives will help ease the transition.

“California’s new law is following the trend the industry is taking anyway,” Yamaguchi said. “Much like electric cars, electric and battery-powered mowers, leaf blowers and trimmers are becoming more common, especially here in California.”

Yamaguchi said the law bans only the sale of new gas-powered equipment; homeowners and pros will be able to use their current equipment until it needs to be replaced. In turn, “as a result, the switch to greener lawn care equipment is not going to be as abrupt as you might think.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the state’s green lawn care law, Assembly Bill No. 1346, in October 2023, barring selling new gas-powered equipment using small off-road engines, or SORE, in 2024. This ban includes all gas-powered lawn and landscape equipment, generators, pressure washers and chainsaws.

According to the law’s sponsors, SOREs pose serious health risks to the equipment operators, the surrounding neighborhoods and the environment at large. The small engines emit high levels of particulate matter, reactive organic gasses and nitrogen oxides.

This new legislation is part of the state’s strategy to lessen greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. According to the bill, California currently exceeds EPA and state ozone standards across many areas of the state. As such, it is the first state in the U.S. to attempt to curb emissions by outlawing the sale of gas-powered lawn and garden equipment.

Beyond reducing air pollution, one of the benefits of the new law is an improvement in the health of lawn care pros and landscapers.

“Gas mowers and leaf blowers spit out a fair amount of exhaust. The roar of leaf blowers can damage the ears,” Yamaguchi said.

Since the market now has many zero-emissions options available for homeowners to purchase, the state said it was the right time to implement stringent regulations. The number of electric and battery-powered lawn care tool options should continue expanding as more companies develop alternatives to gas-powered equipment.

The state is providing $30 million in rebates to homeowners and landscapers to help ease the transition from gas-powered equipment to more environmentally friendly choices.

What does this lawn mean for homeowners?

First, know that any gas-powered lawn equipment people own will still be legal to operate after Jan. 1. But under the new law, they can’t purchase any new gas-powered lawn and garden equipment from a local retailer.

As with most new legislation, there are supporters and protesters.

Many homeowners have made the switch to battery-operated electric mowers and trimmers.

Some homeowners – and many lawn care and landscaping professionals – however, prefer the power, performance and durability of gas-powered equipment. Especially for large lawns or landscaping jobs.

Others said they worry about the charging constraints of battery-powered models and the higher upfront costs.

According to Christine Potter, president at Stanley Black & Decker’s outdoor unit, a hand-held electric trimmer can cost up to 25% more than a gas-powered one, and a push mower can run as much as 50% more.

As technology continues to improve, the hope is that battery performance and power may improve, and costs may drop slightly. Plus, the incentive programs will help to offset purchasing more expensive equipment.

What does the green lawn care law mean for professionals?

The law’s biggest impacts will be felt by lawn care and landscaping professionals, who depend on large, powerful, gas-powered equipment to do their jobs. There is a disconnect between the intent behind the legislation and its practical application as commercial-grade, battery-powered mowers, trimmers and leaf blowers lack the power and durability of gasoline engines, and they are considerably more expensive.

That will change in time, Yamaguchi said.

“Commercial electric and battery-powered lawn care equipment will get better and more powerful,” Yamaguchi said. “As products get better, switching to greener lawn care equipment won’t be a major hardship for lawn care pros.”

To help the industry, the National Association of Landscape Professionals attempted to push the implementation timeline back to 2026 for landscape professionals and other commercial applications.

The industry association said it supports the transition to zero-emissions equipment and the resulting improved air quality, but it wants to give manufacturers more time to prepare the equipment.

According to the National Association of Landscape Professionals, “The primary issue with the impending regulation is the failure to acknowledge the differences between commercial and residential uses and take into account the fact that commercial zero-emission equipment is currently not yet comparable to gas-powered SORE because of significantly higher costs

performance deficiencies, battery compatibility issues and lack of adequate infrastructure to support full transition.”

The delay would give the manufacturers time to improve the performance of commercial equipment and bring the cost down, making the switch more feasible for landscapers. Especially the estimated 51,000 one-person California companies run by Latino immigrants.

Regardless, increased equipment costs will trickle down to customers, resulting in higher lawn care service costs.

What does the law mean for retailers?

The silver lining of this new green lawn care law for brick-and-mortar retailers is they will be allowed to sell off anything they have in their existing inventory after Jan. 1. So, if they already have gas-powered equipment, they can sell it.

But once those gas-powered mowers, string trimmers, leaf blowers and chainsaws are gone, they’re gone. Retailers won’t be able to purchase any other new gas-powered SOREs, and their product line will be made entirely of zero-emissions lawn and garden equipment.

What this new California law means for online retailers remains to be seen. In theory, online sellers shouldn’t be able to sell and ship gas-powered SOREs to California customers, but it may not work in practice.

 

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