Spring is here and Summer is around the corner, it’s time to start mowing your lawn. Your scrappy little reel mower just isn’t cutting it anymore or you’re old mower is starting to fall apart. If you’re in the market for a new mower this is the right article for you. Technology has changed a lot with mowers, especially when it comes to battery-powered models, they now rival gas mowers. Let go of your old beliefs and consider your options. The first question you’re likely asking yourself is : What size lawn mower do I need? WE also discuss a range of topics, like : gas vs battery-power vs electric, self-propelled vs push mowers and a whole lot more.
What Size Lawn Mower Do I Need?
There are a lot of factors to consider before purchasing a lawn mower, but the most important one by far is size. And to start off, you need to measure your lawn area (if you don’t already know the number). Knowing the area of your lawn is very important.
Not just for mower sizing but also for deciding how much fertilizer or seed you need. There are online tools, but you can also do it the old-fashioned way with a tape measure or piece of string whose length you know. For square or rectangular lawns this process is quite easy, but if you have an irregularly shaped lawn there are some additional steps to calculating area.
Once you have the area of your lawn, you can start thinking about mower size. Based on various surveys, 10,000 sq. feet is the average lawn size in the United States. Yours may be above or below this number, so size your mower based on how much grass you have to cut.
Guidelines for Choosing the right size lawn mower for your lawn size :
|Lawn Size (In Acres)||Mower Size (Deck Width)|
|0.25||14” to 17”|
|0.5||18” to 22”|
|1||23” to 36”|
|2||37” to 54”|
|3+||55” to 72”|
The Various Types of Lawn Mowers
Much like pets, lawn mowers are available in a wide range of shapes and sizes. You have reel mowers, self-propelled walk behind mowers, zero-turn mowers, lawn tractors, etc. To make a long story short, it boils down to the following choice- do you want to walk or ride?
Walk behind mowers come in two main varieties- manual, and self-propelled. Yes, there are also reel mowers/ cylindrical mowers. These are the cheapest, and most simple variety of lawn mower.
But good luck if you have a property over 2000 sq. feet, because they cut so much slower than an engine-powered mower. So the two real choices are between self-propelled and push mowers. Not all of us are physically fit enough to push a mower around the lawn for 2 hours.
Hey, if you want the workout then go ahead and get a push mower. Personally, I suggest spending the extra few bucks on a self-propelled model. You’re already making a bunch of noise, might as well get a mower that pushes itself around.
It’s especially handy if your property has slopes or hills. Pushing 70 or 80 pounds of weight uphill is extremely tedious (and you have to make multiple passes). The self-propelled mower category can be further divided into two sections-
Walk Behind Mower
The most popular type of lawn mower you’ll find. And for a good reason- they are plenty for an average American lawn under 10,000 square feet. With an 18 to 22 inch cutting deck, these mowers will trim a medium-sized lawn in 40 to 50 minutes.
I recommend rear-wheel drive over front-wheel drive, since it has better traction for slopes and bumpy terrain. The typical engine size on one of these is around 160 to 170cc. Unlike a chainsaw, these guys use 4-stroke motors so you don’t have to worry about mixing oil and gas.
Makita 18″ Walk Behind Mower / Ideal for Small or Large Yards
This 36V Makita mower is an excellent example of how far battery technology has come. It has the capacity to store four batteries onboard, allowing you to mow non-stop for two miles. Because it’s only 18″ wide, this is a great choice for small yards, but because it has a large battery capacity, it’s also ideal for a large yard. You can buy the model in a variety of kits to suit your needs. Overall, this is an excellent quality walk-behind mower. It’s certainly not the cheapest, but if you want quality, consider this mower.
Lawn tractors and zero-turn mowers are like golf carts with giant blades spinning on the bottom. If you get one of these bad boys, you can mow half an acre in just 40 to 50 minutes. The typical riding mower has a deck width of 36 to 54 inches, with a speed of 4 to 8mph.
Deck width combined with speed can give you an idea of how fast the mower will cut grass. There is a handy online tool for calculating mowing speed based on those parameters. Zero turn mowers are faster in a straight line, and more maneuverable compared to lawn tractors.
Features To Look For In A Lawn Mower
Electric start, double blades, adjustable cutting height, etc. can make a big difference. If you have fun mowing your lawn, you’ll do it more often and that results in a healthy lawn with green grass. If you want a mower with mulching, side-discharge, and bagging capability you will have to pay extra over a basic model.
It’s all about balancing cost vs requirements. If you have a tiny 1000 square foot lawn, don’t go out there and buy a John Deere lawn tractor. It’s a pain to maintain that thing, since a basic task like sharpening the blades requires a removal of the entire deck (unless you own a mower jack).
But you don’t want to cheap out either. I feel like a mower with mulching capability is worth the investment, since it cuts down on cleanup time. And the mulch nourishes your grass.
If you have diseased grass in the lawn or a bunch of dead leaves to clear, you might need a mower that bags the clippings. Selecting a mower is all about understanding which features are the most beneficial to you. Size does make a difference, but it isn’t the sole determining factor.
The Most Popular Lawn Mower Size
A 21” rear-drive gas powered mower is one of the most popular lawn-maintenance tools. Why 21 inches and rear-wheel drive? Because a cutting width of 21 inches is ideal for lawns up to 10,000 square feet (the average U.S. lawn size).
Plus rear wheel drive on a mower generates better traction, especially on bumpy terrain. When you turn your mower, the rear wheels maintain better contact compared to the front ones (which lift up in the air). It should also be noted that rear-wheel drive tends to be slightly more expensive (for the same engine size).
We should also talk about the nuances of gas vs electric. You see, there is no doubt that gas mowers are still the most popular design. Mainly because so many homes already own one.
However, the percentage of electric lawn mowers is growing at an extremely fast rate. Mainly due to new buyers who don’t want to deal with the hassle of operating and maintaining a small gas engine. With an electric mower, you don’t have to worry about engine oil or spark plugs.
You simply plug in the mower or recharge its battery if it’s a cordless model, and you’re all set. Electric mowers are also quieter, something that your neighbors will surely appreciate every morning. And they generate zero fumes.
I will talk about electric vs gas mowers in more detail, because each side has its pros and cons. One thing is for sure though- the future is going to be all electric. I for one am looking forward to a future where our lawn maintenance equipment generates less noise and no polluting gasses.
Time | How Fast Do You Want To Mow Your Lawn?
Some people view mowing their lawn as a matter of maintenance, functionally no different from washing the dishes or cleaning a car. For others, it’s a hobby and much more personal. They actually enjoy spending more time in the lawn while carefully trimming each edge to perfection for that gorgeous look.
Depending on which side of the spectrum you fall into, a longer mow time might actually be a good thing. Personally, I feel like 75 to 90 minutes is the maximum. It’s plenty of time to feel involved in the process while also not being so long as to feel like a chore.
Remember- lawn maintenance consists of far more than just cutting the grass with a mower. You have to edge the lawn and trim places the mower can’t reach. Sometimes you’ll have to walk around with a weed whacker, taking out unwanted plants and shrubs.
And grass grows at different speeds depending on the season. Usually, people cut their lawns once a week during spring but twice a week during summer. On a workday, you’ll really appreciate a fast mower that can trim up the entire lawn before it gets too dark (no such urgency on weekends).
Lawnmower Brands | How Much Should You Spend On A Lawnmower?
You might be thinking which brand of lawn mower is the most reliable. I won’t review any specific brands or models in this article. But I can tell you that a mower shouldn’t be thought of as just another disposable tool.
Consider it to be a long term investment. Sure, buying a cheap 150 dollar machine from some obscure Chinese brand at home depot will get the job done. But if you’re serious about lawn maintenance, you should invest in something that will last.
Toro, Honda, Troy-Bilt, John Deere and several other companies make some excellent mowers. With proper care and maintenance, you can easily get 10+ years out of these guys. If you do the calculations, it’s a lot cheaper in the long run compared to hiring lawn services.
What Size Lawn Mower Do I Need? | Buying Guide
Earlier, I talked about how lawnmower size can determine how fast you cut your grass. It is the deck width we’re talking about here, not the actual physical size of the lawnmower itself. Although the larger lawnmowers generally tend to have wider decks, but that’s another topic entirely.
You can upgrade the deck on a lawnmower, provided it has ample engine power to drive the new blade. An under-powered engine will struggle with wider decks, especially if you get into thicker and taller grass. Depending on how long the grass in your lawn is, you’ll also have to take engine power into consideration.
When it comes to mowers, it doesn’t hurt to go slightly oversize. And there are a few reasons for that-
- A larger mower with a more powerful engine will have an easier time climbing uphill (self-propelled models only)
- You can cut through thicker and taller grass, so there is more room for error. If your lawn hasn’t been mown in a while (maybe you were on vacation), a larger mower won’t struggle with overgrown grass.
- Faster and longer blades leave clean cuts, with zero patches. Your lawn gets a nice, uniform shave.
- Quicker mowing times let you focus on other aspects of lawn maintenance. Like hedge trimming and edging.
Consider the Lawn Size and Obstacles
One acre is 43,560 square feet so do your math accordingly. Remember- these are approximate figures and you don’t have to adhere to them precisely. You may not find a 37” deck while looking for mowers, but there might be a 36” model (you get the idea).
Another factor to take into consideration is obstacles. A lawn is rarely one flat square piece of land with nothing in the middle. There are hedges, flower beds, trees, walkways, etc., meaning that your lawn mower needs to have a certain degree of maneuverability.
Otherwise, you’ll spend precious time clumsily tip-toeing between these obstacles. And waste even more time taking a hedge trimmer to smooth out the spots that you missed with your mower. A mower that can make tight turns and cut close to edges is preferable over one that is slightly larger but not as nimble.
Cutting speed is a function of both speed and deck width. And sure, a lot of these fancy new riding mowers or walk-behind mowers advertise themselves as really fast. But practical speed is very different from what you see on the box.
For example- if a zero turn mower is capable of doing 10mph, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will hit the same speeds on your lawn. A lawn has turns, slopes, ditches, furniture, and hedges. All that braking, accelerating, turning, and stopping means the average speed over a 30-minute period will be around half of the advertised maximum in a straight line on level ground.
To conclude- get a mower that’s sized appropriately for your lawn while still being capable of moving around obstacles efficiently. Owning a ginormous riding mower with a 72” deck is meaningless if it doesn’t fit through the gate of your lawn. A mower should also be able to maneuver around obstacles and climb up slopes.
Straight line speed is great, but practical speed is even better. Hence, zero turn mowers are so much quicker at cutting grass than lawn tractors (even with the deck width being constant). They can stop and turn on a dime, while also being faster in a straight line.
Larger Mowers Are Harder to Maintain
This is something a lot of new buyers just gloss over. A bigger mower is faster, but it’s useless without proper maintenance and care. I would rather have a 22” cordless walk-behind that I can take out twice a week than a 64” riding mower that works once every 3 months.
You see, mowers require basic cleaning and check ups. Just like a chainsaw or any other power tool. The blades and underside of your mower’s deck get covered in grass clippings and dirt after a while.
With a 21”walk-behind mower that weighs 90lbs, you can easily lift up the front end or tip the mower sideways. This lets you wash the deck or remove the blade for sharpening. Transporting the mower requires just one person.
But now, let’s move up in size to a zero turn mower or lawn tractor. These big boys can’t be lifted without a mower jack. So forget about sharpening their blades unless you have the proper tools.
And transporting a mower of that size requires a trailer attached to your car. You can’t just fold it up into the trunk. Oh, and storing a riding mower is also going to require more space compared to a walk-behind.
Either you build a shed for that thing, or hope there’s enough space in your garage. And then there’s tire pressure. If one rear tire has more pressure than the other, you will end up with a slanted cut on your lawn.
So now you have to monitor tire pressures and pump them up when needed. If something breaks down in the engine, you can’t just pop open your mower in a shed. After all, this is a miniature car and you will probably require professional assistance.
Clearly, a riding mower is cool and makes the process of mowing your lawn very pleasant. It feels good to sit in a cushioned chair and ride around the lawn while sipping on your favorite beverage. But you also have to bear the responsibility of additional maintenance for a mower of that size.
Push Mower vs Self-Propelled
Alright, we need to talk about propulsion. Clearly, there comes a point when self-propelled is the only choice you got. Nobody in their right mind would take on an acre of grass with a push mower unless they really wanted to spend as much time as possible.
There are 3 factors that will decide whether you go with a self-propelled mower or push mower:
- The size of your lawn
- Your physical condition
For a lawn that’s in the 2500 to 7500 square foot range, I can definitely see a push mower working just fine. It will get the job done within an hour, especially if you go with a good brand like Honda or Toro. Electric mowers are slightly more complicated, particularly the corded ones. Because you are limited by the length of your power cord.
But with gas engines, up to 7500 square feet is doable. You also have to consider the fact that this is with flat terrain. The numbers are completely different with hills and slopes in the equation.
Even a medium-sized push mower with a 21” deck weighs around 80 to 90lbs. Electric models are lighter, but those are still in the 60 to 75lb range. Point is, you can’t make multiple passes with one of these uphill.
You need a self-propelled mower that doesn’t require the force of your own legs and back to push it up a slope. Especially if you have joint or back problems. Besides, it’s much better to have a mower that your wife and parents can use without straining themselves too hard. Because you won’t always be in the house. A mower’s value is diminished if only the most physically able person in the family can use it comfortably. I suggest taking these points into consideration, because self-propelled walk behind models aren’t exceedingly pricey these days.
I created a chart to give you some guidance on self-propelled vs push mowers:
|Lawn Size||Terrain||Mower Type|
|Small (<7500 sq. feet)||Flat||Push/ Self-propelled|
|Small (<7500 sq. feet)||Hilly||Self-propelled|
|Medium (10,000 to 20,000 sq. feet)||Flat||Push/ Self-propelled|
|Medium (10,000 to 20,000 sq. feet)||Hilly||Self-propelled|
|Large (25,000 sq. feet or more)||Flat||Self-propelled riding mower|
|Large (25,000 sq. feet or more)||Hilly||Self-propelled riding mower|
This chart has some pretty wide ranges and doesn’t take into account physical ability. But you get the point, it’s a general guide. These are basic pointers on which type of mower to get, and you can adjust based on your own requirements.
If you’re elderly or a senior then I highly recommend buying a cordless self-propelled lawn mower because they are the easiest to maneuver and require the least amount of energy to push. We recently dedicated an article to answer to a common question we get : Best Lightweight Lawn Mower for the Elderly or Seniors. If you have any physical disabilities but still want to cut the lawn then you’ll also benefit from this mower guide. There’s a lawn mower for everyone, so don’t fret. Technology has come a long way.
Self-propelled mowers come in many different flavors. You have walk-behind models, lawn tractors, and zero-turn mowers. There are also some outrageously large walk-behind mowers like the Swisher Versa VTFC42 and DeWalt HW48.
But the large walk-behind mowers are primarily for professional use. As a homeowner, you’re much better off with a riding mower if you are getting something that size. Riding mowers have their pros and cons.
Increased maintenance is one of the big issues with riding mowers. It’s not that they break down often, but they are more complex machines compared to a walk-behind. The parts are expensive.
And you do need to consider deck width, because a mower should be able to go around obstacles in your lawn. Riding mowers are heavy and have tires with deep treads. These can leave marks depending on how soft the grass and soil are.
Gas vs Electric Lawn Mower
This is a debate that has been raging on ever since electric lawnmowers became viable. Before, people used to think that these are mere toys intended for tiny lawns under 1000 sq. feet but now electric mowers have proved their competence. Advances in lithium ion battery technology and brushless motor design have canceled out many of the weaknesses electric mowers used to have in the past.
One thing is for sure, electric mowers are way easier to operate and maintain. All you have to worry about is cleaning the deck and sharpening the blades. That’s it- no more fussing around with engine oil or gasoline.
You don’t need special tanks designed to store fuel. You just plug in a cord, or recharge a battery. And there is no cord to pull, you just push a button and the mower starts cutting.
It’s insanely easy to operate an electric mower, whether it’s corded or cordless. Cordless models obviously cost more since they use more advanced technology. However they also offer a much higher degree of freedom compared to corded mowers.
Gas vs Corded Electric Mower
A corded mower is restricted by the length of its power cord, so you need to have an outdoor outlet. And a small to medium-sized lawn because anything beyond 100 feet will be impossible for a corded machine. However, there are benefits to these simple electric mowers.
For starters, they are very cheap. Even cheaper than low-end 140cc gas mowers. And in terms of performance, they will do just fine with grass that is under 3” tall.
Corded electric mowers are also the lightest type of mower. They have all the benefits of electric mowers, and none of the downsides of gas. But if you have a large lawn (above 10000 square feet) or really thick grass, then perhaps you should look at gas or cordless power.
Gas vs Cordless Electric Mower
Cordless electric mowers are the future, and have made great advances in terms of both range and power. These days, a high-end cordless electric mower can keep up with some of the lighter walk-behind gas mowers in terms of cutting speed. And because you aren’t restricted by any wires, you can go as far as you want.
Provided you have charge, because 30 to 40 minutes of mowing will probably empty the battery. With cordless mowers, you either carry a spare battery pack or you get a model with really fast charging times. There are cordless mowers with mulching and bagging functions.
Most cordless lawn mowers are walk-behind models. But I have seen a couple of riding electric mowers recently. There’s the Ryobi RM480e and ZTR480ex (the latter is a zero turn model).
For now, Ryobi and Greenworks are the only two companies with serious products in the cordless riding mower segment. And these models are insanely expensive, even in comparison to gas-powered riding mowers. But as technology progresses and demand increases, I bet cordless riding mowers will be a common sight.
Are Wider Decks Better?
Not always. They sure cover a larger area, resulting in faster cuts. But if you put a wide mower deck on a really small property with lots of obstacles, it might actually end up posting a worse time than a smaller mower.
That’s because while you’re losing time braking and turning, the smaller mower is just cutting grass. Wider decks also require more blades. For example- a 64” riding mower typically has 3 separate blades under the deck.
It’s impossible to put a single 64” wide blade under the mower because that would require a comically large deck. And a massive engine to drive that behemoth of a blade. However, even with a powerful engine you lose plenty of power during transmission.
The 3 separate blades aren’t bolted directly to the engine. They spin slightly slower in comparison to a mower that has a single blade. As a result, the mower with a single blade can make cleaner cuts with its faster blade speed.
Having a wider deck with multiple blades also means that they don’t always follow the contour of whatever it is that you’re cutting. There will be small dips, rises, banks, etc. in the lawn. And certain portions of a wide triple-blade deck will just glide over these imperfections instead of contacting the grass.
Mulching Mowers | Do You Need One?
Having a mower that can also mulch in addition to cutting the grass is very beneficial. You get free organic fertilizer for your yard, and don’t have to worry about bagging the clippings. A mulching mower has an extremely fine set of blades designed specifically to chop up grass into tiny chunks.
These tiny chunks slip between the regular grass, and settle into the soil. Over time, they decompose into the earth and nourish the grass around them. You get green, lush grass in your lawn without having to spend lots of money on artificial fertilizer (provided there is ample water and sunlight).
Modern mowers usually have a 2-in-1 mulch and bag function built right in. But these aren’t available in the cheaper models. In my opinion, the extra versatility is well worth it.
Sometimes, bagging is preferable to mulching. Especially if you have tall, overgrown grass with weeds in the midst. Bagging is also great for removing leaves from your lawn.
How Long Does A Mower Last?
A well-built mower from any reputable manufacturer should last at least 7 to 10 years with good maintenance. But depending on climate conditions and other factors, the lifespan can vary. The length and type of grass you cut will also decide how long a mower lasts.
Cutting grass 3 times each week puts more stress on the mower as opposed to cutting once per week (duh?). So if you’re serious about lawn maintenance and want to cut multiple times each week for the best grass health, get a high quality machine that is built to last. If you’re using a gas-powered mower, make sure to winterize it.
Winterizing just means draining out all the fuel from your mower before storing it during winter. This ensures that old fuel doesn’t decompose and gum up the carburetor/ fuel lines. You also need to change the air filters and spark plugs periodically.