How to buy - Blowers and vacuums

Consider weight, comfort and how manufacturers define their units' specs and features.

Thetime-consuming job of sweeping or raking leaves and debris is largely is a thing of the past. A number of blowers and blower/vacs are available as an economical way of clearing fallen leaves, clippings and rubbish from large areas.
Their versatility means they are often hijacked for other tasks including propelling gravel from lawns, removing dew prior to grass cutting and even drying up puddles. Because of their portability, petrol-powered models are usually chosen for professional duties.

Blowers work by creating airflow. A small fan draws in air and then blows it out through an extended tube designed to increase the airspeed and focus the blast in the required direction. Some blowers — mostly the lower-powered, handheld models — have the option of quick conversion to a vacuum for sucking up leaves and debris into a storage bag carried over the shoulder. Such models usually mulch the leaves to reduce the volume deposited in the sack. This process tends to be much slower and dustier than blowing, and the potential risk of damaging the fan by sucking up stones means most professional and commercial operators have a preference for units that just blow.

A handheld blower or vac will suffice where there are small amounts of leaves and debris to be cleared — a case of grab it, do the job and put it back. Although generally more expensive, the larger, backpack machines come into their own for dealing with volumes of leaves and litter that are too much for the rake but too small or inaccessible for a wheeled sweeper. Backpack models put the weight of the engine onto your back rather than your arms and shoulders.

Models of blowers and blower/vacs vary considerably in terms of power and weight, depending on the type and size of engine employed in the unit.

There are quite a few measurements to be aware of when checking the specs of potential purchases. First there is the engine size. Described in cubic centimetres (cc), and sometimes as power output (hp), this figure gives a good indication of the power and weight of the machine. But it is the airflow measurements that really count. A machine that blows dry dirt and small debris may not have sufficient velocity to shift woody debris, gravel or damp leaves trodden into the surface.

Comparison confusion

Some manufacturers will refer to airflow in kilometres per hour while others will state it in metres per second. Some manufacturers will specify the maximum air volume, usually in cubic metres per hour, rather than the airspeed. In some cases you will find volume figures in cubic metres per minutes — it’s time to reach for the calculator. It certainly means that comparisons are not as straightforward as we would like but the key point to consider is the type of item you expect to clear with the air blast.

As a guideline you should look for airspeeds in excess of 65m per second (235km/h), or at least 660m3 per hour, if you hope to shift damp leaves and litter. Really stubborn, soggy leaves and litter may take 70m per second (252km/h) airspeed.

Of course the more power, the heavier the machine. Handheld models might be used only for minutes at a time but should have a comfortable handgrip. Backpack models could be required for several hours’ work so it is essential they are comfortable. Consider the weight of the machine and inspect the harness to see how easy it is to adjust and how well it distributes the weight.

Look for "stay cool" backpads with good ventilation around the operator’s back. The controls on the machine should be comfortable and easy to use. Firing up the machine should be simple. An understanding of the basic servicing requirements such as replacing sparkplugs and changing filters can also be of benefit to the busy professional user. Check fillers for ease of fuelling.

Noise can be an issue with blowers. You should ask the supplier for details of noise levels, emissions and vibration levels. Ask about the warranty and find out about the availability of spare parts — it’s no good buying a machine that is noted for six-week delays on the delivery of air filters.

Finally, the operation of blowers and vacs can be both noisy and dusty. Ear and eye protection should be used and you might wish to consider some sort of protection over your nose and mouth.

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