Q. My old gasoline lawn mower needs service again. I thought about buying a cordless, battery-powered walk-behind mower. Will charging its battery drive up my electric bills and do they work well?
A. To answer your second question first, I have tested and used many cordless lawn mowers since they first came out more than a decade ago. I have been extremely happy with most of them and would not switch back to a gasoline-powered one. There was only one model I did not like and its production was discontinued more than five years ago.
Most of the newer rechargeable cordless lawn mowers are designed to have enough electric charge to cut the typical one-third-acre house lot. This is assuming a medium length grass to be cut - perhaps one-week growth maximum. If you cut your grass less often and let it grow tall between cuttings, a gasoline-powered mower might be better for you.
Gasoline lawn mowers, especially older ones, produce huge amounts of air pollution, are noisy and require disposal of old engine oil. Newer overhead-valve engine designs are cleaner, but still produce pollution. Cordless models produce no pollution where they are used. Some pollution is created at the electric plant, but it is much easier to control pollution from one electric plant stack than from thousands of gasoline mower mufflers.
The only drawback to a cordless lawn mower is it is heavier than many gasoline-powered models and is not self-propelled. I have a sloped lot with many soft mole hills, so it is a bit of a chore pushing the cordless mower up the slope, but not excessively difficult. Since a cordless mower starts by just pushing a button, it is easy to stop anytime and rest. It can also be recharged while you are resting.
The most powerful new cordless mowers use a 36-volt battery. I just started using one and it does have adequate power to cut through tall grass and weeds. Some 24-volt models are up to 15 pounds lighter and easier to push. I used 24-volt models for many years and they had adequate power for typical grass cutting tasks.
Most cordless chargers consume from about 45 or 90 watts of electricity and provide a full charge overnight. At an electric rate of 10 cents per kilowatt hour, it costs only about five to 10 cents for each cutting. This is magnitudes less than the total cost to use a gasoline mower.
My favorite model is the 36-volt Black & Decker CM1936 cordless mower. Other than its power, the best feature of the CM1936 mower is the battery is removable. This comes in handy for storing the mower in a backyard shed or when using the mower away from your house. The battery can be placed near an electrical outlet. The charger connector can be plugged directly in the removed battery or into the mower with the battery still installed.
The following companies offer cordless lawn mowers: Black & Decker, (800) 544-6986, blackanddecker.com; Homelite, (800) 242-4672, homelite.com; Husqvarna, (800) 438-7297, husqvarna.com; Neuton, (800) 798-2921, neutonpower.com; and Toro, (888) 384-9939, toro.com.
I have an electric water heater that costs a lot to operate. I want to set the water temperature lower to save some money. The water heater has two elements and thermostats. Which should I set lower?
A. You can save a significant amount on your electric bills by reducing the water temperature. The lower thermostat/element is the main one. The upper element comes on when it is running low on hot water.
You should set both upper and lower thermostats lower to the same temperature. A target of 120 degrees is good. If you leave the top one set higher, you will have more hot water, but the savings will be less.
• Write to James Dulley at 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit dulley.com.