Birmingham City Commission discusses leaf blowers

By: Mary Genson | Birmingham-Bloomfield Eagle | Published October 26, 2022

File photo by Patricia O'Blenes

BIRMINGHAM — As the leaves start to fall onto lawns, residents and lawn service companies are starting to fire up their leaf blowers to maintain properties throughout the community.

However, the Birmingham City Commission had a conversation at an Oct. 3 workshop meeting about the problems behind these regularly-used machines.

This conversation was led by Planning Director Nicholas Dupuis during a presentation that was followed by a discussion with the City Commission in attendance.

The topic of leaf blowers was originally brought up by Commissioner Clinton Baller at a Jan. 10 meeting. While he was not in attendance at the recent workshop, Dupuis referenced his original concerns, which were both noise and the environment.

Dupuis said he began looking into this issue and found that there are several communities that are starting to address this issue, though many of them are coastal.

The main problem that Dupuis found with leaf blowers is their two-stroke engines, which have not evolved much since the 1950s.

During the meeting, Dupuis acknowledged some of the benefits of leaf blowers. He said they are powerful, easy to maintain and plentiful.

“I would say the list of problems outweighs the list of benefits,” Dupuis said.

He grouped the problems into three main categories: emissions, noise and environment.

“The main problem is it is an oil-and-gas mixture, and not all of that oil-and-gas mixture gets burned as the leaf blower operates, so out of the exhaust you get oil-and-gas mixture, not only into the air but into the ground, so over time, that tends to build up,” Dupuis said.

The emissions problem could eventually lead to public health and water quality problems for the surrounding area, he said.

As for the sound issue, Dupuis said a leaf blower can reach over 100 decibels, and they are very low-frequency sound waves. The combination of these two noise factors makes it easy for the noise to reach people in their homes.

At the end of his presentation, Dupuis suggested some potential solutions to prompt feedback from the City Commission. His solutions included noise ordinance amendments, restrictions on usage, and phasing them out or a total ban. Dupuis made it clear that he was also open to other suggestions.

According to the current noise ordinance, equipment operations are permitted between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., as long as the sound does not exceed 100 dBA — which is a sound level of decibels weighted to human hearing — at or beyond the property line of the property on which the equipment is operated. A potential solution for the city could be amending these hours.

At the meeting it was also suggested that they look to Ann Arbor, a city that has banned two-cycle combustion engines in the Downtown Development Authority District.

Following the presentation, it was clarified that this issue includes everyone in the city, not just residents.

“Noise doesn’t discriminate by the operator,” City Manager Tom Markus said.

Markus said he thinks the city should start working towards phasing in electric-powered leaf blowers.

Mayor Therese Longe shared suggestions with the commission, such as beginning with an educational plan to help residents understand the negative impacts of leaf blowers, implementing quiet hours with restrictions on usage, and recommending that anyone looking to replace equipment choose electric.

Discussions during workshops do not lead to any kind of resolution from the City Commission and no votes are cast.

There were no public comments following the workshop discussion.