Councillors in Oak Bay have voted unanimously to ban all gas-powered residential lawn equipment, including leaf blowers, over a three-year period.
“It basically gives people three years as they’re replacing lawn equipment to start buying electrical,” said Oak Bay Mayor Kevin Murdoch.
“It also allows us to look at options for doing things like incentive programs to help facilitate or subsidize that swap out. It also allows us to deal with some of the regulatory issues that we’re going to have to deal with, such as how we’re managing our environmental regulations which are actually provincial purview and we have to get provincial permission from them on some things.”
Concerns over noise and pollutants emitted by gas-powered blowers were brought forward to council through a petition signed by more than 600 people in the community.
Council had already chosen to phase out the district’s fleet of gas-powered gardening equipment by 2025, and voted to extend that decision to all residential properties at a meeting Tuesday night.
Many residents spoke in favour of Oak Bay adopting the ban, saying environmental noise was an underestimated problem that needs to be addressed.
“Spring, summer, it doesn’t matter what the season. All day, at least every day, and sometimes several times a day…[leaf blowers] penetrate right through our walls and they penetrate our brains,” said Oak Bay resident Francis Landy, who launched the petition, prior to the vote.
Catching up on last night’s #OakBay council meeting. It was unanimous, with a tweak. All gas powered residential lawn equipment will be banned in Oak Bay beginning in 2026, not 2023. Will other municipalities follow? @MurdochOakBay thinks so. pic.twitter.com/am3TNSlVJp
— Joe Perkins (@JoePerkinsCHEK) May 25, 2022
Studies suggest the noise created by gas-powered leaf blowers exceeds the World Health Organization’s standards.
“According to manufacturer reports, the sound pressure levels of these machines exceed 95 A-weighted decibels (dB[A]) at the ear of the operator and typically 65-80 dB(A) at 50 feet,” wrote researchers Erica Walker and Jamie L Bank in their study Characteristics of Lawn and Garden Equipment Sound: A Community Pilot Study in 2017.
“Comparing these levels to daytime sound standards set by the World Health Organization (WHO)- these levels are upwards of 15 dB(A) higher than the recommended 55 dB(A)).”
Other than Vancouver, which has its own charter, and therefore more power, Oak Bay is the first municipality under a community charter in British Columbia to pursue this gas-powered gardening tool ban and is now treading new ground for other municipalities in the province to possibly follow.
“We’re leading the way a little bit on this so we’ll be a little bit of a learning case for other jurisdictions going forward. And the things we’re getting out of this next step will probably help inform the whole region and probably the province,” said Murdoch.
When asked, the Ministry of Environment says they’re “not considering a ban on gas-powered garden tools,” leaving the ball in the court of municipalities.
Meanwhile, consumers are already making the switch on their own accord.
“This year and last year we sold zero gas-powered leaf blowers. One hundred percent of our sales over the past two years, have been electric,” said Heather Koop, assistant manager of the Fairfield Home Hardware in Victoria.
At this same location, electric lawnmowers are outpacing gas-powered lawnmowers two to one.
“If anyone has questions on how to make that switch if you’re used to gas-powered tools, give us a call and we’ll walk you through what your options are,” said Koop.
The motion goes into effect in 2023, but the three-year phase-out means gas-powered leaf blowers won’t be fully banned until 2026.
Council also discussed subsidizing residents’ transition from gas-powered gardening equipment to electric, a possibility that will be explored further as it moves toward implementing the ban.