Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality
By David G. Young
Winter Park, Florida, March 9, 2021 --
The gasoline-powered leaf blower faces banishment from a growing number of communities. The day they go can't come soon enough.
A column of landscaping trucks rumbles into the neighborhood before dawn, taking positions in lawns and driveways like an invading army. The roofers and construction crews soon follow, grabbing the remaining roadside positions until residential streets are barely passable.
By 8 a.m., leaf blowers are buzzing at 100 decibels. Nail guns are cracking. Saws and drills are beginning to whir. All of this is audible in the background as scheduled Zoom calls begin for professionals working from home.
The noise of Florida’s home maintenance industry is perhaps the most deafening in the country. With gardens relentlessly growing 12 months per year, plants require regular pruning to keep yards from turning into an impassable thickets. Few homeowners appear interested in a do-it-yourself approach, leading to all those lawn care trucks. Nurseries, garden stores and landscaping companies generate $21 billion per year of sales in Florida.1
The roofers do not work 12 months per year. The dry season runs from October to April and at times it seems that half of The homes in Florida are being re-shingled before the tropical downpours come. The rat-ta-tat-tat of the nail gun only adds to the background noise.
The construction workers round out the chorus. The 1920s Florida land boom planted tiny cottages and bungalows across the state. Many of those tiny homes are still there, but they are continually being augmented and extended with new floors, new wings, new pools, and new multi-car garages. Good luck hearing your colleague on the conference call when the hammer drill hits the concrete.
When it comes to the leaf blowers, the most pervasive, loudest, and annoying of the noise generators, the extreme disturbance is heightened by its pure pointlessness. The job of blowing leaves is often assigned to the least experienced of the crew, often a new immigrant with a gas powered engine strapped to his back, and no headphones to protect his hearing. The poor guy wanders the perimeter aimlessly until his assigned time is up. He blows a few lonely leaves down the street or onto a neighbor’s property, only to have the next crew blow them back the other way. In this sense. each unit in the invading army is at odds with all the others.
Once upon a time, the professional neighborhoods that suffer this invasion were emptying of commuters when the daily onslaught began. No more. The global pandemic has seen a huge shift toward working from home, making all that daytime noise far less bearable than it used to be.
Some communities have begun to ban the use of gasoline-powered leaf blowers. Palm Beach banned them over three years ago.2 A ban in the City of Naples, Florida goes into effect in October.3 Nearby Sanibel Island already restricts their use to mid-day hours -- but that law dates to before the pandemic when people weren't home at those times.4 Other cities around the country, including the nation's capital have restricted them as well.
But not everybody is on board with these changes. Ft. Lauderdale's city commissioners voted down the mayor's proposed ban in January5. St. Petersburg restricts the hours of use, but allows them most of the day. Miami, Orlando, Tampa and Jacksonville have no restrictions.
Many municipalities already have noise ordinances that would in theory make using gas-powered leaf blowers illegal. But enforcing these laws are impractical at best and impossible at worst. No cop wants to be bothered by enforcing noise complaints. Collecting evidence for a civil suit requires calibrated noise measuring equipment and a professional operator. Even if a case is won, penalties will typically be less than the cost of collecting the evidence.
For this reason, bans on the practice are the only real option. For those of us who work (and suffer) from home, new laws cannot be passed soon enough.
2. Palm Beach Daily News, Palm Beach Ban On Gas-Powered Leaf Blowers Starts Sunday, September 29, 2017
5. South Florida Sun Sentinel, No Ban on Leaf Blowers in Fort Lauderdale — For Now, January 21, 2021