A push to go electric is sowing discord among landscapers.

New state and municipal laws are driving a transition away from puttering, gas-powered lawn mowers and leaf blowers and toward battery-powered versions. California, the largest state by population, is set to ban the sale of most gas-powered lawn tools, starting with model year 2024…

A push to go electric is sowing discord among landscapers.

New state and municipal laws are driving a transition away from puttering, gas-powered lawn mowers and leaf blowers and toward battery-powered versions. California, the largest state by population, is set to ban the sale of most gas-powered lawn tools, starting with model year 2024 products. Local governments in Oakland, Calif., and Lexington, Mass., have started banning the use of gas-powered leaf blowers, and other states and cities are considering similar legislation.

The new lawn-care rules, driven by health and environmental concerns, are fueling a market in electric equipment and batteries for manufacturers like Stihl Inc.,
Toro Co.
and Briggs & Stratton LLC. Some landscapers and dealers are wary, raising concerns about the added cost and complexity of relying on battery power to manicure yards and trees.

LandCare U.S.A. LLC, which sells landscaping services across more than 20 states, last year launched electric-machine trials at sites in Chicago and Charlotte, N.C.

Rob Barber,
who heads the company’s operations, estimated the expenses of using an electric trimmer would run LandCare two to three times those of gas-powered models that cost around $1,000 over two years.

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“The cost is extremely high,” Mr. Barber said. Still, the company is preparing for the California sales ban and aims to launch more than 10 crews outfitted with electric vehicles and tools in the coming year. “It is requiring us to be a bit of a pioneer,” he said.

Consumers have already been buying many battery-driven lawn mowers and other equipment, which can handle a single lawn. Professional-grade equipment is less commonly electrified. The lawn-care industry shipped 38 million products in the U.S. in 2021 including 21 million that were electric or zero-emission products, according the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, which represents manufacturers.

Stihl has increasingly shifted research and development efforts toward electric products.
Photo: Marijan Murat/Zuma Press

Equipment sold to professional landscapers represents a fraction of the entire market, the bulk of which is for consumer products. The California Air Resources Board estimated in a 2021 report that 6% of lawn-care equipment owned by professional landscapers was electric, compared with 55% for home users.

Makers of lawn mowers, chain saws and leaf blowers say they have been investing to develop professional-grade battery-powered models and make their electric products more powerful and longer lasting.

Chain-saw maker Stihl said battery-powered equipment is the fastest-growing segment of its business. Lawn-mower producer Toro is launching its first landscaper-focused, battery-powered lawn mower this summer, which the company said can do an entire day’s work on a single charge. Lawn-mower engine company Briggs & Stratton opened a dedicated battery factory in Georgia in 2020. Electric machines are likely to mean a shift in spending from gasoline to batteries, analysts said, benefiting the manufacturers that make them.

Toro’s coming “Revolution” battery-powered commercial lawn mower will cost about double comparable gas models, the company said. The company estimated customers will recoup those extra costs after about 2½ years due to not having to buy gasoline, replace engine filters and other costs. For Toro, the company told investors in March that it expects electric machines to carry similar profit margins to gas-powered equipment.

Stihl launched its first full lineup of battery-powered hand-held outdoor power equipment in 2017 and has increasingly shifted research and development efforts toward electric products, said company spokesman

Roger Phelps.
He said many battery-powered tools now have similar capabilities to gas-powered ones.

LandCare’s Mr. Barber said it would be expensive to upgrade infrastructure needed to charge electric equipment. He estimated a facility might need to be wired for 900 amps of service, compared with a normal building that typically has 200 amps. This would all result in higher costs, which would eventually be passed on to customers, he said.

California’s legislature has allocated $30 million for small landscaping businesses to buy new electric equipment. The California Landscape Contractors Association said it is seeking more.

Toro has told investors it expects electric machines to carry profit margins similar to gas-powered equipment.
Photo: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg News

Jay Pettit,
owner of a Napa Valley, Calif., landscaping business, said he is preparing to buy an electric stand-up lawn mower, as his gas-powered model nears the end of its life. His company, Landscaping of the Valley, purchased an electric leaf blower that he uses in Yountville, Calif., which banned the use of gas-powered blowers last July. He said he currently brings three batteries to job sites and will need to buy more over time.

“I’m paranoid about the cost of the batteries becoming more prohibitive,” Mr. Pettit said. He said he supports the eventual transition to electric machines, but their higher costs will likely mean increased prices for his customers.

Some manufacturers said that gas-powered engines will remain a big business for years. Briggs & Stratton is investing in higher production of its traditional, gas-powered engines while also developing the technology behind its newer lineup of batteries. The company is hiring more software engineers and people who can develop battery technologies, said

Brian Hazelton,
who runs the company’s power business.

“The engine business isn’t going away. That part of our business is alive and well and being invested in,” he said. “It is a two-prong approach.”

Some companies are entering the business because of the coming electrification.
Stanley Black & Decker Inc.

spent $1.9 billion last year to buy two equipment makers serving the lawn-care industry.

John Wyatt,
who runs the outdoor division, said the company’s engineers are combining the grass-cutting experience of the acquired divisions with the battery technology from Stanley’s DeWalt brand.

The coming changes are also spurring dealers to shift their focus. Alan’s Lawnmower & Garden Center, a seller of tools for professional landscapers, is redoing showrooms at its two locations in Southern California to promote battery-powered equipment. When the process is done, about one-third of its floor space will be dedicated to electric models of equipment made by Stihl and other companies, said owner

Paul Sullivan.

Mr. Sullivan said most of his customers will only switch because of the new rules.

“Nobody is happy about it, except the all-green battery manufacturers,” he said.

Write to Austen Hufford at austen.hufford@wsj.com