Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step

July 8, 2006

Save Time, Effort and Money with a Sustainable Lawn

I did some calculating today. I found that some simple changes to lawn care routine can save you money, time, and effort. And by doing that you can stop having a negative impact on the environment. In fact, the impact might even be positive!

Conservation is an important measure for us to take, for sure. But a more important question might be how can we accomplish our goals in a way that does not expend, but sustains.

Today I considered the costs we have incurred from moving to a sustainable lawn. Does $500/year seem trivial to you?

This is a real example of how important it is to think, and dismiss your preconceived notions. I’ll prove that it’s not trivial.

[Ed Note: After looking at this post in 3/2008, I realized it was hard to read, but important. I have edited for formatting and readability, and changed the title. Tom]

I have written about my lawn a lot. Perhaps this is because my view from this computer includes it. As I type, I am seeing two lawns: mine and my neighbor’s. I am also breathing in the fumes of a lawnmower that another neighbor has just finished mowing, happy now to be able to hear my kids playing on these lawns. The lawns both look great: few weeds, well trimmed, green and full.

(But in our two lawns there is a story of how to avoid trade-offs altogether. I wonder if we can apply the same approach to other ways we live?)

The Tale of Two Lawns

The neighbor’s lawn is maintained weekly by a lawn service. Men who speak Spanish come from a less wealthy town in a big truck towing a trailer full of equipment.

Three or four gas motors start several moments after the gas motor of the truck turns off, a high, whining and loud noise and unpleasant smell.

For a half hour or so, the lawn is clipped, edged, weeded, and raked clear of debris which is put on the truck for disposal.

Periodically, the lawn is treated with fertilizer and pesticides and herbicides.

Several times a week, the automatic sprinkler comes on to keep the lawn moist.

Last year, this is mostly how my lawn was cared for, too, except that I mowed myself with my gas mower. So I am not condemning my neighbors, just pointing out an alternative I have found.

Lawn care made easy, and cheap

The alternative is in my lawn. In the Spring, I applied a small amount of organic fertilizer.

I have replaced my gas mower with a rechargeable electric mower. I raised the mowing height. I no longer put the clippings in a paper bag to be carted away, but instead let clippings settle between the grass where they create mulch and keep the water in. Mowing takes a little less time because I don’t have to bag the clippings.

I have put no pesticides or herbicides on because there is no need. The grass is lush, but grows more slowly so I mow half as frequently.

The mower starts instantly, runs quietly, belches no smoke, and takes only a tiny amount of electricity to recharge.

And we now have birds, birds, and more birds who come to dine on the wormy delicacies that are discretely hidden underneath the mulched clippings, aerating the lawn.

Taking care of my lawn is easier this year, and it looks as well as it ever has, perhaps better. No, really!

It Ain’t Just About the Environment: Save Money (lots)

The annual cost to us for this change was: a bag of organic fertilizer (about 4x the cost of normal, ~$40, but only once/year), and a small amount of electricity to charge the mower (guessing about $5/year). But we also do not spend money on “weed and feed” ($10/bag, but 4x per year = ~$40/year), paper bags (~$10/year), or gasoline ($15/year). Net so far: we save $20/year But the big savings is water!

The Evil, Evil Automatic Sprinkler

Our automatic sprinkler has not been on yet this year. At first, it was because of rain. Recently, we have had less rain so I discretely took a trowel to look under our lawn and under a neighbor’s who does not water; ours is moist, theirs is dry.

Even the neighbor that has the landscaper and does water has only a thin layer of moisture in the roots of the grass. Ours is moist, rich and active down deep. I believe that we may be able to keep the sprinkler off most of this summer because the lawn is retaining its water.

I looked at our water bills, and see in the prior 3 years we used about 5 hundred cubic feet (HCF)/Month in the winter months, and 23 HCF/Month in summer. Assuming other water usage is constant through the year we used about 18 HCF/month for watering the lawn and beds. Our water rate is currently $8.90/HCF, and with the sprinkler on for 4 months per year, our watering cost was 18 * $8.90 * 4 = $640/year.

Oh my god, this is the first time I have done this calculation! Even assuming we’ll want to turn it on a little as we move into August, we’re still saving $400 or $500/year.

So, the bottom line is that we will amortize the cost of the rechargeable electric mower ($425) in the first year and save some trips to the store for supplies. The city doesn’t have to haul away a bag of grass clippings every week. The mower is quiet and odorless. The lawn is only giving back to the environment. Birds grace our yard. And I work less.

Can our lawn actually give back?

Words like conservation, environmentalism, and sustainability all tend to cause people’s eyes to glaze over. I wonder if there are more ways that we can convert our lives in ways that don’t just reduce expenditures and consumption, but instead sustain and benefit our world?


  1. […] We had an underground water sprinkler installed in 2003 and used it a lot; since then we hardly water the lawn because we have changed how we do lawn care […]

    Pingback by $2,400 Refund … from Saving Water | Five Percent: Conserve a Little Energy — April 7, 2008 @ 12:08 pm

  2. […] set the mowing height to 3 inches, which is pretty long but still makes for a nice, lush lawn. Better yet, this means I mow very infrequently, and there’s plenty of room for the clippings […]

    Pingback by Lawn Aerator Shoes, Electric Mower, Organic Fertilizer, Water, Bike | Five Percent: Conserve a Little Energy — April 19, 2008 @ 9:04 pm

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