You’ve bought your first home. Congratulations! For as much fun as being a homeowner is, though, it’s not without its responsibilities. Chances are you now have a yard to take care of and keep pretty, which is why picking out a lawn mower to suit your needs is incredibly important. Here’s my lawn mower buying guide to help inform your decision.
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More Pain Now, Less Pain Later
The type of mower you pick determines whether lawn care will be a drag or an easy, delightful task.
If your decision is 100% based on price, or if you pick a mower that isn’t right for your yard, then you’ll have to work harder every other weekend during the time of year that weekends matter most.
But if you invest in a good mower now, and choose the best mower for your property, you’ll hardly notice the task.
Hopefully as you read this lawn mower buying guide, this point will be the main take-away you leave with. Buying a lawn mower is a long-term investment, so don’t think short-term when you make the decision.
Three Factors That Guide The Decision (for pretty much everyone)
The three factors that are most important when picking a lawn mower are your:
- yard size and landscape,
- budget, and your
- comfort while mowing.
The type of yard you have will guide you toward which type of mower to get initially.
When you buy a shirt, you choose one that fits. The same is true with mowers.
Is your new yard small, or is it large? For small, flat yards, like the kind found in more urban areas, a walk-behind self-propelled, push, or reel mower is perfect.
If your lawn can double as a golf course on weekends, though, you probably need to invest in a riding mower.
So, What Works for Your Yard?
The size of your yard is probably the biggest deciding factor you’ll need to consider when considering the advice in this or any other lawn mower buying guide.
You need to pick a mower that can contend with the size of your yard.
A walk-behind mower is perfect for small yards, but if you have hills, or even a modest incline you’ll want to invest in a self-propelled model that can handle the terrain.
If your yard is big, think of the purchase for what it actually means long-term. Investing more in a solid riding mower is, in essence, buying back your time on every weekend for the next 5+ years.
How much more would you pay for that? I know I’d pay quite a bit, but we all have a budget we’re working within, and if you can’t buy new, check out my used lawn mower buying guide.
Riding mowers, like the lawn tractor or commercial-quality zero-turn mower, are sturdy and can mow up to 4 ½ acres of land easily.
However, they’re also very expensive.
You can find one on sale at your local box store for $1,800, but most high-quality models go for upwards of $3,000.
Best Electric Zero Turn Mower
The Zero Turn Mower I Recommend
Once you try this electric zero turn mower from Greenworks you’ll never look at battery powered tools the same way again.
- Mows up to 2.5 acres in a single charge.
- Fully charged in 90 minutes.
- Equivalent power to 24 HP gas engine.
- Quiet, no fumes, and faster than competitors (8 MPH max speed).
Walk-Behind Lawn Mower Buying Guide
The walk-behind mower is the most common, and it’s also the most diverse. These will typically cost $300 to $900, but that price is incredibly variable. Nice models can go well over $1,000 or as low as $100. Their standard deck-width is 22-inches.
The reel mower is a manual mower. It is a set of horizontal blades that turn as the wheels turn. It cuts the grass by manpower alone, and you as the homeowner put in all the muscle to cut your lawn.
If your lawn is small and level, they’re perfect. Inexpensive, reliable, quiet, and a joy to use (on flat lots), reel mowers are usually only about $100, like this high rated one on Amazon.
If you can get away with spending so little, go for it.
Electric or Gas-Powered Push Mowers
The next step up are motorized push mowers. These are either gas or electric, and the motor turns the blades to cut the grass.
Electric mowers are further split between cordless and corded.
Cordless electric mowers use batteries to power them, which is great for many users, but if you have a large yard you may not be able to mow the entire lot on a single charge. EGO makes a nice self-propelled model.
Corded mowers avoid the risk of running out of power, but they make you drag a cord around (I’m not a fan … I hate dragging a cord around the carpet when I’m vacuuming and don’t want to do it on my lawn).
Electric mowers overall tend to have weaker motors than gas powered mowers, and that’s why I chose a gas powered mower for my home.
But that’s a personal choice and if you want something quiet and eco-friendly, go electric.
And while you can get a gas-powered push mower, I’m of the mindset that if you’re going gas you may as well consider …
A self-propelled mower, on the other hand, powers itself (you just steer).
That means that instead of having to muscle your mower around your property, the wheels of your walk-behind mower are propelled by the engine. You may have to do some light pushing, but for the most part you’re just going for a walk and steering a bit.
If you have a small yard, or a mid-size yard with some hills this type of mower is what I recommend, but there are some nuances and particular considerations within this category.
The front-wheel drive mower is the least expensive, typically, of the driving mowers. The propulsion is at the front, which makes them perfect for level yards. They are easily navigable and can maneuver around obstacles, like wheeling around corners or shrubs.
Rear-wheel drive mowers are more complicated, but if your yard is hilly, they’re a lifesaver. The rear propulsion carries the weight of the engine and doesn’t risk the front wheels losing traction while pulling. They work against the gravity dragging them down the hill to help you control your mower. It’s a good choice for hilly yards.
There is a growing trend of all-wheel drive mowers for people with the steepest, most unforgiving lawns. These mowers have the best propulsion and ease for the user, but they also tend to be the most expensive of the walk-behind mowers.
Zero-Turn Lawn Mower Buying Guide
The zero-turn mower is a fantastic, more maneuverable mower for lawns that are just too large to mow by foot.
They’re smaller riding mowers with caster-wheels for better navigation, and offer the driver an un-obstructed view of the terrain as they mow.
Steering is done using two lap bars over the riding seat that act as throttles. Each bar controls one side of the propulsion, so if you propel on one side and not the other, it makes a smooth turn.
The deck of a zero-turn mower ranges from 32-inches to 60-inches wide.
Zero-turn mowers also tend to have stronger engines and hydraulic transmissions that make them particularly popular for commercial use.
Their reliability does make them pretty pricey, but the improved performance is very much worth the cost if your lawn is large, flat, with a number of garden beds, trees, and other obstacles to maneuver around.
Models by brands like Toro, Ariens, or Honda are incredibly reliable, and the mid-range options deliver more than enough quality for most lawns.
Riding Lawn Mower Buying Guide
Riding lawn tractors and other riding mowers are more traditional in their steering mechanics since most riding mowers have a steering wheel and brakes.
Similar to the zero-turn mower, riding lawn tractors have blade decks from about 42-inches to 54-inches in width. For large properties this is great because you can take fewer trips to mow the same amount of land.
The biggest variety in riding mowers is in their engine capabilities.
Basic models use lever-operated gear transmissions while high-end models use a pedal hydrostatic transmission.
Both riding mowers and zero-turn mowers have either single-cylinder or V-twin motors.
Rear-Engine Riding Mower
If you don’t want to spend the dough for a quality lawn tractor, a smaller, budget-friendly option is the rear-engine riding mower.
These are smaller than the lawn tractor or zero-turn, but still offer impressive capabilities for a standard homeowner in the suburbs.
They have smaller decks, about 30-inches to 33-inches wide, and their price tag reflects their more limited power and mowing capacity.
These riding mowers typically fall within the $1,200 to $2,400 range.
Most Trusted Brands
Making sure you get a quality mower in many cases comes down to picking a quality brand, and avoiding lawn mower brands that have a bad reputation.
Honda and Toro offer great mowers for home users and can be found at all standard hardware stores. Personally I use a honda self-propelled mower that’s a beast and I would never trade in.
Craftsman is also a trusted brand, though it’s sold primarily at Ace Hardware, so if you don’t have an Ace near you that could be tough to buy and service.
John Deere and Husqvarna are higher-end brands and tend to have prices to match their quality.
However, you can get more options in choice by paying attention to which engine is in the mower. For instance, Briggs & Stratton create quality engines, and many brands of mowers use them, even if it’s not a name-brand that you recognize right away.
Common Accessories & Features
There are some supplemental things to consider when choosing a mower for extra functionality. You can purchase a number of quality accessories for your mower, but in my view the features your mower has out of the box is the most important consideration.
So consider first: what are you going to do with the grass clippings?
Your mower can come with a side-vent to spread your clippings across the yard. If you mow regularly, this works well, since the clippings add nitrogen into your yard as a fertilizer while decomposing, and you won’t be producing large clumps that could smother your lawn.
You can get an additional mulching function that cuts clippings smaller. My Honda mower has this function, and also has the option to bag my grass clippings, and I use both options on my yard depending upon the needs of my lawn at that time.
I can say that buying a mower with the capacity to bag your clippings can be very handy if you want to compost your grass clippings. And I use mine as a tool when cleaning up leaves in my yard every fall.
Whichever type of mower and model you decide, make sure you get the right mower for you and your yard.
Buying a quality mower that’s a good fit for your property will make a huge difference in the quality of your yard and (though it sounds trite) your life.