Review 19 August, 2004:
I recently moved into a house with about 10,000 SF of grass, so I needed a mower. Knowing that gasoline mowers produce significant amounts of pollution (see note 1 at the bottom), I wanted an electric mower. The natural gas furnace and water heater in my garage made me even more certain I wanted an electric mower. When the gas company turned came to start service, the technician told me to not store gasoline in the garage, but if I had to, to store it as far away as possible from the gas appliances. The cartoon-like warning sticker on the gas water heater backed this up. I ruled out a manual reel mower because I have read that they are difficult to use in tall, thick grass (Most of my lawn is 3" tall St Augustine grass). I ordered the Black & Decker MM875 Lawn Hog 19" Mulching Mower.
The machine arrived 16 August, 2004 via UPS in one large box weighing about 60 pounds. I took it inside, opened it, slid the mower out, unfolded the handle, tightened four bolts by hand, and the mower was ready in less than five minutes.
I knew the deck would be plastic (thick polypropylene, I think), and I wasn't originally thrilled about that. The lifetime warranty made me feel better about it, but when the machine arrived, I felt completely better about it. The deck is thick and solid, and I expect it to stand up to as much abuse as a steel deck would, without the possibility of rusting. Black & Decker also notes that the "composite" deck (It's composite, not plastic ;) absorbs more sound than a steel deck would. There is a lifetime warranty on the deck, and a two year warranty for the overall mower.
I already had 100' of 12-gauge extension cord, and that has been enough to reach all of my lawn. The owner's manual recommends a 16-gauge cord for lengths up to 50', a 14-gauge cord for 50' to 100', and a 12-gauge cord for up to 150'. Since most lots are 100' by 100' or smaller the mower should work for most homeowners. My yard is about 100' by 150' (about 10,000 SF of grass), and 100' of cord is plenty for me. Having outlets on the front and back walls of the house helps. My 12-gauge cord fits easily in the mower's anchoring bracket, but a larger cord (10-gauge) probably would not fit.
The 19" cutting width is narrower than most gasoline mowers, which are typically 20" to 22". It can mow a 30' wide swath of grass in about 21 trips across the lawn instead of 18 (assuming 2" overlap). The width is narrower so the motor doesn't have to be huge. The 12-amp motor can be powered from a normal 120 VAC outlet and a normal extension cord.
The mower weighs about 49 pounds, 15% less than a small gasoline mower. Having to drag the cord behind the mower makes up for that difference, so the effort required is about the same. Since there isn't gasoline to spill, the mower doesn't have to be stored level. Users with limited garage space could hang the mower from a wall or the ceiling, but it's easier just to park it on the floor. The handle can be folded in to take up less space.
The cut quality is great with the new blade, and I plan to keep it sharp. The mower came with a mulching insert and a bag for grass collection. I have only used it as a mulcher so far, and it has done great. I mowed the grass shortly after Hurricane Charley blew through, and it did a good job of mulching the oak leaves and twigs.
Avoiding running over the cord is easier than I had expected. Just mow away from the outlet and it takes care of itself. I have quite a few trees in the yard that I have to go around to avoid wrapping the cord up, but that hasn't been as much of a problem as I had expected. It was second nature after one mow. There is a brake that stops the motor and blade if the safety power handle/switch is released, so if one were to hit the cord, it would be easy to stop the blade before damaging the mower. The cord is manageable enough that I am glad I did not opt for a battery-powered mower. The corded version is simpler with fewer components to break, and much less expensive. I expect this mower to last 20 years (I'll keep you updated).
Another great feature is the quick height adjustment lever. With one lever (easily accessible while mowing) the cutting height can be adjusted between 1.25" and 3.5". It feels like it is spring loaded, because it takes almost no force to raise or lower the deck. I will use that every time I mow, because I have two different grass types. Most of my yard is thick St Augustine grass, which gets cut at 2.75" to 3.25". One section is Bahia grass, which I cut at 1.75" to 2.25". The grass was pretty tall the first time I mowed, so the mower got bogged down a couple times, but for the most part it kept up with me.
The noise level is a definite improvement over every gasoline mower I've ever used. I would estimate it to be about the same as turning on a few cheap boxed fans. I wouldn't mow the lawn at 4am, but I don't feel bad mowing late in the evening. From inside the house, the noise is audible but not aggravating. I would guess that from inside my next-door neighbor's house the noise is barely audible, and from two houses down, it would be imperceptible inside. It's not even on the same scale as the neighbors' riding mowers.
I would recommend this mower to any healthy person whose grass (less than 40,000 SF) is all within 150' of an outlet. Someone with more than an acre of grass should probably have a self-propelled mower (or better yet, rent a garden tiller and get rid of some grass). This mower takes about the same amount of effort as a gasoline counterpart for large lawns, but for small lawns, it would be significantly more convenient. There will be no oil changes, no gasoline to store, no spark plug to change, and no cord to yank, and no handle to yank off of the end of the cord (have you ever had the handle come off, then have the cord get sucked down into the machine? That happened to me once on an old gas-and-oil line trimmer). The easy start (simply squeeze a lever and it switches on) makes it an excellent mower for people who might have trouble starting a gasoline mower. For even smaller lawns, a reel mower seems like a good idea, but I have no experience there.
I couldn't find any remanufactured units, so I bought it new from Amazon.com for $205 with free shipping. That is a little more expensive than a 3.5 hp mower, but I expect the mower to last a lot longer than a gasoline mower (maybe three to four times as long). UPS shipping from Minnesota to Florida took one week (probably delayed a day or two by the hurricane), and the mower shipped a couple days after I ordered it.
Eliminating gasoline from gardening is easy. This mower goes well with my electric trimmer (http://www.epinions.com/content_103053037188
). I might buy an electric leaf blower in the future (http://www.epinions.com/hmgd-Lawn_and_Garden-Power_Tools-All-Toro_215_Mph_Electric_Blowers_51591
). I don't expect to need a hedge trimmer anytime soon (http://www.epinions.com/hmgd-Lawn_and_Garden-Power_Tools-All-Black___Decker_16_in__Electric_Hedge_Trimmer_TR165
I have only had the mower for a few weeks, so my durability rating is based on my guess of how durable the mower will be.
Note 1: Most people don't appreciate how much pollution comes from gasoline mowers. They think of the small amount of fuel used (maybe a quart per week) and think the pollution must be insignificant compared to the pollution coming from their cars, which burn much more fuel. However, lawnmowers do not have the sophisticated emissions control systems that modern cars have. Not only that, but spilling gasoline releases all of the volatile compounds in the gasoline directly into the air. Some small amount of spillage is almost unavoidable with gasoline mowers. "Driving a 2004 Prius for 24,000 miles...about two years of normal driving...creates less emissions than spilling a cup of gasoline." (http://www.evs20.org/wrapup/JimPress.doc) In my years of mowing neighbors' lawns, I must have spilled five gallons of gasoline. That works out to the same pollution as driving 2 million miles. As cars become cleaner and cleaner, other sources of pollution become more important. Emissions from lawn equipment are already being addressed, but the simplest solution is to use electric equipment, which doesn't produce any pollution directly. Additionally, the electricity is mostly from domestic energy sources, so dependence on foreign oil is reduced slightly.
UPDATE April 2005:
The mower stayed with the house when I moved, but after about 12 mows everything was still working perfectly. I recommend the mower heartily. I liked it so much I bought one for my father, who has been extremely pleased (his cost $185 from Amazon after a $25 discount).
UPDATE September 2007:
I borrowed my father's 2.5-year-old mower for a serious mowing of a 1/4-acre lot that hadn't been mowed yet this year (the house is vacant, and the Bahia grass had grown unchecked through the spring and summer in Orlando, FL). The grass was about 14" tall, the weeds were about 36" tall, and the mower chopped through it admirably. So much for never removing more than 1/3 of the blade of grass! I set the mower to 3" and plowed through it. After two years, the poor mower is finally going to get its blade sharpened! Besides some scratches on the housing, it works like it did when it was brand new, 2-1/2 years ago. Because there is no power at this particular property, I had to provide my own. Rather than renting a generator, I bought a 1500 Watt inverter, which can be connected to most (any?) vehicle. I was able to get the mower to start up and run without much fuss. If the inverter power meter was correct the 12A motor drew about 4.5A once the blade was spun up (it drew at least 12.5A during spin-up, which maxed out the inverter for a split second).