Tired of raking? Consumer Reports recently found gas leaf blowers that vacuum with the flick of a switch, plus a new electric that frees you from a cord. But its tests of 29 models show that the best choices put power before pizzazz.
•For small properties. Plug-in blowers save weight, noise and maintenance over gas models. The Homelite UT42120, $43, a CR Best Buy, swept leaves almost as well as the top Toros for less, though it was a notch down in loosening and vacuuming.
•For added mobility. Gas-powered hand-held blowers pack power without the cord. The Weed Eater VS2000BV, $100, a CR Best Buy, gives lots of performance for the price, as did the Craftsman 79470, Poulan Pro BVM200VS. But top-scoring models such as the Echo PB-250, $170, started with fewer pulls and had less vibration.
•For larger properties. Backpack blowers shift most of the weight from your arms to your shoulders. At $250, the new Craftsman 79401 might seem like a bargain, but paying a little more for the Husqvarna 150BT, $300, buys a lot more oomph. The Little Wonder LB160H, $800, is a wheeled blower with roughly twice the power of a backpack; consider it for really big jobs if you can handle pushing its 117-pound weight.
Whichever blower you consider, be sure it complies with any local noise regulations -- models that scored Good or better in Consumer Reports' noise tests at 50 feet should do so.
Generators: Six strong choices keep you powered
Blackouts like the one that crippled the East Coast this week needn't lead to spoiled food and nights by flashlight. Consumer Reports' tests of 14 generators show that you can start powering a houseful of lights and appliances for less than $700. But some important components cost extra.
Testers focused on moderately priced portable and stationary models that deliver 5,000 to 7,000 watts, enough for most needs. Portables cost the least and can be stored in a garage or shed when you don't need them. Generac's GP5500 5939, a CR Best Buy at $670, powered refrigerators, well pumps and other home gear almost as well as the pricier, top-scoring Troy-Bilt XP 7000 30477, $900.
Stationary models install permanently outside your home and start automatically when needed. And because they run on propane or natural gas instead of gasoline, they offer extended or unlimited run time. Generac was also the value leader in this group: Its CorePower 5837, a CR Best Buy at $1,800, performed capably for far less than the top-rated Kohler 8.5 RES-QS7, $3,200, that was tested.
Buying a generator is just the beginning. Many models don't come with parts that you'd think would be part of the price. And some could let you down when you need them most or put an added load on appliances.
How to choose
Decide what you really need to power. If that includes a central air conditioner or an electric dryer or range oven, you'll need a larger generator than the ones that were tested. Here's what else to keep in mind:
•Count on a transfer switch. It costs about $500 to $900 installed and connects a portable generator to your home's circuit box as with a stationary model. In addition to eliminating the risk and hassle of extension cords, the switch protects the generator and appliances from damage when grid power returns and keeps the generator from endangering technicians working on the power lines.
•Think about the fuel. Most portables use roughly 8 to 22 gallons of gasoline a day, compared with four to eight 20-pound tanks of propane for nonportable models. Buying and storing lots of fuel before a storm can also be unwieldy, though you can pour unused gasoline into your car's gas tank.
•Play it safe. Minimize carbon-monoxide risks: Run generators outside – as far from the house as possible – and never indoors.