Photograph by Lady_Luck/Shutterstock.

We took a walk through Wesley Heights to check for leaf blowers. It was mid-January, however, and none were to be seen—or, more to the point, heard. It could have been the weather. Our tour guide said that it was likely due to a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers, which went into effect January 1. “Last year, they would have been here making noise,” said Susan Orlins, an author who lives in the neighborhood and was a charter member of a group called Quiet Clean DCThat has long fought to ban the machines. “Someone would be over there”With a leaf blower “trying to get the leaves from under the snow.”

With spring fast approaching, the blower battles could heat up. The cost of lawn care could become more difficult for homeowners and more expensive. Landscapers who violate the law may face fines. The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs is the agency charged with enforcing this ban. It relies on citizen complaints. As of mid-February, it had received 52 violation reports—a number likely to increase dramatically as winter ebbs.

The push that led to the law started—as such things often seem to do—on the NextDoor app. In 2015, Hal Small, a composer who lives in Wesley Heights, posted that the devices’ high-decibel whine was “a major disturbance both to my work and to my sanity when trying to relax with a walk in our beautiful area.”Other work-from-home-homers also agreed. This led to Quiet Clean DCand finally, the ban. Some readers are no doubt rolling their eyes at all of this; Orlins herself admits the First World–problem factor can seem high at first glance. But the issue isn’t just volume: One study shows that the gas-fueled machines spew 300 times the emissions of a pickup truck. The DC Council passed the law in 2018, but provided a buffer of three years so that everyone could adjust.

Landscapers are beginning to feel the effects. Sam Bebawy, president of Emerald Landscaping Corp., estimates that updating his entire blower fleet would cost about $50,000—close to 5 percent of his company’s annual revenue. What’s more, the less effective battery blowers mean each job takes longer. At the moment, he’s weighing whether to stop accepting new clients in DC, where he does less work than the burbs. “We don’t want to pollute the air, we don’t like noise pollution—we’re not oblivious to that,”He says. “But there’s going to be a trickle-down effect.”Translation: Expect higher prices.

Our walk in Wesley Heights didn’t lead to any uncomfortable encounters; however, Orlins is eager to report scofflaws as soon as she spots any. What’s next for Quiet Clean DC? Orlins says the group hasn’t identified other issues to pursue, but air-traffic noise is a particular nuisance to her. She cites a Palisades effort that changed flight patterns. “I don’t set an alarm,”Orlins: “When I wake up, I can tell by the airplane noise if it’s 7 am.”

This article appears in Washingtonian’s March 2022 issue.

Assistant Editor

Jane is a Chicago transplant and now calls Cleveland Park home. Before joining Washingtonian she was a writer for Smithsonian Magazine, and the Chicago Sun-Times. She graduated from Northwestern University where she studied journalism, opera, and communications.

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