Although Chris Collins read that a riding mower was best on a half-acre lot or bigger, he finds an escape a couple times a week, mowing his one-third acre yard in Canterbury Woods in Fairfax. He enjoys his riding mower so much, the grass doesn't even have to be long for him to jump on, start the engine, and immerse himself in lawn-mowing bliss.
"I drive a minivan, that mower is my SUV," Collins said. "You turn off the world."
Collins bought the mower second hand. He didn't think it was worth investing hundreds to thousands of dollars on like a brand new mower, but it's become the fifth member of his family. His sons get on the seat and ride along sometimes, and since he mows often, he doesn't use a bag. With a push mower, his personal energy level would determine how often the yard got mowed. He even compares himself to Tim Allen on the television show Home Improvement.
"She complains that I mow too much," Collins said, pointing to his wife.
ON THE SURFACE, sitting in the drivers seat while the mower does all the work seems tempting but the ride-on mowers are not for everyone. If the yard is too small or there are too many trees, a ride-on mower may not be worth it. Some homeowners get a ride-on mower for the open stretches of yard and use a push mower for the tight spaces. Not Collins though.
"I just suffer with bad edges," Collins said, "periodically I break out the Weed Wacker."
Jeff Wilson owns S & E Landscaping in Stafford, and many of his clients are in Fairfax County. Wilson's seen the ride-on mowers lose popularity over the past few years.
"For this kind of work you can't maneuver them well, they're good for open areas," Wilson said while mowing a lawn in the Camelot neighborhood off Gallows Road.
"On hill, they're dangerous," Wilson said, referring to possible roll-overs.
Herndon resident Loretta Lose's husband has fibromyalgia, which limits his physical activity. Their riding mower gives him a chance to get out of the house.
"He probably mows twice a week," Lose said, although there are hills but her husband does take precautions.
"He knows how to do that, he leans way back," Lose said.
AT FAIRFAX Home Depot, Jim Mitchell has sold 10 riding mowers so far this summer. The John Deere L130 at $2499 is their most expensive model. Currently his 14-year-old son mows the lawn at his house.
"It depends on your degree of laziness, when he [son] moves away, I'm getting one," Mitchell said.
The new trend in ride-on mowers is the zero turn mower, which has levers to turn instead of a steering wheel. They are rear-wheel drive, and the wheels reverse movement when the mower turns making tight corners easy. They are faster also, but can only be used on a larger yard. At Brandell's Lawn and Garden in Fairfax, Todd Kridler noted the zero turn mowers' technological advancement.
"There's no unforgiving turn capability. We sell a ton of them to homeowners, once they see the efficiency of these things, they go with the zero turn mowers," he said.
The Exmark Lazer Z is one model they carry, at $7,159. A friend of Collins has a zero turn mower but the cost is a consideration, Collins said.