If you are on the fence about whether you should rent or buy a lawn aerator, there are a few important considerations that you should take into account. Aeration can do wonders for your yard, especially if you have heavily compacted soil, but you want to make sure that you are making the right choice for your specific needs.
The following criteria should be considered when deciding between renting or buying a lawn aerator:
- Size of lawn – smaller yards can often be handled with a rental while larger lawns that require a riding mower will be better served by purchasing a pull-behind aerator.
- Frequency of aeration – Heavily compacted soil benefits from being aerated more frequently which makes purchasing an aerator a better solution than renting.
- Cost over time – Along with the frequency of use, consider the cost of renting equipment over five years compared to owning.
- Ability to pick up and return rentals – If you are going to have to borrow a pickup truck or trailer every time you rent, purchasing may make more sense for you.
- Distance from a rental location – Finally, consider how far you live from a rental center. Depending on the distance, buying may be the better choice.
Let’s look at each of these criteria more closely and how they should weigh on your decision to rent or buy. But first, let’s get this one out of the way:
Skip The Spike Aerator Shoes!
No matter what you are being told by advertisers, spike aerator shoes are not an effective way to improve the aeration of your soil. The truth is, they will either accomplish nothing at all or they will actually make the compaction of your soil even worse.
The idea of spikes to aerate is a flawed concept, whether it’s using those goofy shoes or a dedicated “tool”. First, you aren’t removing any soil to lessen the compaction. And second, when you press spikes into an already compacted environment, all you are doing is compacting it more!
I get the appeal of just walking around your lawn aerating it. But it’s not how you solve compaction issues. Stay away from this approach to lawn aeration and spend your time doing things that will actually help.
Okay, with that little rant out of the way, let’s go over the key factors that you need to consider when looking at the option of buying vs. renting lawn aeration equipment.
Size of Your Lawn
One of the biggest factors that you will want to consider is the size of your lawn. Why? Because your lawn size is one of the factors that will directly impact the number of hours spent aerating.
I have two acres. The idea of renting a dedicated gas-powered lawn aerator to push all over my yard just sounds terrible. For larger yards that require a riding mower, you will be better served purchasing a pull-behind lawn aerator like the Brinly PA-40BH Tow-Behind Plug Aerator (link to Amazon).
This type of aerator connects to the back of your riding mower and allows you to aerator your lawn while simply driving around. They are an amazing solution for large yards. For more information, read the following article:
If your yard is small, however, and is easily cared for with a push mower, you are probably going to be just fine renting a dedicated unit.
Frequency of Aeration
This is a big one so don’t overlook it. Heavily compacted soils can benefit greatly from being aerated more frequently. I have red clay under my lawn and have implemented some really off-the-wall strategies to improve it.
If your soil is compacted you are going to want to aerate more often. Rental costs can really add up when you factor this in. Again, larger yards will benefit from a towable solution but what about smaller yards where a riding mower isn’t feasible?
It’s difficult to recommend purchasing a dedicated gas-powered lawn aerator even in this situation. They can easily run $3000 or more. You need to be a professional to justify that kind of cost.
If my yard were really small, I’d probably opt for a manual solution like the Yard Butler Lawn Coring Aerator (link to Amazon). But this would not be easy work if the ground was really hard and dry. I tend to wet my yard first and use a liquid soil conditioner an hour or so before aerating. That really helps to soften the soil and allows the aerator to pull out solid cores.
The real challenge is for those with a yard that is too big to aerate manually but not large enough to justify a riding mower.
The truth is, there is no good purchasing solution for these cases. The cost of a walk-behind gas-powered aerator is just too steep to justify. Renting is probably the best approach. Where I would focus my efforts is on lessening the compaction of the soil by improving the quality and texture of the soil itself.
I use a long planting auger bit that is designed for planting bulbs to drill deep into my clay soil and backfill it with compost or good quality dirt. It has made a tremendous difference over the past few years.
You can find the tool I use on our recommended products page for compacted soils.
Cost Over Time Of Renting Vs. Buying A Lawn Aerator
You can buy a tow-behind aerator for less than $200. It’s easy to justify that cost compared to renting. Two or three uses and it will easily pay for itself. But what about buying one of those $3000+ dedicated walk-behinds?
Assuming you have a healthy lawn with low compaction, you will probably only be aerating every couple of years. It will take a lifetime to recoup your costs to a point that justifies buying. You are almost certainly better off just renting.
But if you do have issues with compacted soil and anticipate aerating two or three times per year (clay soil can benefit from this) then the math gets a little fuzzier.
How Much Does It Cost To Rent A Lawn Aerator?
I called three local places for pricing and costs ranged from $99-$110 per day rental cost. Home Depot had the best option for a quick turnaround at $69 for 4 hours. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for aerating through considering pickup and dropoff.
But let’s assume $100 for a full day. That was about the average cost. If you anticipate aerating three times per year then you are looking at $300 in annual rental costs. It would take 10 years for a $3000 purchase to pay for itself and that does not take into account the various maintenance and part replacement costs that will come into play.
You could quickly offset this cost by renting your equipment out or even performing aeration service but assuming you are not interested in going into business, this is a really hard investment to justify.
You can check pricing and availability for your local Home Depot at this link (affiliate link – opens in a new window).
Picking Up & Returning Rental Equipment
I’ll be honest. I hate renting gas-powered equipment. Yard machines are heavy by nature, I’m always worried that it’s not tied down sufficiently in my trailer, and when I get it home I have a moment of panic that it’s not going to start. And so, my views here are a little biased but I’ll try to stay objective.
The key thing to keep in mind is that you are going to be responsible (in most cases) for picking up the lawn aerator at the rental location and returning it when you are finished with it. This means you will need a truck, a trailer, or a friend who owes you a favor.
This is not insurmountable but it is something to keep in mind when you are weighing the options of buying vs. renting. Make sure you account for transporting a rental back and forth. And that brings us to the final issue…
Distance From A Rental Location
Driving a couple of miles down the road to a local rental store isn’t an overwhelming concept. But if you do not live relatively close to a rental location, buying a lawn aerator may be the most logical solution.
Factor in the additional costs of gas and wear-and-tear on your vehicle. It won’t be a make-or-break factor on its own but when combined with the other considerations we’ve discussed, this may be the deciding factor on which choice is the right solution for you.
Don’t Overlook Done-For-You Services
If your yard is too small for a tow-behind but you just can’t justify the cost of buying a walk-behind lawn aerator and renting doesn’t work for you based on any of these issues we’ve outlined, you may still have another option.
Some professional lawn care services offer lawn aeration. You can just pay them to come and do the work. They’ll usually even clean up the cores afterward (verify this with them before committing). It’s not a solution for everyone but it may be the best for your case so don’t overlook it.
Avoid gimmicks like spike aeration and make a sound decision on whether renting or buying a lawn aerator is the right choice based on these guidelines.
For larger yards that are best suited to riding mowers, purchasing a tow-behind aerator can pay for itself in just a few years compared to renting. Smaller yards are trickier and each of the factors I’ve outlined needs to be taken into account.
There are very few situations that would warrant purchasing a gas-powered lawn aerator. More times than not, you’ll be better served by renting or hiring someone to do the work for you when you have a small yard.
Below is the tow-behind model mentioned in this article. You can find other solutions to compacted soil on our resources page.