Why Contractors Should Switch to All Battery Tools
August 16, 2021
Battery technology has just gotten better and better. For many trades, you'll have big time and efficiency gains by switching to an all-battery, no-cords tool setup.
We'll talk about why you should switch, but also a few cons to switching.
Do Your Craft
Ideally, you want to maximize your time spent doing your craft and minimize the time you spend doing manual labor. Coiling extension cords is manual labor.
If you were hired to reroof a house and you spent 50% of your time raking pieces of roof out of your customer's grass, your customer would wonder a) if they're paying your full rate for raking and b) why you didn't just put tarps down. A roofer should spend most of his time roofing and a small amount of time cleaning up.
Being a contractor always requires doing some non-tradecraft work, but it's important to minimize the time that you spend on those tasks.
Many contractors sink their own time into picking up and delivering materials, hauling and dumping construction debris, and numerous small, repetitive tasks like coiling and uncoiling extension cords. It's not that it's *always* wrong to do these things, but they have costs for your time when better options might be available. A cheap delivery fee costs a little money and saves a lot of time.
Since cordless tools let you start working on your craft earlier, they are one way to help maximize the time spent doing what you're paid to do.
Be Faster, and Feel Faster
Battery-powered tools are amazing for efficiency. You already know this, because you have at least one battery-powered drill and driver, maybe a multitool, a reciprocating saw, and a grinder. They are *one more thing* that let's you save a small amount of time. Small amounts here and there add up.
What makes cordless tools great?
To use a corded drill, you need to find an outlet, uncoil your extension cord, and plug in your drill. Then you need to snake the cord to wherever the drill needs to be. Hopefully, your cord is long enough. At the end of the job, you need to coil the cord and put it away. On a new job site, this process probably takes 5-10 minutes per day.
It's really not a lot of time, is it?
But no one does this with their drill. Everyone has a battery-powered drill. Why?
Because we all know intuitively that looking for an outlet and coiling/uncoiling an extension cord is a repetitive waste of time, every day. You could replace that 5-10 minutes with another activity that will make you more productive and efficient, like assembling some materials for tomorrow's work, organizing your tool trailer, or doing tool maintenance.
Even if you don't do additional "productive" activities, psychologically, skipping a cord wrap-up at the end of day feels a whole lot faster, and that just makes you feel better.
You Don't Need Reliable Outlets
If you work inside, finding an outlet usually isn't a lot of work. This can be trickier for outdoor jobs. You may need to do a long extension cord run or even run the cord to the inside of a house, which can be a problem for clients that don't want a door or window open because of pets or children. With battery tools, you do not need to ask a homeowner to plug in to their kitchen outlet.
Outdoor outlets aren't always reliable. Sometimes, underground lines have been cut by careless contractors or gardening projects. GFCIs can trip in damp conditions. If you have no choice but to keep resetting the outlet, you'll waste a significant amount of time walking instead of working.
If the customer isn't home and the outdoor outlet you planned to use doesn't work, do you...go home?
Do One More Job
If you're a contractor that does a lot of handyman-type work, what is one more job per day worth to you?
You may typically do 3-4 jobs per day, but what if you could do 4-5? A cordless circular saw, multitool, grinder, table saw, and miter saw significantly reduce the time you spend on cord management. All-battery tools are one part of an efficiency strategy that allows you to do one more job in a day.
Make the Job Site Safer
Extension cords are tripping hazards. If you work with cords long enough, you'll trip on them. Even if you don't fall, it simply adds to the frustration of working.
If that doesn't convince you, think about your clients. Are they elderly? Do they have kids? A good contractor routes his cords so to minimize tripping hazards. A fast contractor uses batteries and never thinks about routing cords.
Get Your Best Storage Space Back
Many tools you own can fit in a drawer or a cubby, but not extension cords! They're awkward to store. Some contractors carry hundreds of feet of exension cord on their tool trailer or in their work van for powering air compressors, miter saws, table saws, and other corded tools.
How do you decide where to store your extension cords?
You store extension cords based on their size and awkwardness, not based on how frequently you use them. This usually ends up being near a door, and doors are where frequently-used tools and materials should be. Besides frequent-use tools, you have other tools that can be awkward to store, like levels, squares, and short step ladders. Vertical spaces are ideal for these tools.
Cords on tools also get messy. They don't store well and they tangle around each other. Battery powered tools can be stored in ways that make them easy to see and take from storage.
Sometimes cords are just in the way! Some tradespeople, having no other space in their work van, hang cords on the front of their van racking. That means they need to push the cord out of the way every time they need something on that shelf. This is not efficient or frustration-free.
Eliminate cords and you free up valuable space that can make you more efficient.
With battery power, you can have electricity everywhere. Some contractors use a generator to supply power, but generators have problems:
- Most models are loud. Noise is something that customers don't like, neighbors don't like, and that you don't like. We all just accept it because there haven't been alternatives.
- They require gas. You don't have a gas pump at home, so you need to fuel up your generator before using it. With batteries, you can skip gas trips.
- Generators need maintenance. You need to change oil, filters, and the plug on a regular basis. Batteries simply get replaced.
- Generators take up space and can be heavy. A DeWalt Power Station is 24 lbs with 5 amp-hour batteries.
- Generators make your trailer smell like generator
If you're building a shed or an arbor, you can setup anywhere and start working right away with battery tools. There is no generator roll-out or extension cord wrangling.
If you absolutely need to run 120V tools, you can run an air compressor or table saw off the DeWalt Portable Power Station. Robert, of My Fortress Construction, has even tried it out with a 90A flux core welder. Not all battery inverters are up to this task, but the tech should become better and cheaper over time.
Get More Options
Corded tools usually come in one size, and they all have a cord that sticks out somewhere. For instance, Milwaukee offers different versions of its Magnum drills with a 1/2" chuck, but they all have essentially the same form factor.
However, they have a greater variety of cordless tools. You can choose from a variety of 12 volt, 18 volt, and 28 volt 1/2" chuck drills, many of them brushless and in a compact form factor. Cordless tools are where toolmakers are focussing their attention.
You'd never carry a corded drill on your tool belt, but you might slap a 12 volt 1/2" drill on their.
Besides the things we've talked about, there are problems with going all-battery.
You need battery packs.
Depending on what you do, you might need a lot of batteries. If you want to be off-grid and off-generator, this is definitely true and you'll have large fixed expenses for battery purchases. Even one-man renovation businesses have many, many batteries.
Tool plus battery purchases are usually more expensive than a corded tool. You need to decide whether you use a tool frequently enough to justify the cost.
If you're planning to run a table saw or inverter, you need to make a significant investment in batteries. For many contractors, the time and frustration savings are worth it. It speeds jobs, increases safety, and makes your tools more versatile with less setup.
Batteries can add bulk.
Some battery-powered tools have fairly large battery packs and there's no way around it. A Milwaukee M18 angle grinder is rather long and has a bulky end compared to a standard corded angle grinder. This can make it hard to get into tight spaces, like inside a wall or behind a piece of equipment. You don't have a lot of alternatives besides trying to use a different tool, like a multitool or a reciprocating saw.
Drills and drivers have lots of options if you need a less bulky tool, but not every tool has options for this. Although Milwaukee makes an M12 3" cutoff tool and M12 grinder, there is no compact M12 4 1/2" angle grinder.
For many contractors, switching most of their tools to battery-only makes a lot of sense. You spend more time doing your craft and can complete jobs more quickly. Cordless tools can allow you to work more easily and quietly in remote areas. If you can bear the cost of switching to battery tools, it is well worth considering.
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