The new battery-operated tools are so expensive. Are they worth the money?

Sally Drury examines whether the advantages of battery-powered kit are worth the extra expenditure.

Compared to their engine-powered equivalents, the latest battery kit is costly. But prices will fall with technology advances and as more companies offer such kit. At the moment you can find yourself paying double and in some cases three times as much as you would for a petrol machine. Running costs may be cheaper because you are not buying petrol, but then you have to remember that the batteries may have a limited lifespan.

In weighing up whether battery-powered kit is for you, you should consider your work, the tasks, the sites and all the health and safety implications. Clearly the biggest advantages are a significant reduction in noise levels and the fact there are no fumes. If you already work in the grounds of schools, colleges, hospitals, old folks' homes or nature reserves, then battery kit clearly has the edge over the petrol engines in respect of maintaining peace and quiet - and you are not labouring over a machine that emits fumes into your face.

If you are looking to expand a business, particularly a garden maintenance service, you may find offering a clean and quiet practice gives you an edge over your competitors. For you, powered tools may be simply a means of getting the job done but the benefits of battery kit may make for some novel advertising and attract new customers.

The fact that you do not need to carry a can of fuel may also be an advantage. The use of battery-powered tools also eliminates the risks associated with refuelling in the field. On the downside, when you run out of juice you need to have a spare battery - more expense - or you will be forced to call it a day and stick the tool on charge.

Without an engine, the battery-powered tool may be lighter and less tiring to use. Kit where the battery is worn on the operator's back or around the waist will be the lightest and can prove particularly suitable where, for instance, hours of hedge-trimming are anticipated.

You will have to test items yourself to decide whether the power output and finish achieved is as good as the kit you currently use. Depending on the task and your preferred machine, you might find the battery-powered equivalent a little underpowered - though I have to stress that battery-powered machines have come a long way since the early days. In terms of their output and performance, you may be surprised by the latest generation tools.

If you are able to have a demonstration or borrow tools for a test, be sure to check out all the features and remember that no engine does not necessarily mean no vibration. With any power tools, engine or battery, you should look for anti-vibration features and make sure the handles provide a comfortable grip.

Check out the operator presence control (OPC). Tools can be particularly tiring where there is an oversensitive OPC and you have to grip the switch with some force to prevent it from tripping. Gripping any powered tool tightly can dramatically increase the level of vibration you receive.

If you need a variety of tools, look at multi-function systems where you buy a battery to run different tools. This would spread the cost between several tasks - sawing, pruning, hedge and grass trimming. I would still suggest you invest in a spare battery to make sure you can finish the work you have started.

Sally Drury has reported for HW and its forerunner GC&HTJ for 28 years and has spent more than five years testing machinery for HW and What Kit? The advice in this helpline is independent.

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