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updated: 6/12/2011 8:43 AM

The Sensible Home: Using electric or cordless tools makes sense

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Q. I want to use more cordless and electric tools, especially yard tools, instead of gasoline ones. Will they increase my electric bills much and which rechargeable batteries are best for the cordless ones?

A. Using electric or cordless tools makes more sense than using gasoline-powered ones for many reasons. Obviously, the United States has to import huge amounts of oil to make gasoline. Anything a homeowner can do to use less gasoline is good. If you have access to an electric outlet, plug-in tools offer lighter weight and more power than cordless ones.

The cost to use electric or cordless tools is much less than for gasoline tools. The electric cost to use most of these tools is less than one cent per use. Also, there are no maintenance costs with cordless or electric tools for tuneups, oil changes, etc.

There are differences in the life, weight, cost and effectiveness of various types of rechargeable batteries for cordless tools. The four basic types of batteries used are lead-acid, nickel-cadmium, nickel metal-hydride and lithium-ion.

Lead-acid batteries are used in cordless lawn mowers and some other large tools because they can store the most electric charge. Lead-acid batteries are also relatively inexpensive for the amount of power they can store. Their drawback is heavy weight, which is not a major problem for tools on wheels, such as lawn mowers.

Ni-Cd (nickel-cadmium) batteries were used on the earliest cordless tools and many tools still use them. They are relatively inexpensive and maintain their performance well at cooler temperatures. This is an important feature for tools used outdoors in all seasons. Ni-Cd batteries are lighter than lead-acid batteries, but are still relatively heavy compared to newer types.

Ni-Mh (nickel metal-hydride) was the next generation of rechargeable batteries used in tools. These batteries can store more electricity for the amount of weight, but they are more expensive than Ni-Cds. They tend to lose run time in colder outdoor temperatures and their overall life (number of run/recharge cycles) is shorter than equivalent Ni-Cd batteries.

Li-ion (lithium-ion) batteries are the newest type. These are the most expensive, but also the lightest weight. Li-ion batteries operate well at cold temperatures and hold their charge much longer between uses. Some can take longer to recharge than Ni-Cd or Ni-Mh batteries, so having a second battery on the charger is wise for long jobs.

Black & Decker (www.blankanddecker.com) recently introduced a new line of lightweight Li-ion tools. My favorites are a 20-volt drill/driver and a 12-volt pruning saw. Light weight is particularly important for a pruning saw because it is often used overhead, which can fatigue shoulder muscles quickly.

Don't necessarily look for the highest voltage tool with the most power. No matter what type of battery a tool uses, higher voltage means more battery weight. If you primarily do light shrub trimming or drill small holes in soft wood, lower voltage is your best choice.

Q. I plan to rehab a large 100-year old frame farmhouse. I am concerned about indoor air quality, so I question whether I should try to make it airtight. Any suggestions?

A. Unless you do major renovations and pay extremely close attention to sealing all the gaps and install new windows, doors and HVAC appliances, it would be difficult to make a 100-year-old house too airtight for good health.

There are many gaps in the framing and attic area in an old house that almost always get missed. If you are really concerned for health reasons, as you finish the rehab job, have a blower door test done to determine the airtightness.

• Write to James Dulley at 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244, or visit dulley.com.

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