BY BOB MIODONSKI
Of CONTRACTOR's STAFF

DES PLAINES, ILL. — Nearly a quarter of CONTRACTOR readers purchase power tools at home centers, according to results of the 2007 CONTRACTOR Power Tool Survey.

The "home center" category is new to this year's survey and was added so that we could get more specific information about our readers' buying habits. In past years, the "retail" category was intended to cover power tools purchased at home centers, such as The Home Depot and Lowe's, as well as hardware stores and other retail outlets.

In this year's research, 23.6% of readers say they purchase power tools at home centers and another 6.5% say they buy them at hardware stores. The retail purchases at both types of store add up to 30.1% in 2007, compared with retail purchases of 25.2% in 2006 and 28.1% in 2005.

For the third year in a row, contractors buying power tools online increased. In this year's survey, 8.5% of readers say they purchase power tools on the Internet, compared with 7% in 2006 and 6.5% in 2005.

Industrial supply houses continue to be readers' favorite place to buy power tools, although their popularity dipped from previous years. In 2007, 40.8% of contractors purchase power tools from an industrial distributor, compared with 46.7% in 2006 and 42.6% in 2005.

Power tools purchased from plumbing wholesalers remain fairly consistent with previous years. This year, 12.9% of readers buy their tools from plumbing wholesalers compared with 13.5% last year and 11.5% in 2005.

Catalog sales are steady at 3.6%, the same percentage as last year. In 2005, 6% said they bought their power tools from catalogs.

CONTRACTOR readers spend, on average, $18,483 annually on power tools. That amount is down from last year's survey when the average expenditure was $20,802, yet it is consistent with the $18,805 spent on power tools in 2005.

Among corded power tools, the reciprocating saw is still the most popular tool with 91% of readers saying that they use one. Next is the hammer drill at 88.8% and circular saw at 87%. They're followed by the power drill at 83.9% and demolition hammer at 77.4%.

Other corded tools in common use among CONTRACTOR readers are: drill drivers (75.6%), pipe-threading machines (75.4%), rotary hammers (71.4%), pipe-cutting machines (68.4%), drain-cleaning machines (53.6%) and floor drivers (32.8%).

Despite its ranking in the survey, the circular saw is less likely to get heavy use on the jobsite compared with almost every other tool in the survey — just 13.9% report heavy usage. In contrast, 48.1% report heavy use of recip saws, 36.9% for power drills, 33.4% for hammer drills, 31% for pipe-threading machines, 27.7% for drill drivers and 27.5% for pipe-cutting machines.

The most popular cordless tools among respondents continue to be drill drivers at 77.9% and power drills at 76%. Readers report a heavy usage for both cordless tools: 53.2% of the contractors for drill drivers and 47.5% for power drills.

In contrast, 70.8% of readers use cordless reciprocating saws, although just 33% report heavy use. For cordless circular saws, only 5.7% report heavy use, even though 60.1% of readers use a cordless model. The next most popular cordless tools are hammer drills at 54.4%, rotary hammers at 27.7%, demolition hammers at 21.9% and floor drivers at 16%.

Asked about their preferences on battery packs for their cordless tools, most of the contractors cite an 18-volt battery pack, which is used by 85.2%. A 14.4-volt battery pack is used by 33.8% of respondents and a 24-volt battery packs is used by 28.8%. A 12-volt battery pack is used by 17% and 9.6-volt by 10.2%.

The respondents to the survey say that 61.3% of their construction activity is remodeling or retrofit work and 38.7% comes from new construction. The average number of people employed by the respondents is 51.

With obvious overlap, 78.4% of respondents say they perform commercial work and 77% say they do residential. Results from the same questions show that 41.2% work on industrial projects and 28.9% perform institutional work.

For type of work, 68.4% of respondents say they do plumbing work, and 43% specify that they remodel baths and kitchens. More than half (56.5%) work on hydronic heating systems; 44% of respondents specify that they do radiant floor heating; and 21% say they install or service snow-melt systems.

Among all respondents, 28.2% do process piping; 22.7% derive business from private water systems; and 14% work on fire sprinkler systems.