BY BOB MIODONSKI
OF CONTRACTOR'S STAFF

DES PLAINES, ILL. — For the second straight year, the number of CONTRACTOR readers who buy their power tools online has increased, according to a survey conducted in January among this magazine's subscribers.

Up from 6.5% in 2005, 7% of respondents purchase power tools over the Internet, the CONTRACTOR 2006 Power Tool Study reports. In 2004, 5.7% of readers bought power tools online.

Almost half the readers still buy their power tools at industrial supply houses. The 2006 survey reports that 46.7% of readers purchase their power tools there, up from 42.6% in 2005. In 2004, 49.3% of respondents used industrial supply houses.

A quarter of readers shop for power tools at retail. The 25.2% of respondents who buy tools there represents a dip from last year's 28.1%. In 2004, 20.2% of readers bought power tools at retail outlets.

Plumbing supply houses capture 13.5% of our subscribers' power tool purchases, up from 11.5% in 2005. In 2004, 15.5% bought their power tools from their plumbing wholesaler.

Catalog purchases, meanwhile, dropped to 3.6% from 6% in 2005. In 2004, 6.5% of respondents said they bought their tools that way.

CONTRACTOR readers spend, on average, $20,802 annually on power tools overall. That's an increase of almost $2,000 from the $18,805 a year spent on power tools in 2005. In 2004, our subscribers said they spent $20,556 on power tools.

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 84.7%. That's up from 81.3% of respondents in 2005.

Fewer readers are using a 14.4-volt battery pack, used by 38.4% of respondents this year, down from 42.5% in 2005. Users of 24-volt battery packs also declined slightly — to 27.8% from 28.6% last year. Also losing power in the survey are 12-volt battery packs (to 21.9% from 24.1%) and 9.6-volt (to 11.9% from 14.4%).

The most popular cordless tools among respondents continue to be drill drivers and power drills, with both tools being used by more than three of four readers, 78.8% and 77.3% respectively. In 2005 their popularity was reversed with power drills used by 76.9% of readers and drill drivers by 74.9%.

Readers report a heavy level of use for both cordless tools: 53.2% of the contractors for drill drivers and 50.9% for power drills. Another 20% of readers report a medium level of use for the tools.

In contrast, 69.3% of readers use cordless reciprocating saws, although just 27.2% report heavy use. For cordless circular saws, only 5.6% report heavy use, even though 62.5% of readers use a cordless model. The next most popular cordless tools are hammer drills (54.6%), rotary hammers (27.4%), demolition hammers (23.5%) and floor drivers (17.2%).

In the corded category, the recip saw is still the most popular tool with 91.9% of readers saying that they use one. Next are circular saws and hammer drills, at 88.7% each, and then power drills and demolition hammers, 84.9% and 80.3% respectively.

On the job, however, readers are least likely to pick up a circular saw — just 16.6% report heavy usage of the tool. In contrast, 53.5% report heavy usage of recip saws, 38.6% for power drills, 33.1% for hammer drills and 19.5% for demolition hammers. Other corded tools in common use among CONTRACTOR readers are: rotary hammers (76.2%), drill drivers (76.1%), pipe-threading machines (73.8%), pipe-cutting machines (64.2%), drain-cleaning machines (52.4%) and floor drivers (38.1%).

CONTRACTOR e-mailed the survey to 24% of its readers. Two-thirds of respondents list their title as owner, president, CEO, partner or vice president. The respondents to the survey say that 59.3% of their construction activity is remodeling or retrofit work and 40.7% comes from new construction. The average number of people employed by the respondents is 54.

With obvious overlap, 77.7% of respondents say they perform commercial work and 75% say they do residential. Results from the same questions show that 39% work on industrial projects and 29.5% perform institutional work.

For type of work, 62.2% of respondents say they do plumbing work, and 40.9% specify that they remodel baths and kitchens. More than half (56.4%) work on hydronic heating systems; 41.9% of respondents specify that they do radiant floor heating; and 19.1% install or service snow-melt systems.

Among all respondents, 25.8% do process piping; 21.3% derive business from private water systems; and 14.3% work on fire sprinkler systems.