Batteries are quickly becoming a popular alternative to electric and propane-powered equipment. Using a battery as a power source eliminates the hazard of building occupants tripping over power cords or workers being exposed to exhaust while cleaning.

There are multiple types of batteries available for use. Flooded lead acid batteries are the oldest. The solution inside the battery, known as electrolyte, is 65 percent water and 35 percent sulfuric acid. This battery needs to be properly installed to prevent any discharge of the electrolyte. Flooded lead acid batteries are typically the cheapest, and therefore, popular among budget-conscious building service contractors.

Gelled electrolyte batteries were developed after flooded lead acid batteries, nearly three decades ago. Gel batteries have a thickening agent, such as fumed silica that changes the electrolyte from liquid to gel. This makes the battery safer and more stable, as it is able to withstand extreme temperatures, shock and vibration that lead acid batteries cannot.

A third option is the absorbed glass mat (AGM) battery. This version is considered the safest of the three types because it is sealed so the acid doesn’t move around. Also, they can be installed at any angle. Many BSCs prefer them because they can have them shipped through regular carriers without any safety concerns. These batteries, as well as gel electrolyte batteries, are typically used where safety of building occupants is of concern.

Though AGM batteries are typically more expensive, they do have a longer lifecycle than lead acid batteries, and therefore, can be more cost efficient.

Regardless of type, batteries need to be stored properly. Workers should first completely charge the battery and then store it in a cool, dry place. It should be kept away from extreme cool temperatures, which will reduce its power and make the battery case brittle, and also be kept from extreme heat which can evaporate the electrolyte. Also, if the battery terminals get wet, they could become corroded. Finally, even when in storage, batteries should be charged every three to four months.

Excerpted from the October 2008 issue of Contracting Profits.

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