Are Bargain Batteries The Best Buy? Tips For Choosing The Right One.

18 Nov

ImageWhen we were recently visited by that infamous home-wrecker Superstorm Sandy and you reached for the flashlight in the kitchen drawer when your lights went out, what happened? Yeah, thought so. Flashlights, smoke alarms and CO2 detectors are only a few of the items we now rely on to keep us safe in an emergency; so you had better have batteries you can depend on. Hurricanes, blizzards, tornadoes, whether its an act of God, or an act of stupidity (like a drunk driver taking out a utility pole and plunging the  neighborhood into darkness), sooner or later the cord between you and the almighty power grid is going to be severed, so you had better be prepared.

Now that we are entering that festive season of “batteries not included”, how do you find the best battery to power your need without draining your wallet? When it comes to dry cell batteries (as opposed to wet cell) consumers make 3 main choices: cheap disposables, brand name disposables and rechargables. In a perfect world we would all use rechargeable batteries, but not everyone has the means or the inclination. A good battery provides the best combination of long duration, high performance, reasonable price & eco-friendliness.

Cheap disposables. Studies have shown cheap disposable batteries, like the kind you find at the dollar store, only last half as long as their more expensive brand name counterparts. While they cost half to a fourth of the price, you have to buy TWICE as many. The greatest cost is to the environment in the additional resources consumed and toxins produced in the manufacturing, packaging and transportation, as well as landfill space when they are discarded. They would be appropriate to use in a TV remote and other low drain devices, but may only last an hour in your child’s toy.

Brand name disposables. This is the most popular option based on performance and initial price point. Depending on which kind you buy and which device you use them in, these batteries can last up to twice as long as some rechargeable batteries, however, this is where their value ends. They are particularly useful for long trips when carting along a recharger is not a viable option. The best choices are Duracell CopperTop and Energizer Ultimate Lithium. Always choose alkaline or lithium over “heavy duty” zinc chloride or “general purpose” zinc carbon batteries. Use Lithium batteries with caution as they can overpower some devices causing damage. For other options and to decide the best choice for your device, check out the Single Use Batteries Quick-reference Guide (PDF Download)

Rechargeable. While rechargables have higher initial costs for the batteries and recharger, they can be recharged 100-500 times depending on the brand you use, paying for themselves several times over. The main downside beside the initial cost, is the inconvenience of recharging while away from home, and the decrease in their ability to hold a full charge towards the end of their lifecycle. While the Sanyo eneloop Rechargeable is the gold standard, Energizer, Duracell and Kodak make very respectable rechagables. To discover which are best for your needs, check out Rechargeable Batteries Quick-reference Guide (PDF Download).

No matter which battery you choose, it is important to remember that there are 3 things that will affect the life of your battery: time, use & environment. All batteries lose their potency over time even if they are never used, that’s why disposables have an expiration date stamped on them. Rechargeables lose their ability to maintain a charge towards the end of their life cycle (about 500 charges), so it is best to keep them grouped according to age and brand. Storing batteries in the freezer or fridge to preserve potency is a myth and the moisture can cause damage to the batteries. Batteries are best stored in a cool dry place, same as you would store potatoes or apples. Remove batteries from a device if it will not be used for a long period of time and do not store them in a kitchen drawer or other place might come in contact with metal and discharge. Always be sure to dispose of batteries properly.

Armed with some good information, battery shopping won’t be confusing, you won’t waste your money, and you’ll get the most out of your battery operated devices. But you can always save the cheap batteries for your kid’s most annoying toys, and then secretly rejoice when they run out of juice.

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