Job site Lighting: Festool Sys Duo ROI Case Study
With interior season here, it is time once again to dust off the work lights, check the bulbs and clean the lenses. Sound familiar? If you are still in that cycle, then you probably haven’t upgraded to LED job site lighting yet, and it might be time to have a look at it.
It is best to take a topdown approach when exploring tool technology change. By that I mean finding the best available options and working backwards from there in decision making.
Leading the charge in the LED job site movement is the 2016 Festool Sys Duo, and I was fortunate to be able to test a manufacturer supplied loaner for several months before its release this year. Festool, while better known for its production power tools for painters, has offered work lighting for a few years now.
In 2011, they debuted a battery powered Syslite LED work lamp – a higher end and virtually indestructible work light available to painters and other trades for handheld or tripod mountable usage. The original light, which is still available, had 6 LEDS at 3 watts each for $175.
Three years later, the manufacturer changed the output of the original light offering a Syslite II, in the same basic housing and styling. The updated version sells for $195 with 12 LED lights at 1.5 watts bumping the light color from 4500 to 5000k light.
2016 has brought a larger and brighter, more stout incarnation called the Sys Duo. This light has 80 LED’s and is available by itself or paired with a high quality tripod. The light by itself costs $300, and with the tripod, the kit is $435. In both incarnations, the light comes in a Systainer, which is Festool’s modular tool box design that integrates with the rest of their stackable system.
The Sys Duo raises the question of whether state of the art LED work lighting is a luxury item or smart investment.
Say Goodbye to Halogen?
LED lighting has steadily been taking over the realm of job site lighting for painters and other professionals in recent years.
Halogen and fluorescent have long been the most common types of lighting on jobs. While far less than perfect in quality and durability, they have at least been reasonably priced, albeit disposable in the end due to short lifespans.
The advantages of LED technology over other types, especially for painters, is obvious. It is a cooler, white light that is safer, longer lasting and visually more accurate than all other types of lighting. It doesn’t run hot and is easier to keep clean and bright.
While small LED inspection lights are generally priced pretty accessibly, it has been more difficult to find larger tripod friendly units that have enough output to fully light a good sized room.
One thing to know when researching lights is that watts aren’t the critical stat. Watts refer to the amount of energy required to light products. That is energy used, not brightness. The amount of light output is measured in lumens, so that is the important spec in lights.
For example, it takes about 5000 lumens to light a typical 250 square foot living room. 5000 lumens is the equivalent of five 100 watt incandescent bulbs.
Is ROI Easier to Reach on Better (and Pricier) Light Technologies?
One of the most popular articles that I have written over the years (APC March 2012) was about how to determine the true cost of a tool. The purchase price rarely tells the whole story of cost. ROI, or return on your investment, is where the smart tool investor looks.
How (and how quickly) the tool will pay for itself is important. We often overlook ROI on the under $20 items, but when price tags show hundreds, our attention is needed.
So, is a $100 light cheaper to own than a $400 one?
A quick internet search reveals that twin head halogen lights on tripods range anywhere from $30-300 depending on the quality you seek. For the purposes of analysis, lets assume that the average purchase price of a decent one is $100 and that you will spend $30 on replacement halogen bulbs during its lifespan.
The first consideration with any tool investment is how often we will use it. If you aren’t going to use a tool much, you might rethink buying it. Tools that sit don’t make money. In my paint company, we have historically worked inside half of the year and outside half of the year. During the interior season, the days get pretty short – with dark mornings and early sunsets.
We absolutely need to bring artificial light into our interior projects, because on new construction, string lights with dirty incandescent bulbs are the norm and not sufficient for the details of painting. On residential repaint projects, we really can’t be at the mercy of whatever lighting the homeowner has in the house. In fact, we usually have to cover them.
Good quality and reliable lighting becomes important. And therein begins the slippery slope. My company has wrecked more twin head halogen units in transport and use than I care to share. They are fragile and finicky – requiring cool down time before leaving their own overheated circumstances. That’s a bad combo, but we often don’t realize it until a better option comes along.
Halogen lights are relatively cheap to purchase, but how much does it cost every time we have to stop and change a bulb (pain in the neck) or worse, dispose of a melted down unit and go buy another? Hours can be lost in maintenance and replacement time.
Short lifespan tools, which our society shamelessly defines as “disposable”, are all too common. So, we often consider tool acquisitions in terms of how frequently we will use them and how long we expect them to last.
Long View ROI: How Much and How Long
When looking at tool ROI, some tools pay for themselves right away because they make such an immediate impact on production. Particularly, tools that eliminate hand tasks (such as sprayers and sanders) can pay for themselves on the first job or two.
If we assume that we can get a full year of use out of our $130 halogen light, that would be 200 days of operation. Typical halogen lights can die from overheating themselves, or just being banged around too much. We won’t even factor in the time it takes to maintain them and change bulbs. With these numbers, a halogen light would cost about $.65/day to own – if we get a full year of run time out of them.
The Sys Duo costs 3.3 times as much as our halogen comparison, but is rated to last 6 times longer – with a 3 year warranty.
How much would that cost to operate over its rated lifespan? The Sys Duo is rated for 10,000 hours of use. That translates to 1,250 work days…and likely never having to replace a burned out bulb. If we use this light 5 days a week for 8 hours a day, we should get about 6 years of actual run time out of it. This translates to $.36/day to own this light, or under $.05/hr that we would have to build into our rates to eliminate lighting problems for an expected 6 years of use.
The numbers indicate an initial purchase price of over three times as much, but an expectancy of six times the return, with the bonus of minimal inconvenience to own and operate.
By way of specific comparison, there is a Husky LED light that puts out 2500 lumens at a purchase price of $100. The Sys Duo light puts out 8000 lumens at $435. It would take 3 of the Husky lights to approach the output the Festool light. Remember cost per day to own, and the efficiency of carrying one item in its own case, instead of three that are loose and banging around in trucks.
It is often said that most purchases are emotional. Sometimes that happens, but it is also important to explore the intellectual side of the decision making process. There are all sorts of angles to look at when trying to talk yourself into or out of a tool purchase for your business, but always remind yourself of the two most important points…how much it will be used, and how long it should last.
Anytime that a tool can reduce or eliminate a nagging problem in your company, it is worth a look. The Festool Sys Duo is definitely a candidate to be a problem eliminator in the category of work lighting.