One morning in late 2005, Terry Perkins was on site preparing for a commercial office remodel when he noticed a problem with the layout of the fire walls in the project plans. “I was having trouble explaining the problem to the architect over the phone,” Perkins, of Terry G. Perkins Design Build Remodelers, in Madeira Beach, Fla., explains. “So, using the drawing program [on my tablet PC], I sketched out the problem, e-mailed him the drawing, and he told me what needed to be done.” A problem that could have taken a day to resolve was settled in 10 minutes.

CONNECTING OFFICE TO FIELD The tablet PC — a hyper-mobile PC that operates using a stylus pen instead of a keyboard and mouse — is becoming an increasingly common way for remodelers to stay connected to the office from the field. Lightweight and portable, the tablet PC offers remodelers other benefits as well.

Using a program called OneNote, Ben Kelley, of Building Shelter, in Vineyard Haven, Mass., is able to record and save digital copies of handwritten project notes on his tablet. “During meetings I can draw pictures, record notes, leave the client with a printed copy of the minutes, and save a digital copy for myself — all while I'm walking around the project,” he says.

John Habermeier of Synergy Builders, West Chicago, Ill., says tablet technology saves him money through increased productivity and time management. Habermeier (left) wears his tablet on a sling while in the field. Using Bluetooth technology and a laser measuring device, he can measure a room and automatically record the measurements into his design program without touching a keyboard. “If I'm taking 150 measurements and we save 30 seconds for each one I don't have to manually measure and record, that begins to add up to quantifiable savings,” he says.

Using a company called Field2Base, Jeff Rainey of Home Equity Builders, in Great Falls, Va., has digitized all his company's forms. “My guys are not tech-savvy, but they know how to use e-mail. The ability to digitally send written documents, timesheets, and meeting notes saves a lot on billable hours,” he says.

Habermeier says the tablet also builds credibility with the customer because “they automatically assume they're working with a professional.” He encourages remodelers to look at the tablet as an investment rather than a large out-of-pocket expense. And Rainey cautions against being too frugal. “Get the most powerful one you can because you'll have it for a while,” he says. “And set up proper training.” In the end, the investment will more than pay for itself.