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Advice on renting or buying telehandlers for masonry contractors
Brodie Contractors is renting five telehandlers that have 42-foot reach and a 9,000-pound lifting capacity to perform work on university housing apartments in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Gone are the days when a 6,000-pound telehandler with a 36-foot reach was a mason's heavyweight, lifting powerhouse. Recently, more contractors are renting and buying telehandlers with 8,000- to 10,000-pound lift and 42- to 54-foot reach capabilities to take care of their needs at the job site.

Telehandlers are known by a variety of names, including extendible reach forklifts and telescopic handlers. No matter what they are called, they are the short stop of a masonry contractor's job site, expected to handle a variety of tasks that require lifting heavier materials and reaching five and even six stories high.

Don McCauley Jr., President of Falls Church Construction's Masonry Division of Fairfax, Va., says his company started using higher reach capabilities on telehandlers when developers in the Northeast United States started building taller office buildings, condominiums and apartment buildings.

McCauley says his division is currently renting two, 54-foot reach telehanders for a job in Alexandria, Va. Renting a telehandler offers an inexpensive alternative to using material elevators and saves contractors from having to deal with the many issues that arise when using a material hoist.

"Our general rule of thumb is if we have four telehandlers on rent all year long, then we need to buy one," he says. "We just don't want to tie up our capital in equipment if it isn't necessary."

"Office buildings used to be one to two stories high, but now they're three to four," he says. "Similarly, condos are now being built four-, five- or even six-stories high."

The Wolf Village Apartments on the North Carolina State University campus in Raleigh is a four-story, eight-building complex that will accommodate 1,200 students.
Calvin Brodie, Owner of Brodie Contractors, Inc., based in Raleigh, N.C., says higher reach isn't all that his company needs. The most popular lifting capacity for them has also increased from 6,000 pounds to more than 9,000 pounds, he says.

"We use the 9,000-pound machines because they've got more power and can handle the extra weight of hydraulic scaffolding," Brodie says.

Brodie's crew is currently using ten, 9,000-pound telehandlers to complete work on a student apartment complex on the North Carolina State campus in Raleigh. Five of them belong to Brodie Contractors, while the other five are on rent.

"We bought a few a while back, but nowadays it's more economical to rent," he says. "With the current rental rates, you just can't own them for what we can rent them."

In the past few years, motorized mast climbing scaffolding has become increasingly popular on job sites around North America. It is most commonly used when the work height is over 30 feet, and the work spans hundreds of feet. A generator is used to raise the unit quickly, making the scaffolding especially popular for use on big jobs with a tight deadline.

Mast climbing scaffolding is heavier than traditional scaffolding, with the platforms weighing in at more than 6,000 pounds. As a result, many masons are turning to 8,000-, 9,000- and even 10,000-pound vertical telehandlers.

Wally Williams, Manager of Dixie Steel Erectors' Masonry Division, says his company switched to 8,000-pound telehanders this summer after purchasing hydraulic scaffolding in June. The company uses the scaffolding to conduct work on new Lowe's stores nationwide.

"The hydraulic platforms weigh 8,000 pounds," Williams says, "which explains why we need the larger machines."

Williams says Dixie Steel Erectors chooses to rent equipment because "we tried owning."

"Owning your own telehandlers is fine if you're working in your home town. But if you're out of town and need a mechanic, you can be looking at a lot of lost time before the machine is fixed. Also, when you need to transport the machines with a tractor-trailer and store them — as well as store the tractor-trailer — it's just not worth it. Plus, with renting, you get a tax write-off," he says. "There's just no benefit to owning your own equipment."

Rent vs. Buy
There are many factors to consider when deciding whether to rent or buy equipment. Many contractors overlook the accumulative costs of ownership, which typically outweigh the price of renting, says Sterling Bennett, Regional Sales Manager for Rental Service Corp (RSC).

The Wolf Village Apartments on the North Carolina State University campus in Raleigh is a four-story, eight-building complex that will accommodate 1,200 students.

"The general rule of thumb is that, if contractors expect to use a piece of equipment more than 75 percent of the time — day-in and day-out, week after week and month after month, throughout the year — then they should consider buying the machine," he says. "Otherwise, rental is almost always the most cost-effective method."

Bennett says the first thing for contractors to consider when deciding whether to rent or buy a piece of equipment is, of course, the retail price of the machine.

"Next they should take into account any fees associated with financing options and the fact that the value of equipment depreciates over time," he says.

In addition, there are ongoing fees associated with ownership, including insurance, tax and overhaul costs. But the additional costs don't end there, Bennett states.

A Brodie Contractors worker loads another batch of bricks onto a Lull 944E 42 telehandler.
"Contractors should also consider the costs associated with storage, transportation and maintenance, including field repairs," says Bennett. "How many drivers are needed to haul the equipment from job to job? How much will it cost to own the tractor-trailer?"

He says that transportation expenses such as fuel, taxes, licenses, registration fees, insurance costs and other over-the-road fees for the truck should also be considered.

"One obvious advantage of renting equipment is that contractors only pay for it when they use it. Another is that, when you rent, you only have to pay for usage costs — rent, fuel and operator costs," Bennett says. "Lastly, renting eliminates the uncertainty of the future. Contractors who rent can always return equipment if business slows down or if a project falls through."

Dixie Steel Erectors uses a Skytrak 8042, on rent from the Shreveport RSC store, to lift bricks at the site of a new Lowe's in Bossier City, La.

Linn Thomas, CEO and President of Indianapolis-based Tectonic Systems Inc., says he typically has at least six telehandlers on rent at any given time.

"It's more economical to rent," he says. "The insurance can be outrageous, and we're doing jobs across the country, so we avoid transportation costs by renting."

On the other hand, Dale Propst, a union contractor who owns Propst Masonry in Ste. Genevieve, Mo., rents telehandlers to complement his current fleet. Propst says his company replaced one 6,000-pound reach forklifts with an 8,000-pound machine in 2001, and another in 2002. Like many others, the company recently purchased scaffolding and needs the heavier lifting capabilities to keep up with the extra weight. Propst now owns three, 8,000-pound reach forklifts and frequently rents several more.

Whether masons choose to rent or buy, one thing is clear: heavier lifting and higher reaching telehandlers are on their way up.



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