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What Type of Aerial Lift Is Right for the Job?




Renting a boom or aerial lift equipment can make your job significantly easier. Whether you need an elevated work platform or the ability to reach a tall workspace, there’s an aerial lift that’s designed for the job. But getting the right aerial lift for your needs can be tricky.

What is the job site like? How high will you need to reach? How much weight does the aerial lift need to carry? All of these questions can affect your choice of a lift. If you need an elevated workspace that can hold multiple people, a scissor lift is the best choice. And if you need a boom for horizontal jobs, an articulated boom is the lift you’re looking for.


Scissor Lifts

Scissor lifts are a vertical lift with a platform that’s the same size as the base. They’re used in both indoor and outdoor projects, and are popular because they easily lift both personnel and equipment. Smaller scissor lifts are often used indoors, in parking garages and in urban areas. Larger, rough terrain lifts are used as aerial work platforms in a variety of settings.

Because of their stability and relatively large platform, scissor lifts are usually used as a work platform. Unlike boom lifts, scissor lifts go in only one direction: straight up. You’ll need to be able to position the base directly beneath the area you plan to work with.

Depending on the model, expect a scissor lift to extend from ten to sixty feet. However, most scissor lifts have working heights that range from 20 to 40 feet. Scissor lifts tend to have less vertical elevation than other types of aerial lifts.

Despite the lower vertical elevation, scissor lifts do carry more weight than most other types of aerial lifts. Many scissor lifts have an unrestricted weight capacity of approximately 1,000 pounds, and higher restricted weight capacities. The largest, most powerful scissor lifts can hold up to 50 tons of material. These are usually rough terrain hydraulic scissor lifts used in heavy construction.

Electric Scissor Lifts

Best for:

  • Indoor use

  • Small spaces

  • Multiple personnel

  • Narrow areas like warehouses

Height: 10 feet to 60 feet

Workspace size: 2 feet to 10 feet wide

Electric scissor lifts are often used as an indoor aerial work platform. Unlike gas-powered lifts, electric or battery-operated lifts don’t emit fumes. This makes them healthier for workers and safer for use indoors.

Many indoor electric scissor lifts have a narrow platform that lets workers access tight spaces in warehouses. It’s not uncommon to see scissor lifts with a work platform that’s two to three times as long as it is wide. If you’re looking for an electric scissor lift for indoor use, look specifically for one with non-marking tires. This will prevent damage to indoor floors.

Indoor electric scissor lifts are usually less expensive than larger, outdoor lifts. However, purchasing an indoor lift can cost $24,000 or more. Because of this hefty price tag, it’s more common to rent scissor lifts only when they’re needed. If you need a scissor lift for a longer-term project, it’s also possible to rent them by the week or month.


Boom Lifts

Boom lifts are a remarkably versatile type of aerial lift. All varieties of these lifts have a base, a maneuverable arm and a work platform or attachment on the end of the arm. That’s where the similarities end, though.

The major differences between types of boom lifts can be divided into three major categories:

  • Boom type

  • Bucket/workspace attachments

  • Power source

The most popular types of boom lifts have vertical, knuckle or telescoping booms. The type of boom affects how high the workspace can be extended, whether it can be angled or simply lifted up and down, and the amount of weight that the boom lift can hold.

Most boom lifts have a workspace platform at the end of the boom. The size and type of this workspace is affected by the maximum weight that the boom can hold. However, boom lifts can be outfitted with a variety of different attachments. Lifting hooks, lumber forks and buckets are all common alternatives.

The third major difference between boom types is the power source. Aerial booms can be electric, battery-operated or diesel-powered. There are also towable aerial booms, which are pulled by a truck or van.

Electric Boom Lifts

Best for:

  • Confined spaces

  • Aerial work platform

  • Workspaces where you’ll need to move from side to side

  • Lifting one worker

  • Jobs that require multiple attachments

Height: 30 feet to 100+ feet, depending on model

Workspace size: Base ranges from 3 feet to 10 feet wide; Work platform varies more widely

Electric boom lifts are smaller lifts designed for use in confined spaces. They have an electric or combined electric/battery power source. Because they don’t emit fumes, they’re suitable for use in confined spaces. They’re also a more environmentally friendly option than diesel engines.

Expect these lifts to be somewhat smaller than other models. Despite the more compact size, they have serious lifting power. Platforms or buckets usually extend at least 30 feet in the air. It’s common to find models that extend up to 60 feet, but most models have working heights of 30 to 40 feet.

Electric lifts can have a variety of boom types. Mast booms, which extend vertically, are a common option for work platforms. These aerial booms lift a workspace straight up and down. Articulated booms have Z-type booms that allow you to move the workspace from side to side without needing to move the base. These electric boom lifts are often equipped with non-marking tires, so they can be used on a variety of work surfaces — including indoors.

Look for electric boom lifts equipped with Jib, JibPlus or similar handling technology if you’ll need to maneuver in small spaces. This type of technology allows you to maneuver the work platform 180 degrees, making it easier to access areas behind equipment. We carry a number of JLG boom lifts equipped with this technology.

Finally, telescoping booms provide maximum reach. These are used in very high areas where there’s limited access. They’re common in both utility and construction industries. Some of the boom manufacturers we carry, like Genie, offer telescoping booms that extend more than 100 feet. Look for electric-powered telescoping booms for a sustainable alternative to diesel-powered ones.

Articulated Knuckle Booms

Best for:

  • Hard-to-reach areas like behind equipment

  • Up-and-over workspaces

  • Wide work areas that require extra reach

Height: Up to 125 feet

Width: Usually 3 to 8 feet wide

Articulated knuckle booms are Z-style aerial lifts that provide maximum flexibility. They’re usually compared to telescoping, stick or straight booms. These booms provide both vertical and horizontal flexibility, which makes them useful in a wide variety of job sites.

These aerial lifts were designed to access hard-to-reach worksites. The boom can be extended in sections, allowing workers to maneuver up and over obstacles. They’re popular for work on utility lines, tree trimming and painting.

Be aware that the horizontal reach of most articulated booms is significantly less than the vertical reach. Expect horizontal outreaches that are roughly 50 to 75 percent of the vertical reach. For instance, JLG’s 800 series of articulated boom lifts has horizontal outreaches of approximately 50 feet. If you need more horizontal reach but want an articulated knuckle boom, consider a model with an S-boom instead of a Z-boom. These models are specifically designed to provide additional horizontal reach while maintaining the stability of other models.

Like telescoping booms, articulated knuckle booms are available for both indoor and outdoor use. Indoor models are usually smaller and narrower than outdoor models. For indoor use, look for an articulated boom with an electric power source and non-marking tires. For outdoor use, look for a diesel-powered or towable articulated boom. If you expect to work on rough terrain, consider an articulated knuckle boom with rough terrain tires or treads.


Straight Telescopic Boom Lifts

Best for:

  • Extremely high workspaces

  • Workspaces with minimal horizontal movement

Height: Up to 185 feet

Workspace size: 8+ feet wide

Straight booms, or telescoping booms, are the most common alternative to articulated booms. They’re sometimes also called “stick booms,” because they have an arm that moves in a single direction. Since these lifts have a single boom, they’re a little easier to operate than an articulated boom.

Telescoping booms are used to provide maximum elevation. They’re most commonly used in industrial construction projects, where workers regularly need to reach very high areas. The majority of telescoping booms provide platform heights of 40 to 80 feet. Some models provide significantly more. The Genie S-180 has a platform height of 180 feet, while JLG’s 1850SJ offers reaches of up to 185 feet.

To support platforms at these heights, telescoping booms tend to have a much wider base than other types of aerial lifts. Your job site will need to accommodate widths of eight to 10 feet. Rough terrain telescoping booms usually have outriggers for stabilization, which require a bigger work surface.

Expect to see similar rental and purchase prices for telescoping and articulated booms. The prices of both types of lifts are determined primarily by the reach of the machine and its power source. Expect higher prices for booms with more reach, as well as for booms with a diesel power source. Towable telescoping booms are also in high demand.

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