Canadian Contractor

Patrick Flannery   

Electric v.s non-electric scissor lifts

Canadian Contractor aerial

Kevin Forestell

When working at elevated heights, you need to have a mobile and stable platform to work safely. Fortunately, that’s what equipment like scissor lifts do perfectly.

Scissor lifts are a type of man lift used by several trades and professions including electricians, HVACs, welders, event managers and more. There are a couple of types of scissor lifts including electric and diesel-powered models. In this article, I will highlight the differences between the two types, as well as advantages and disadvantages, to help you understand which type to utilize in your business.

Overview of Electric Scissor Lifts

Electric scissor lifts are powered by a rechargeable battery rather than diesel or gas. Equipped with non-marking tires, electric models are designed to operate on finished surfaces like concrete or warehouse flooring without damaging them. They are also quieter than diesel-engined models and do not emit any fumes, which makes them great for indoor environments. Because of this, another popular name for electric models is indoor scissor lifts.

Common applications for electric scissor lifts include warehouses, retail shops, conference and event management, production facilities, HVAC, roofing and more. However, its versatility will only grow as equipment manufacturers continue to innovate and engineer electric rough-terrain models.

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Pros of Electric Scissor Lifts

Due to its electric power, electric scissor lifts don’t require the same air ventilation as diesel-powered scissor lifts. For this reason, electric scissor lifts are best designed for indoor projects where reduced noise levels and emissions are necessary. Indoor jobs are typically less demanding on the equipment which means the battery will last longer and the machine should require less maintenance. Alongside growing environmental factors and regulations, as well as some projects requiring reduced noise levels, electric scissor lifts are becoming more common. From a maintenance perspective, electric engines have fewer components, making them easier to service and maintain, giving them more uptime and better performance and productivity. They also don’t require any fluids which helps save on the total cost of ownership of the machine, for both rental companies and contractors.

Cons of Electric Scissor Lifts

Electric scissor lifts are not without their disadvantages. As of right now, the range of electric scissor lifts is smaller than those that are diesel-powered. Electric models cannot reach as high and typically have lower lifting capacities than their gas-powered counterparts. This can make it challenging to justify using them for jobs where height and lift capacity are crucial. The battery aspect also gives them a limited runtime and requires you to be on a job with charging infrastructure. Although electric scissor lifts are designed to work a full day, if the machine isn’t charged or doesn’t have access to charging, entire days of work can be lost. While gas-powered scissor lifts can simply be filled with fuel, the same does not apply to electric scissor lifts.

Overview of Non-Electric (Diesel) Scissor Lifts

Non-electric scissor lifts, also called diesel-powered scissor lifts or outdoor lifts, are essentially the exact opposite of electric models. These machines are louder, more powerful, have higher lifting capacities, and can operate easily on outdoor terrains. Unlike electric models, diesel-powered scissor lifts run on fuel and have 4-wheel drive capacity, making it easy to operate on different terrains, unlike electric models. They also come in a wider range of height capacities making them better choices when looking to reach more extreme heights.

Pros of Diesel Scissor Lifts

As the current standard for power in the construction industry, diesel-powered machines are not going away anytime soon. The benefits of these machines, despite any potential downsides, are clear: increased runtime, more power and lifting capacity and better performance on rough terrain. Other pros of diesel engines include being able to refuel at any time, especially in rural areas or on new projects that don’t have charging infrastructure set up. The diesel-powered models can lift more and have bigger platforms, allowing more workers to get the job done. This also speeds up the process of lifting materials and equipment.

As emission standards and regulations continue to grow in North America, the quality of engines will increase, ensuring that diesel will get cleaner. Advancements are being made every year to ensure the construction industry produces less emissions and emits cleaner diesel.

Cons of Diesel Scissor Lifts

Again, the biggest cons of diesel scissor lifts are the positives that electric scissor lifts provide. Diesel engines can be loud and exhaust fumes that can be harmful to those around them. This often makes them unusable in indoor spaces unless there’s a lot of ventilation. As for operating costs, while they cost less upfront than electric scissor lifts, they often cost more to maintain. With fuel costs as well as maintenance and general servicing like oil changes, the total cost of ownership of diesel scissor lifts is quite a bit higher than electric models.

Skyjack scissor lift stands next to building.

Photo courtesy of Kevin Forestell.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Between Electric and Diesel Scissor Lifts

Now that I’ve highlighted the pros and cons of both electric and non-electric scissor lifts, it’s time to determine which one to buy or rent. As a contractor, you know that every project will be slightly different. For example, a project manager working on a hospital reconstruction project might be faced with the unique challenge of only being able to use electric, non-emission machines to not disrupt the patients. Indoor jobs often don’t require the platform height needed from diesel scissor lifts, while electric scissor lifts can be more narrow, giving them a better chance of fitting through doors.

For outdoor projects, it may depend on the terrain of the job. If you’re just expecting to work on a covered concrete or finished area in an urban area, an electric model could still be the best machine. However, if you’re working on mud or rocky terrain on a pretty rural project, diesel-powered rough terrain models may be the best option. Not only for performance but for the refuelling capabilities. One of the last determining factors may also depend on the type of materials you’re lifting and how many labourers you need to get the job done. As mentioned before, diesel-powered models are more powerful and can lift heavier capacities, making them an easy decision in certain circumstances. For these reasons, many contractors often choose to rent scissor lifts rather than purchase them. Buying a variety of scissor lift models and sizes, when many of them have specific use cases, is not always an efficient way to build your fleet.

Kevin Forestell is the CEO and co-founder of construction tech company DOZR.

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