The first thing I’m going to say and the last thing I am going to say in this article is possibly the most important step a contractor should make when considering the purchase of a floor scraper is this, find a KNOWLEDGEABLE salesperson! (this might be the hardest part) one you can trust to not just sell you a machine but ask the correct questions to make sure they steer you to the best machine for your needs!
Ride-on, as well as walk-behind floor scrapers, are by no means cheap, they are a very sizable investment for most contractors - but the amount you get in return for your investment is incredible. So it's worth doing. But it's because of the investment vs. return reasons - is why choosing the correct machine becomes so important. The following are a few questions I would suggest that you ask yourself before making the decision to buy...
- What Manufacturer should I choose?
There are probably 7 or 8 manufacturers making ride on and walk behind scrapers and most do an "OK to good" job at making an effective machine so it becomes necessary that you do your homework and make sure you get the machine that most closely fits your needs because there are real differences between them, some machines for example may not be powerful enough for the materials you are removing, a machine may possibly be fine for carpet & VCT removals but not powerful enough for the more challenging materials like quarry tile, wood flooring and Cementous toppings.
Some machines may be too big to access your typical job site which would limit it’s use to you. Also, a HUGE question to ask yourself - is what kind of support can you expect to get from the manufacturer? Are they a new start-up firm - or long-standing trusted manufacturer? Will they still be in business so you will be able to get parts and technical support five years from now? How long have they been making the machine? Is it proven and trusted in the industry? Do you need specialized training to operate it? Last point on this question is this, look around at different websites and see what 15-year-old machines from the different manufacturers are selling for and that will give you a good idea of how they compare.
- Walk-behind or Ride-on?
To answer this, consider a few things, first, the size of your average project as well as the accessibility to the project. For instance, most residential flooring installers will lean towards a walk-behind machine because it can be a challenge to stage a ride-on machine in a house as well as the total square footage being removed usually is small when compared to the typical commercial project. And if removing flooring off a wood floor or light weight concrete in almost all cases a ride-on is just to heavy for the floor. For these reasons a walk-behind might be most appropriate. But if you are mostly a commercial guy removing many thousands of square feet a year and removing difficult to remove flooring then a Ride-on machine would most likely fit your needs better.
- Propane or battery?
Be careful with this one, if I can use a propane powered machine, hands down, it is the better way to go as it can be ran 24/7 needing no charge time, depending on the machine, they are usually a more powerful a machine, and much more easily operated. BUT, if you are working in an enclosed environment, occupied space or medical facilities you will not be allowed to use a propane powered machine and must use a battery powered only.
- The exact…correct…machine!
Here is where a good knowledgeable salesperson can be invaluable. For example, here at Bartell Global we manufacture the Innovatech TERMINATOR ride-on scraper. We have been making the Terminator Ride-on scraper for well over 25 years and we currently manufacture five models, two propane powered machines and three battery powered machines... so which one is the best choice? Well, a good knowledgeable salesperson can ask the correct questions and get you the machine most appropriate for your projects. I think of it like FORD Motor Company, Ford probably manufacturers and sells, I don’t know, maybe 10-15 different styles of truck? They all haul stuff but they are very different from each other, if you buy a F-150 with a small motor to haul your 40ft. fifth-wheel you are going to be disappointed. Conversely, if you buy the F-350 XLT Lariat with the super cool guy package with all the bells and whistles for work on a heavy construction sight your employees will love you but you overpaid! So, get the help you need to make the correct choice.
- Can I keep this machine busy?
This is one that only you can answer, you know your market, you could ask yourself these questions “how much flooring do I remove a year?” “if I had a machine, could I then pull in more removal work to justify the cost?” “do I live close enough to a big enough city that I could go after the flooring removal and surface preparation projects?” here is an important one, “how much competition do I have?” in bigger cities there is more opportunities but usually more competition. I have seen where guys do quite well in smaller cities as sometimes there is very little or no competition (ride-on scrapers) and your price per foot can go up! I would finish this with this, spending a lot of money on an expensive machine is a great motivator to go out and find the work!
- Do I need training? Or get certified to operate this machine?
With regards to training, if you have never owned a ride-on scraper then the answer is a DEFIANTLY YES! For a number of reasons, you want to know how to operate the machine safely, know how to operate the machine without damaging it (and the walls, doorknobs, relights, coworkers and what else have I damaged, oh yeah, floor to ceiling windows in high-rises) and of course you want to draw the most benefit out of your machine, use it effectively and you only get that through training and experience. With regards to Certification, the laws vary according to State here in the USA and some Provinces in Canada so you need to check on your specific area, there are not many but there are a few areas where you need to be certified to legally operate ride-on floor scrapers. This by the way is easily done for the TERMINATOR through the training you can receive through Bartell Global / Innovatech and most likely through the other manufacturers of ride-on machines.
- Have I factored in the additional equipment I will need?
Contractors sometimes forget you need a good way to transport and store the machine. I have seen contractors transport ride-ons in a number of ways but by far the most common is by a covered trailer with a ramp door. If you choose this option, you will need to “beef up” the floor and ramp to handle the weight of a ride-on. Also, I recommend a tandem axle trailer for safety. Some contractors prefer an open trailer (especially in the Southwest) and that’s fine, I just like the protection from the weather and theft you get from a covered trailer. Another suggestion is getting a trailer with as LOW a bed as possible to make loading and off-loading easier. Trailers with the bed that lowers make loading and unloading very easy as well. If you choose a box van with a lift gate, make sure that it is a big enough lift gate as most are far too small to safely lift a machine. And of course, you will need an adequate storage area preferably heated in our colder areas.
- Do I have the right people in place?
This question is directed more to the owner or manager of bigger flooring, demolition, abatement companies as well as large general contractors, guys that are not operating the machine themselves. As we have mentioned, a ride-on machine is a serious investment and needs to be operated, transported and taken care of properly and that takes someone that is responsible that you can trust to make the machine “his baby” and he makes sure that the machine is ran correctly and proper maintenance is regularly done. You may have a large crew, but I would have just a few operators Ok’d to operate the machine.
So, in conclusion, if you have done your homework and if you have thought about these 8 points and if you have selected the correct machine for your needs then basically everyone finds that buying a floor-scraper is the correct decision. As I think I have mentioned before, I am sure they are out there, but I just don’t know of anyone that has bought a ride-on scraper, at least the Terminator and have regretted it. Oh yeah, remember to find that salesman with the knowledge and trust to help you choose the exact…correct…machine.