Let’s face it, most building products are heavy. From refrigerators to structural beams, getting things lifted or moved into place safely and accurately can sometimes be a real challenge for any home handyman. Here are some tips that might help.

First of all, don’t overlook the value of a second pair of hands. It may seem obvious, but one of the simplest ways to lift something and maneuver it into position is by having a second person at the other end. Even when a structural member, appliance, fixture or other item seems like something you can lift yourself, positioning it accurately and without damage can be a challenge. Overextending your strength or your reach can also result in serious personal injury, so use common sense and don’t be afraid to ask for help when the situation warrants.

For moving appliances, one of the handiest items you can use is called an air dolly. The air dolly consists of two large aluminum plates with hundreds of tiny holes in it. The plates are connected to a portable electric air pump via a couple of flexible hoses, and the pump is carried across your shoulder with a strap. Simply slip the plates under the appliance, turn on the pump, and the air is forced through the holes to provide lift for the plates — just visualize an upside-down air hockey table. Air dollies are easily capable of lifting a fully loaded refrigerator and, unlike a standard appliance dolly, floating it across your brand-new vinyl floor without risking any damage, all with just a gentle push.

Air dollies are definitely a specialized item, and may not be available from all rental yards. Also, they only work over hard surfaces such as wood, tile, or vinyl floors so you’ll need to lay down some plywood or scraps of paneling if you want to move something over carpet.

For lifting heavy structural members such as beams and girders into place, the ideal piece of equipment is the forklift, which can be rented from most rental yards. They will even deliver it to your jobsite and show you how to use it. However, for the average homeowner project, a forklift is usually overkill. They’re costly, have a learning curve to use correctly and are limited as to where they can be operated.

A great alternative is the hand-operated lift. It’s similar to a forklift, utilizing extended front forks and fore and aft wheels. The difference is that it’s considerably smaller than a forklift and it has no motor. Instead, you simply wheel it into place by hand, slide the forks under the item you want to lift and then turn the crank to elevate the item to the proper height. 

Hand-operated lifts do not have the lifting capacity of a traditional forklift, but they are more than adequate for lifting most beams into place. You can also use them in conjunction with a standard pallet for lifting appliances, fixtures and other items that forks won’t easily slip under. Hand-operated lifts also have the advantage of folding up so they can be wheeled easily through most doorways and since there is no motor and no messy exhaust they can be safely used indoors.

When using one of these lifts, available at most rental yards, you need to carefully and completely comply with the manufacturer’s instructions for balance, lifting capacity and other operational limits. Never lift a person on the lift, and never move a load while it is fully elevated.

Another alternative for lifting and moving heavy or awkward loads is a lift truck. As with the forklift, a lift truck can be rented and the yard will show you how to operate it, but lifting operations can be difficult and even dangerous without a lot of experience. For that reason, you’re better off hiring a truck and operator, which can be found in the Yellow Pages under “cranes.” 

When hiring a lift truck or crane, you will typically be charged a mileage and setup fee to get the equipment to your site, and then you’ll be charged by the hour for the operator’s time. You may end up spending several hundred dollars or more for a half-day’s operation, but the time, efficiency and safety of utilizing a lift truck with an experienced operator can really make this a worthwhile investment.

Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at paul2887@hughes.net.

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