Tools & Equipment: Hire or Buy?

Find out where to spend and save on construction gear for your project
Articles by Build It magazine
by Build It
26th November 2012

With an involved housebuilding project, it may seem a given to buy most of your tools rather than hire on a daily or weekly basis. After all, you’ll be getting plenty of use out of the kit you purchase – and you may well need it again in the future.

That’s probably true of many of the standard power and handtools, but when it comes to high quality or specialist products, you need to adopt a more measured approach. The bottom line is that a mixture of purchase and rental is likely to prove the best option. That’s because there are hidden implications to keeping your own equipment that need to be factored in to every decision you make on whether to hire or buy.

Doing the maths

For most people, the key factor in the decision to hire or buy is cost. The obvious considerations here are the capital investment, the length of time you expect to use the item and whether you’re likely to want to keep hold of it for future projects.

Basic tools, such as screwdrivers, chisels, jigsaws, cordless drills and power sanders, are almost guaranteed to come in handy after your project’s finished. What’s more, good-quality versions are readily available in DIY sheds at excellent prices. Some tools, such as angle grinders, may barely get any re-use – but pro versions are so keenly priced that purchasing can still be viable. “It makes sense to buy items you intend to use on a regular basis,” says Christian Egerton, product marketing manager at Toolstation. “My top tips would be to buy the best quality power tools you can afford so they’re ultra durable, clean them after use and always store them in their cases. In the long term, a well-maintained power tool will be an economical choice.”

Plant and bulky equipment, such as mini excavators and access platforms, is likely to sit outside most people’s budgets – plus they can be difficult to store on site. That said, if you’re confident in using this kind of machinery, you may find it worthwhile to look at the second hand market – either to buy used or to get a sense of what the resale value might be should you purchase new. Similarly, items that you’re likely to only use on a one-off basis, such as worktop jigs for routers, are probably best to hire.

In between is a middle ground of equipment – mostly in the power tool bracket – that it may or may not make sense to buy, depending on your future plans and skill set. If you’re planning to get into woodwork, for example to make your own furniture, then kit such as mitre saws and routers may pay for itself in the long run. But would you need heavy-duty construction quality tools for such tasks, or would it make more sense to hire now and buy less powerful versions later?

“For short term or if you’re after specialist equipment, it’s generally cheaper to hire than buy,” says Tim Smith, managing director at Brandon Tool Hire. “By figuring out how often you’d use the equipment or how long you’d need it for, you can compare the cost of purchase with hire charges and make an informed decision. Brandon can provide weekly on-hire reports and running costs that can help you with his aspect of planning your budget.”

The hidden costs

Buying kit outright might seem a simple option in terms of allocating a fixed amount to your budget, but there are additional costs that don’t always get taken into account. Perhaps the most important of these is insurance to cover the possibility that the equipment might break down or be stolen. And once the build’s finished, you’ll need to add the value of replacing your tools into your contents insurance, too.

Whether you hire or buy, you’ll still need to invest in suitable dry storage, which could be rented or built on site in the form of a secure outbuilding. Of course, that may not be too much of an issue if your project includes a detached garage or similar structure that can be completed early on.

If you’re hiring, you should also think through timings. If you’re able to schedule the rental period so that you can use the same tool for several jobs in a relatively short timespan, you’ll bring the cost down significantly. But if you’ll need the tool frequently but sporadically across the course of the project, you may want to look again at whether purchasing is a better choice for you. “The cost of hiring an item four or five times can come to more than the initial purchase price,” says Christian. “Of course, there are cases when rental is a better option – especially where storage space is in issue. I know tradesmen who always hire their cement mixer, for example, because it’s such a bulky item to stow away and transport to site.”

Bang for your buck

Always pay heed to the spec of the equipment you need to carry out a given task properly. If your finances won’t stretch to purchasing just the right tool, is it worth taking a chance on a budget option? There’s certainly some low-cost kit that’s more than up to coping with the rigours of a building site – but ask yourself whether you or someone you know is experienced enough to help you sort the wheat from the chaff.

“Hiring gives you instant access to the best tools and equipment on the market without making a big investment up front,” says Tim Smith. Often you’ll be picking up the very same kit that professionals use day in, day out. “It will also have been quality-checked by experts before you use it, giving you peace of mind that you’re hiring a tool that’s up to the job,” says Tim.

One way to get access to pro-grade equipment to buy is to hunt down sale items. “It’s worth keeping an eye out for discounted high-quality tools,” says Christian. “For instance, Toolstation is currently offering a SIP 24 litre compressor, with 1.5hp motor and accessories, for under £100.” At such a keen price, you might want to mix and match by buying your own compressor while hiring air-powered tools, such as nail guns.

It’s not just about the quality of the tool – every operator is different, so how you get on with the kit is a crucial consideration. Hiring may give you the opportunity to try a tool out, but there may be limited options available. “Owning your tools means you can invest in items that meet your personal preferences in terms of design, power, grip and so forth,” says Christian. “You’ll know their history, too, so you can totally rely on them and be fully in control of when or if they need upgrading.”

Think carefully before buying equipment in the expectation of being able to sell it on later. Budget versions are likely to lose almost all of their value as soon as they’re out of the box. Depreciation can take a huge chunk out of the value of top-quality tools from trusted brands such as Makita and DeWalt, too. Always investigate the second hand buying market thoroughly before taking this route.

Knowing your tools

Confidence and skill levels are a big factor in whether you should buy, hire or even attempt to use construction equipment at all. Safety should be a paramount concern, both for you as the user and for other people on site – so be sure you’re able to operate equipment properly before taking the plunge. That may mean practicing off-site, ideally with the assistance of an experienced user. Hire companies will be able to walk you through the safety procedures for the equipment they offer and many will also offer expert advice to help you get the most out of the rental.

Learning your tools will mean taking time out of the build. Even after you’ve gained confidence in your abilities, the DIY approach is still likely to result in slower progress than employing a pro in the first place, which can add unexpected delays to your build that may affect schedules (and consequently costs). But if having the chance to get to grips with new skills and equipment is part of your motivation for self-building or renovating, then the chances are you’re already prepared to put plenty of your own time into the project.

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