When the Block Stops, the Money Stops
The obvious and not-so-obvious benefits of elevated scaffolding
“When the block stops, the money stops.” Thatʼs the way one mason contractor put it, and he hit the nail right on the head. On the flip side, if your men work faster than you estimated, you spend less money on labor (and still get paid the bid price), and the leftover labor money is yours to keep. Just a little extra production returns a whole lot of extra profit. Only about one in 20 mason contractors really understands how much profit, and understanding it explains how a person can keep taking jobs below his competitor’s cost and stay in business.
While elevating scaffolding offers a significant advance when compared to frame scaffolding by eliminating most of the OSHA headaches, reducing back strain, etc., those may not be the most important benefits in these difficult times. How to beat the competition and make a profit are the important factors.
You see, for so many years, elevating scaffolding has been seen as a fancy way to scaffold a wall, but the positive impact it has on your job cost is real and quite significant. Here is the bottom line, and the answer to the question above: If you ask 20 mason contractors what a 20 percent increase in production does to your profit, 19 of them will say it increases profit by 20 percent, but that is wrong. In most masonry bids, the labor number is five times larger than the profit number. If labor is $100,000, profit might be around $20,000.
Reducing labor by 20 percent, just one-fifth, actually doubles profit. Thatʼs how your competitor can bid at your cost and still make money. All he has to do is work one-fifth faster than you. In lean times, you want to be the guy putting in materials at a rate that is faster than anyone else, and elevating scaffolding lets your men produce at a rate that is a minimum of one-fifth faster without even realizing it.
Over the years, hundreds of mason contractors have adopted elevating scaffolding. The concept of putting a crew in one place, and never moving them until the wall is topped out, increases their efficiency and production as much as 47 percent. It also simplifies the laborer’s work, since there is no more scaffold building and teardown. Laborers can spend 100 percent of their time tending the masons. They typically raise the scaffold for three minutes and tend the masons for 18 minutes. They raise the scaffold every 16 inches to keep the masons at the perfect working height.
Elevating scaffolding also has brought labor savings to the scaffold-erection and dismantling side of the equation. It is built once, and then moved from wall to wall with a forklift. Moving elevating scaffolding is, typically, four times faster than frames (at one-quarter of the cost). An experienced crew can move 100 feet to the next wall in about 1.5 hours. It also requires about one-third as many planks as frames.
Elevated Scaffolding Versus the Mast ClimberContractors who use mast climbers typically own elevating scaffolding, too. It costs about four times less than mast climbers. When deciding which one to use, Monty Skinner of Skinner Masonry in Dallas described it this way, “On our 40-foot-and-under work, especially if there are ins and outs, weʼll use our Non-Stop. On 40-foot-and-over long, straight walls, weʼll tend to use our mast climbers, but only if there are multiple moves to make it worth the initial setup.”
Does it make sense to buy elevating scaffolding in this economy? Only if it will pay its own way – meaning, returning more money in labor savings than is going out to pay for the scaffolding. An easy way to find out is to simply figure what it costs you to pay a mason for a month. That varies from $3,800 a month to $8,600 a month, depending on where you live. A rule of thumb is that 105 feet of elevating scaffolding will replace two bricklayers, and it may cost around $28,000 to buy it. Therefore, if you have four months of work ahead, the scaffold can save you $7,600 a month and pay for itself. Go ahead and buy it.
Originally published in Masonry magazine.
About the Author
Justin Breithaupt, Jr. is the owner of Non-Stop Scaffolding, Inc. He has been involved with elevating scaffolding and the masonry business since 1975, when his father invented a tower scaffolding system for their own masonry business. Visit www.nonstopscaffolding.com for more information on Non-Stop Scaffolding, Inc.