In a difficult economy, many contractors may be tempted to hunker down, spend as little as possible, and hope to stay afloat until conditions improve. These days, few have money to waste, and careful spending certainly makes sense. On the other hand, contractors still need tools and equipment to do their work. Investing in tools that boost efficiency, increase output, and improve project quality might help you compete more effectively while work is scarce, and put you on track to prosper when construction picks up again.

A vacuum hose connects directly to shroud attachment to capture dust at the source. Dust shrouds that adapt to various cutting and grinding tools are available.
BOSCH TOOLS A vacuum hose connects directly to shroud attachment to capture dust at the source. Dust shrouds that adapt to various cutting and grinding tools are available.

Joe Neuber, president of Neuber Concrete Corp., Kimberton, Pa., recently invested in a major way to expand opportunities for his business. Neuber, whose company generally works on large industrial projects, acquired some automatic 3-D profiling equipment that allows him to compete for exterior pavement work. “With the cost of concrete down, we should be able to convert some parking lot projects from blacktop to concrete, but we needed radio-signal-guided equipment to be competitive when grading the subbase and get the pavement profiles right,” he says.

Neuber realized one advantage of buying now was the equipment suppliers' willingness to negotiate to close a deal. “Did I drive a hard bargain? You bet. I ended up saving about $30,000 off the price they originally quoted me.”

Neuber says he tends not to seek out cheaper tools when the economy is down, though. Instead, he economizes by buying fewer of the ones he's found to be reliable. In good times, he says, he'll buy extra tools for backup in case of a breakdown.

Jim Hughes, brand marketing manager for skidsteer loaders at Case Construction, Racine, Wis. says contractors looking to purchase equipment in down times should explore their options, not just in terms of price but also payment plans. “Case offers several financing options, including plans that allow contractors to skip payments during slow months. Leasing may be another way to get needed equipment,” Hughes says.

Whatever strategies you use to manage tool and equipment purchases during this recession, it never hurts to learn about tools that perform well and that are economical.

Low-cost vacuum systems

Controlling dust generated by drilling, sawing, or grinding concrete can be a major hassle, but it's important for health and safety reasons as well as just jobsite housekeeping. To ease the burden, manufacturers are adapting their tools or providing attachments that connect to vacuum systems to collect dust as it's generated.

Compact, lightweight, cordless impact drivers that handle large screws easily are great for helping concrete contractors assemble and disassemble foundation and flatwork forms.
MAKITA USA Compact, lightweight, cordless impact drivers that handle large screws easily are great for helping concrete contractors assemble and disassemble foundation and flatwork forms.

You can pick up a consumer-grade wet/dry shop vac in a hardware store for $50, but those aren't designed to handle extra-fine dust from cutting concrete, and will cough dust out the exhaust port when they are turned on. Big, metal, industrial-grade vacuum systems also are effective in collecting concrete dust, but heavy and expensive—costing thousands. Those are fine if you use them constantly and need the extra power and capacity. However, today there are some alternative vacuum systems that can do the job effectively at a more modest cost.

Utah-based Dustless Technologies makes professional-grade wet/dry dust collection systems that start at about $330. The basic Dustless system has a dual filter system that works for both wet and dry operation. With an optional micro-prefilter, the unit captures particles as small as 0.5 micron. An OSHA-certified HEPA model, priced at $459, captures particles down to 0.3 micron.

The Dustless Technologies vacuum has a 16-gallon canister that can hold up to 80 pounds of concrete dust. According to Darren Diess, vice president of sales and marketing for Dustless, “A contractor can use the vacuum for a couple of days before emptying it or changing the filters.”