It's amazing how many different tools and pieces of equipment you can rent these days. Need a hand tool like a drill, cutter, or saw? No problem. You can rent these items from a number of places. How about a handheld electronic device like a digital multimeter, ground-resistance tester, or power quality analyzer? Yep, you can rent these too. When you move into the big-ticket items like diggers, trenchers, aerial lifts, and cranes, there are also plenty of local, regional, and national companies that are more than happy to accommodate your needs.

So why would you ever want to fork over the cash to buy when you can simply rent? This question isn't as easy to answer as one might think. There are many factors to address when contemplating the rent or buy decision.

For a weekend handyman like me, the analysis is fairly straightforward. For example, when I set out to tile my newly remodeled master bathroom last year, I needed a wet saw to complete the job. I could rent one for $75 a day or buy an inexpensive model at my local big box retailer for $60. My rationale was simple: If I got just one day's use out of the purchased saw, then I'd made the right choice. Plus, I got to add another tool to my growing “toy” collection.

But weighing the rent versus buy option in a business setting is much different, as the list of factors to consider quickly escalates. How often will you or someone else in your company use this item? Could you get by without it for a while if it breaks down and needs repair? If that happens, can you repair it yourself, or will you need to pay someone else do this? Can the company support a capital equipment purchase at this time, or will you have to borrow money to make the buy?

Knowing the intricacies of your business practices and the current financial situation of your company are critical when considering the rent versus buy option. In fact, this holds true for any piece of equipment. But it's especially true when it comes to the big-ticket items such as heavy construction equipment — where the true cost of ownership questions really kicks in. For these purchases, you must analyze the following questions from every angle. Do you have the physical space to store the item when it's not on a jobsite? Can you protect it from the elements and secure it from thieves? Do you have the manpower and equipment to transport it from job to job? Will you maintain it in-house or contract this work out to others?

Although some of your decisions must be based on factors specific to your own company, it's also good to know what your peers are up to. We thought we'd help you out a little by surveying a number of our own readers on the topic of construction equipment usage trends and pass along the results. Based on the results of our survey, outlined in the cover story beginning on page 26, it appears the rental market is poised for growth this year. Will you be a part of this movement?