What’s it Like Running & Renting Heavy Construction Equipment?

What’s it like running or renting heavy construction equipment? Is that something everyone can do or is it just for people who do it for a living? We wanted to share with you what it’s like to run heavy construction equipment for the average Joe like ourselves and shine a little more light on the subject. Last month, we did quite a bit of equipment work on our property!

If you have any kind of property, off grid or not, it’s just a matter of time before you’ll probably need to move some dirt and do some heavy lifting and that means that you’ll need to run some equipment yourself or hire out the job which can be costly. This is a general overview of our experiences that we want to share with you.

What Can You Expect Running And Renting Heavy Construction Machinery?

Renting Construction Equipment

First off, we’re fortunate that we live close enough to town to rent from a place in town that rents out all sorts of heavy equipment, making renting even an option in the first place. You can usually rent by the day, although you can often get really good deals by renting for the whole weekend, which we have done before like when we paved our driveway and dug test holes for our septic perk test.

Construction Equipment Costs

Typically, an excavator or a backhoe runs about $250-300 per day, any additional time will typically cost you around $30-40 per hour. That rental fee does not include delivery, fuel, or insurance. And you wonder why our homesteading expenses are so high…

24-Hour Rental But Only 8 Hours On the Clock

Something to keep in mind on the larger pieces of construction equipment is that when you pick them up, the rental yard will take a reading off the hours on the machine. For us, we’re allowed 8 hours of use per 24 hour rental period. Some of the newer pieces allow you to power down or idle the equipment and that hour meter will stop running which is something that we take advantage of so that we don’t waste our rental hours.

Pay for Delivery Vs. Driving Equipment Home

Some of the equipment is street legal, saving delivery fees which can run about $180. Also, the further away you live from a rental equipment place the higher the delivery expense. Anything that is really slow or not street legal you’ll have to have delivered unless you have trucks and trailers that can handle hauling the equipment to your place.

Getting the Most Our Of Your Construction Equipment Rental

The biggest tip we can give when it comes to renting construction equipment is to make a long list of things you have to get done, or would like to get done, so you can maximize your rental hours.

When we have to rent a backhoe or excavator for a project, we make a list of other things that we needed done to use up the extra hours and maximize our time with the tool. Plan out your jobs list in advance so you aren’t scrambling to find things to do and forget to tackle important jobs.

opering heavy construction equipment

Running Construction Equipment Safely

Don’t let people be too close to you when you’re running the equipment, especially if you’re a new operator, and don’t get cocky. Don’t let yourself put someone in a dangerous situation. Really mastering heavy construction equipment takes time and they are certainly powerful enough to do some serious damage if you aren’t paying extremely close attention. As with many of our homestead tools, there is simply a learning curve.

heavy machinery and equipment safety
We only tackled this project after Jesse felt comfortable with the backhoe.

Operating Heavy Construction Equipment Realities

What’s it like to run this equipment? It can be intimidating if you have no previous experience with this kind of equipment before. For such a big piece of equipment, the controls can be pretty simple. If you start small, with something like a Kubota tractor, the rental place will give you a walk through of the controls so you can feel more comfortable. Then, after using that piece of equipment on a project, you’ll feel more confident in your abilities.

Learning the Equipment Controls

The equipment is not really complicated, it’s simply a matter of learning what type of control the machine uses and getting used to those controls. The equipment is generally pretty simple to operate, but the important thing is to remember that they are very powerful! You really have to learn to control the machine well because they are designed to do really heavy tasks and it’s easy to get too aggressive with them. Once you learn and get the dexterity, it’s really pretty straightforward.

It’s a matter of getting your brain and your hands to work together with the controls. If you have 30 minutes behind the wheel doing something that isn’t going to mess up any important projects for practice, that’s a good idea. Digging footings is a good beginners task, while something like leveling is more advanced.

operating heavy equipment controls

Take Opportunities to Equipment Shadow & Learn

A great way to learn to run the equipment without the risk is to find a friend who is doing some work on their property and ask if you can sit on the equipment with them and watch them work. Watching someone else and being able to ask questions can make you feel a bit more comfortable.

As you see below, we took it upon ourselves to invite our friends’ kids over to get some equipment experience under their belts! Each of them got a turn to steer and control the tractor. The shocking part is that Jesse said they were already familiar with the basics of how a backhoe worked… better than myself!! Start ’em young, we say!

kids on heavy construction equipment

Ask Questions to Rental Facility & Staff

If you have an equipment need and you aren’t sure what to rent, the equipment rental place can be very helpful. Let them know what you need to do and they can point you the right way. Picking the right equipment for the job is really important so give them a call and talk with them a bit before deciding what the best piece of equipment to rent is going to be.

Is It Worth It? Should You Hire A Contractor or Rent Equipment Yourself?

Is it better to rent the equipment or is it better to just hire a professional that deals with these types of projects every day? So far, we think it’s been worth it.

Sometimes Letting the Pros Do It Is Cheaper

There’s never a perfect answer. You are going have to weigh the costs out for your project, abilities, and budget. When we put our septic in, the company already had their equipment out here, and so while we originally thought we could save on the installation by doing the backfill ourselves, in the end it was just worth it to have them do it. They charged us about two hours of equipment time which was less than ½ than the cost of renting a piece of equipment ourselves.

Crunch the Numbers for Every Job

You’ll always just need to crunch the numbers. When we did our driveway modifications, dug footings for our garden fence, and dug out stairs up to the hot tub deck (summary of those things here), it was just cheaper to do it ourselves. If we would have hired that out, we would have either had a minimum cost for the time for the man and equipment rental because they won’t just send a guy out for a couple of hours, or pay for a whole crew to do the work. By having this one skill, we can potentially save hundreds or thousands on most projects.

Is it a worthwhile skill to have? Absolutely. You never know when you might need to do a job, like our driveway, and being able to run the equipment helps you get that job done in your time frame and within your budget.

Realities of Buying Equipment with Low Monthly Payments

If you think you may want to own equipment, remember that while the payments may seem very low the equipment is very expensive even if you buy used. Upkeep and repairs can also be expensive. For example the backhoe that we rented has broke down on us twice and the nice thing is that it isn’t our responsibility! The rental company took care of all that. They were courteous and made sure to get it running again so we can get the jobs done. The upkeep on this type of equipment takes a lot of time and energy as well, so that’s something else to think about.

getting on backhoe equipment

Final Thoughts

If you own land or plan to own land, you better read up! It’s only a matter of time before you urgently need one of these monstrous machines! We think it’s absolutely worth it to rent equipment and to learn to use it. We have saved money and learned essential skills by doing so and we’d recommend it for others as well. It’s a great skill set to learn and develop so you can tackle projects around your property and save money, too.

Get involved!

Are you like us and have needed to rent equipment? Did you have a different experience or any other thoughts to share? Start a conversation in the comments below!

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I am an aspiring homesteader on a journey to become self-sustainable and free. In my past, I've worked corporate jobs to make ends meet and get ahead a little; it didn't make me happy or confident in my future. Since taking the leap to self-employment and living a more simple life, my happiness levels have increased greatly and I've never felt more alive. I finally understand what I want in life and how to get there, and that is what this blog is all about.


  1. Bill says

    I noticed in the video there are a lots of rocks on your property. Is there a rock quarry near by that will take the rocks? Each time you use heavy equipment for something you could start making a pile of rocks till there is enough to fill a dump truck.

    • says

      Hmm not sure on that one… but we plan to use them ourselves!! It’d be great to make the daylight basement of our house / barn look like it was made from rock.

  2. Dave Martin says

    I’ve operated a wide variety of equipment but I’ve usually hired an operator for work on my own place. My belief has been that a skilled operator will more than compensate for the added cost. Recently I rented a backhoe (I’d never run a backhoe before) for a small job. After running it a bit I directed my 23 year old daughter into the seat to let her have the experience. It was immensely rewarding and a total joy to watch her fumble her way through and gain skill and confidence at the controls.
    Next time I need heavy equipment work, I plan to rent and give my daughter another shot at the sticks.

  3. Jairo Santos says

    Hi, I’ve been watching your youtube channel for about a week now and would like to say that you’re really awesome. Thank you guys very much for sharing the experience and the knowledge that you’re geting. I’m not as young as you but want, someday, to embark on the same journey. Here where I live I don’t know if we have the option of renting heavy equipment without an operator. Usually the rentals have that included. On this video I’d like to point something about your wall beside the access road. I’m really not sure, but think that those blocks should have been interlocked, like you do with masonry. Many thanks and all the best, Jairo.

  4. Nick says

    Hey guys,
    love your project, so inspiring.
    And exposing the kids to all sorts of tools and techniques is the best way to get them out of the common “skills specialization” mindset. Looking forward to see the barn and the homestead !

  5. Marcio moraes says

    I have been watching your channel for a while, stop for a little bit and Back again I want you to know appreciate it I remember wend you have lest than 1000 subscribers and now 130000 nice that means you are doing a really good job. Thank you. It’s very insparing. Wish you guys the best.

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