According to OSHA, ladders are the No. 1 cause of construction accidents. Having had my own accidents, injuring myself and marring the surfaces of homes, I have put away the ladders in favor of trailer-mounted portable “man lifts” for any work higher than a step ladder.

The Genie 35-foot-high lift.
Kevin Keeter, One Source Equipment The Genie 35-foot-high lift.

Why lifts instead of a bucket truck? For one thing, they allow me to work on homes without damaging lawns. Because the boom is articulated, rotates 360 degrees, and moves up and down, I can easily access even difficult places, simply by pushing a joystick. Moving is a cinch; unlike a ladder, there's no climbing down, repositioning, and climbing back up. I can also work with both hands, rather than hanging on with one.

Renting a lift costs about $175 a day, and buying one costs $15,000 or more, depending on height. I hate to pay rental charges, but I've found that using a man lift greatly increases my productivity. For instance, I was recently asked to paint a two-story house whose wood lap siding had badly peeling paint. I calculated that this would take me two weeks if I used a ladder. Using a lift, I sanded, primed, and painted this house in three days, far offsetting the rental costs — and delighting the homeowner. (I like the lifts manufactured by Genie Industries, such as the 35-foot-high model shown.)

As an added productivity boost, I also used a mini grinder outfitted with a sanding disk. It turns 10,000 rpms, or about six times faster than a drill-powered sanding attachment.

—John Wilder, a former kitchen designer and remodeler, owns The Fence Doctor, in Jacksonville, Fla.