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Navigating Indoor and Outdoor Scissor Lifts: A Complete Guide to Picking the Perfect Aerial Work Platform for Your Project
7 minute read
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Tim Forestell
April 20, 2023

Navigating Indoor and Outdoor Scissor Lifts: A Complete Guide to Picking the Perfect Aerial Work Platform for Your Project

Knowing when to use an indoor over an outdoor scissor lift may seem like a simple decision: use one for indoor projects and one for outdoor projects. While this is certainly the obvious decision, there are other important factors to consider when choosing between the two.

Indoor Scissor Lifts: An Overview

Scissor lifts are a type of aerial lift with large platforms that lift people and materials up to working height. They have a base and accordion-style arms that lift the platform up and down. There are two main types: indoor and outdoor scissor lifts, which can also be called rough terrain scissor lifts.

Key Features and Characteristics of Indoor Scissor Lifts

Indoor scissor lifts are designed for operation on smooth surfaces like finished flooring like concrete, warehouses, and asphalt. These machines have non-marking tires so they don't damage indoor flooring. Their wheels will not be able to gain enough traction if used outside.

Find Your Next Equipment Rental on DOZR
Rough Terrain Scissor Lift, 32 ft image
19 ft - 50 ft
Electric, Rough Terrain
Rough Terrain Scissor Lift, 40 ft image
19 ft - 50 ft
Electric, Rough Terrain
Rough Terrain Scissor Lift, 50 ft image
19 ft - 50 ft
Electric, Rough Terrain

Most indoor scissor lift models are electric machines. They're operated with a battery that requires charging in a 110-volt outlet, which is the standard outlet found in homes. While the machine is in operation, it's important to note that the outlet brings power to the platform while the plug charges the entire machine.

The platform on indoor scissor lifts can't be fully extended when driving the machine around a job site. Another safety feature they have is pothole protectors, which are flaps that automatically extend when the scissor lift is raised higher than six feet.

Common Applications

Indoor scissor lifts are used for a variety of maintenance and servicing tasks, including electrical, welding, plumbing, and HVAC work. Inside warehouses and retail spaces, scissor lifts are used similarly to forklifts. With their wide platforms, they can lift and retrieve merchandise off of shelves. Since they can access most standard ceilings, indoor scissor lifts are also used for setting up displays, painting, event set up, and installing light fixtures.

Pros and Cons


  • Extendable platform (widens the platform)
  • Can lift multiple people and a large quantity of materials up to working height
  • Net-zero emissions
  • Quiet, smooth operation well-suited for working indoors
  • Non-marking tires


  • Requires access to a charging station to operate continuously
  • Can only operate on level surfaces
  • Can only lift vertically
  • Can't approach the work surface from other angles
  • Limited vertical reach
  • Limited platform capacity

Outdoor Scissor Lifts: An Overview

Key Features and Characteristics of Outdoor Scissor Lifts

Outdoor scissor lifts are usually labeled as "rough terrain" models, which indicates that they're intended for outdoor as opposed to indoor use. Most outdoor scissor lifts are diesel-powered machines. However, some scissor lift manufacturers make rough terrain models that are electrically powered and can also be used outside.

One of the main benefits of using outdoor scissor lifts is that they can operate on non-level terrain. For added stability on rough terrain, outdoor scissor lifts have outriggers, or spider-like arms attached to the sides of the machine that rest on the ground.

Outdoor models also have wider platforms that can hold much more weight than indoor electric scissor lifts.

Common Applications

In general, scissor lifts can be used for any lifting jobs that require more reach than a ladder can provide for all heights below 70'. Outdoor construction projects for scissor lifts include framing, installing road signs and billboards, bridge construction, window washing, and painting murals. Attachments can also be added to scissor lifts to increase their functionality.

outdoor scissor lift repairing side of building

Pros and Cons:


  • Larger platform capacity
  • Extensive vertical reach
  • Can operate on non-level terrain
  • Can operate on rough, sludgy, surfaces


  • Increased operating expenses in diesel-fueled rough terrain models
  • May not have net-zero emissions
  • Only have vertical reach (lift up and down)
  • Can't approach the work surface from other angles
  • Can't be used on indoor flooring

Comparing Indoor and Outdoor Scissor Lifts

Working Height and Platform Capacity

Scissor lift model names indicate the model's working height and type. Usually, indoor electric scissor lifts are labeled with an "E", "XD", or "SE" whereas rough terrain models are labeled with an "RT."

Outdoor scissor lifts have higher working heights and larger platform capacities than indoor scissor lifts. Working height refers to how high off the ground a scissor lift's platform can be raised. An additional 6' is added to this value to indicate the height that workers who are standing on the platform can access.

The working heights of outdoor scissor lifts range from 12' - 70' whereas the majority of indoor scissor lift models have working heights under 39'. On jobs that require additional working height, outdoor scissor lifts are the only option.

In terms of platform capacity, outdoor scissors are much more capable lifting machines. They can lift anywhere from 500 - 4,000 lbs, but most models have average capacities of around 1,500- 2,500 lbs. In comparison, indoor scissors can only lift loads weighing between 500- 1,654 lbs. The majority of indoor models can only lift between 500 and 900 lbs, as the models that can lift 1,000+ lbs in the previous range are electric rough terrain models.

Overall, the platforms on outdoor scissor lifts are much larger than their indoor counterparts. This accounts for their large difference in platform capacity.

Maneuverability and Mobility

Indoor scissor lifts are lighter, narrower machines with smaller footprints. They're designed to be easily maneuvered around crowded, indoor projects like stadiums or warehouses and fit through double doors and aisles. Their turning radii are also much tighter compared to outdoor machines since outdoor scissors are heavier and usually bulkier. All these factors make indoor scissor lifts more maneuverable than outdoor models.

Since most indoor scissor lifts are electric, their mobility is slightly restricted by access to charging stations. The cord used to power the scissor lift's deck also affects mobility. Outdoor machines don't have these features, so mobility is less of a concern.

indoor scissor lift operating on concrete floors

Adapting to Terrain

Each type of scissor lift specializes in operation on opposite kinds of terrain. So, it's best to use each type in the terrain it was designed for. Indoor scissor lifts work best on smooth, finished surfaces like tile floors, asphalt, and concrete. Outdoor scissor lifts work best on mud, dirt, sand, and other rough terrains.

Some indoor scissor lift models have some degrees of gradeability. But, the majority can only operate safely on level ground. Whereas most outdoor scissor lifts are designed with gradeability in mind and can operate well on sloped terrain.

Power Source and Environmental Impact

As mentioned, most indoor scissor lifts are electric, so they require a power source. Most outdoor scissors are diesel models that don't need a power source. There are a few rough terrain outdoor models that run on lithium batteries. These are the only models that would require a power source.

Indoor scissor lifts have less of an environmental impact than outdoor models because of their different fuel sources. Indoor and outdoor electric scissor lifts have net-zero emissions, which brings their environmental impact down to basically zero.

The majority of diesel-fuel models aren't net-zero. However, most newer models are designed according to strict emissions standards.

Operating Expenses and Maintenance

Typically, electric equipment has lower operating and maintenance costs compared to diesel models. Electric machines only have an electric motor and a battery as main components and they have fewer moving parts in their transmission, so there are fewer parts that require upkeep, repairs and maintenance tasks.

The largest contributor to increased operating costs on diesel-powered machines like outdoor scissor lifts is fuel. Diesel engines also have higher engine run times, which raises an outdoor scissor lift's idle time, along with operating time and cost.

The batteries powering indoor electric scissor lifts require little to no maintenance. Although the repair costs are significant in the event that the battery completely breaks. The main cost associated with indoor electric models is how expensive they are to purchase initially.

Selecting the Ideal Scissor Lift for Your Project

To choose the best scissor lift for your project, weigh the following factors when choosing between indoor and outdoor scissor lifts.

Crucial Factors to Consider

Job Site Conditions: These conditions include if the job site is inside or outside (smooth flooring vs. rough terrain), ground conditions, if the space to maneuver the machine on site is restricted, emissions restrictions, and if the surface you're operating on is level.

Required Platform Capacity and Vertical Reach: Outdoor scissor lifts can lift more weight up to higher elevations than indoor models can. Always ensure that your chosen machine can perform as expected on-site.

Project Budget: Indoor electric scissor lifts are more expensive to purchase. If you renting, compare rental rates between the two types. However, there is less of a price difference between both scissor lifts when renting compared to buying.

Indoor vs Outdoor Scissor Lifts Summarized

Overall, indoor and outdoor scissor lifts perform similarly on-site. As one of the most popular aerial lifts, both scissor lift types will transport multiple people and their required materials up to working height. Even so, there are circumstances where choosing one over the other will allow for work to be completed more efficiently. Job site conditions and required specs are the most important factors to consider when selecting the ideal scissor lift for you.

For your next aerial project, check out DOZR's equipment rental marketplace for indoor and outdoor scissor lift rentals!

Find Your Next Equipment Rental on DOZR
Rough Terrain Scissor Lift, 32 ft image
19 ft - 50 ft
Electric, Rough Terrain
Rough Terrain Scissor Lift, 40 ft image
19 ft - 50 ft
Electric, Rough Terrain
Rough Terrain Scissor Lift, 50 ft image
19 ft - 50 ft
Electric, Rough Terrain
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Avatar of the author
Tim Forestell
Tim Forestell is one of DOZR’s co-founders and CCO. Tim got started in the industry as VP Operations for Forestell Landscaping before founding DOZR with Kevin and Erin. Aside from the amazing team at DOZR, his favourite thing about DOZR are the customers. Working with DOZR renters every day gives him a peek at the evolution of different projects and hearing stories about projects being developed from start to finish.
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