Recently, Lisa and I moved an 1,800-pound forklift battery system all by ourselves—and without any heavy equipment! In this post and video, I’ll show you how we did it and give you some tips and pointers from the numerous times I’ve had to move big batteries.
Forklift batteries (aka industrial batteries) are hands-down the most cost-effective options for an off-grid solar system. But the biggest question I get from clients is “How can you possibly unload and move a huge battery like that?”
You see, forklift batteries can range from several hundred pounds to several thousand pounds. I’d say that a battery weighing 750-1,500 pounds is the most common size of individual forklift battery found in an off-grid solar system. Smaller systems might only have one battery, while larger ones could have several.
Moving that much weight at one time can be intimidating, to say the least. So in this post, I’ll be sharing a bunch of tips I’ve picked up after moving and installing a number of forklift style batteries.
Receiving Your New Forklift Battery
Forklift batteries are shipped via freight truck. There are a number of options for getting it to your home.
- Liftgate service - For an extra charge, you may be able to have a truck with a lift gate deliver the battery to your home. This will at least get the battery off the truck an onto the ground, but that’s it. You still have to take it from there.
- Delivery to a local business - There may be a local business near you that has a forklift on site. If so, they may be willing to accept delivery of the battery for a charge and then load it on your truck. The downside to this is that you really need to be present to inspect the battery for damage before signing off. If the battery happens to arrive at a time when you are not available, the local business will be signing off and they may not inspect the battery carefully.
- Pick up at the nearest freight terminal - This is what we do. Have the battery shipped to the nearest freight terminal. When it arrives, you’ll receive a phone call and should have a few days to pick it up. The freight company will load the battery on your truck and then you bring it home.
That takes care of receiving the battery and getting it home. But how do you get an 1,800-pound monster off your truck???
Unloading A Forklift Battery
This is where it gets interesting. But no worries…there are a number of options. It all depends on where the battery is going and what equipment you have at your disposal.
- Tractor/Forklift - If you have (or can borrow) a tractor of some sort, that’s the easiest option for unloading your forklift battery. And no, it doesn’t have to be a huge tractor. We’ve used a medium farm tractor (Ford 2910) to unload an 1,100-pound battery with no issues. The front buck of a forklift is also an option. Either way, a tractor provides an easy way to pick up the battery from your truck and move it to where it needs to go, or at least as close as possible.
- Cherry picker - If your battery is going to end up in a garage or shop with a concrete floor, you have an interesting option. You could use an engine cherry picker to lift it off of the truck. Then you would drive the truck out from under it, and the cherry picker would set the battery down. Just make sure the cherry picker has enough range of motion to lift the battery from your truck and set it all the way down. And also make sure the working weight rating is plenty sufficient for your battery.
- Come-Along - Yes, even a good old Come-Along is an option for some batteries that aren’t too huge. I have a Come-Along with a weight rating of 2,000 pounds. Just make sure yours is in excellent condition and is rated well above your battery’s weight. And just as critical, make sure that you have a very well supported anchor above the battery to attach the Come-Along to. For instance, you WOULD NOT want to attach the Come-Along to the bottom string of a truss in your garage ceiling! Trusses are made to hold weight collectively and from above. The bottom string is not to be used for bearing weight. But one option could be to run a steel I-beam across 2 walls and use that as your anchor. Even a sturdy tree branch could work if the attachment point is close to the trunk. But remember, once you get the battery down, you have to be able to move it somewhere.
- Truck/trailer with dump - One time we used a flatbed truck with a dump on it to deliver a 1,300-pound battery. We were able to back up to the door of the room where the battery was to be installed. Then we slowly activated the dump and raised the front of the bed. Once the bed was at a steep enough incline, we attached a Come-Along to slowly let the battery slide off the bed in a controlled manner. Then we set up a makeshift ramp made from lumber (supported in the middle with concrete blocks) to let the battery slide off the bed and in through the door. It worked well but is only an option in certain specific situations.
- People power with removable cells - This is my favorite option. The typical forklift battery comes with all cells permanently attached as one big unit. But GB Industrial Batteries and Hawker Batteries can custom make a forklift battery for solar systems that has removable cells which may be pulled out one at a time. This makes unloading and moving FAR easier by breaking the overall battery weight into much smaller pieces that could weigh 100-150 pounds per cell (it varies depending on model). The downside is that a removable cell forklift battery costs more than a conventional model. But for many folks, it’s well worth it.
Moving The Battery Into Place
Now we have our forklift battery off the truck and on the ground in a strategic location. How do you move it to the power room?
First, it all depends on where your battery is going. The location of your power room can make your installation a breeze or a nightmare. We’ll discuss that in the next section, but I just had to say it here as well.
There are 4 main options I can think of for moving a battery through a house or across a floor.
- Short steel pipes - You would be amazed how easily a heavy battery can be rolled. All it takes is short sections of heavy steel piping! I like sections that are 18” long. If the diameter is too small, the pipes are liable to get stuck on small debris on the floor. If the diameter is too large, it could be hard to get the pipes under the battery and then out from under it. I think the “sweet spot” is 1” to 1.5” pipe. But remember, it needs to be a very sturdy pipe (i.e. don’t use metal conduit!). You’ll need 4 to 6 sections of pipe. Once you get the first section under the battery (by prying it up, etc), roll it along and insert the next section. Try to keep at least 3-4 sections under the battery at all times. When the battery rolls off of one section of pipe, place that section in front of the battery to get rolled on again.
- Drag it - Some friends of ours used this brute force method. They enlisted the help of numerous strong young men, placed the battery on a piece of carpet, and dragged the carpet through the house, with battery in tow. Their description of the event sounded pretty intense, so this probably isn’t for the faint of heart, but if you have the manpower, then it could be an option.
- A dolly - It would have to be a really really super heavy duty flat dolly with 4 strong wheels. But if you can find one or two of them, a dolly could be your answer for transporting a heavy battery across the floor or down hallways.
- Removable cells - Once again, this is the easiest option if your battery is going into a hard-to-get-to location. It breaks the overall weight of the battery into numerous lighter pieces, making it possible for even a couple of people to transport very large battery systems almost anywhere. This is how Lisa and I recently moved 1,800 pounds of batteries inside by ourselves—with no heavy equipment!
Choosing Your Battery’s Location
Perhaps the single biggest factor affecting the ease of installation is where you choose to place your battery. If your power room is located deep in the bowels of your home, moving the battery into place could prove to be a challenge. If your power system is going in the garage or shop, it will likely be a breeze to unload and move the battery into place.
But ease of installation is only one factor you should consider. In the big scheme of things, unloading and moving your battery should only take one day. Then you should have 15+ years of service before having to deal with it again. That’s a long time! So while garages and shops may seem like an obvious “no-brainer” choice, there is a drawback.
Garages or shops are typically unheated. And unfortunately, the temperature has an effect on battery capacity. The colder a lead acid battery gets, the smaller it’s capacity. For instance, one manufacturer says their battery can only output 81% of it’s rated capacity when the temperature is 30°F. This is only a temporary effect while the battery is cold. As soon as it warms up again, the capacity will be back to normal. But it reduces your battery capacity during the very time of year when you need it most—winter. That means you’ll need to oversize any batteries that get cold.
If you are on a budget and are trying to reduce your battery costs, then here's your tip...Place your battery inside a climate controlled environment (such as your home). This will make for a smaller (and less expensive) battery.