A Pro’s Guide to Moving Heavy Furniture Without Hurting Yourself

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Chances are, there are movers near you who can help you move that fridge, bed, or whatever else makes your back ache by the mere thought of picking it up. But if you can’t find the right help, or if you and your back feel up to the task, then keep reading—we’ve got you covered!

The First Step to Moving Heavy Furniture

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Okay, that’s a little weird, but moving heavy furniture is the same idea. You gotta really, really prepare.

Before you roll up your sleeves and start picking stuff up, you’ll want to do a few things:

  • Clear as wide of a pathway as you can
  • Measure that your furniture isn’t too big to go through that path
  • Mark a clear, physical end point where you will drop the item

The last one will probably be near your moving truck or storage container or, if you’re particularly strategic, a staging area (meaning your driveway, sidewalk, or the garage during sketchy weather) in order to better “Tetris” your stuff.

Disassembling Furniture

The great news is that many movers across the country will offer to disassemble any furniture that might need it in order to be moved. All you have to do is ask if your local mover offers the service.

If you’re disassembling furniture all yourself, there are plenty of basics to know when taking off table legs, moving desks, or detaching a flat screen tv.

The Most Important Basics When it Comes to Disassembly

  • When removing table legs, immediately reattach whatever nuts and bolts were holding the leg in place after the leg is off. This keeps screws from disappearing 
  • Always use a screwdriver with a magnetic head when unscrewing flat screen tv mounts, as losing important screws is extremely easy to do
  • Dresser mirrors always get removed and properly packed up. Any undetachable dresser mirrors require tons of special attention to move
  • Dining room chairs aren’t often designed to be taken apart easily, if at all. But if you have chairs with exposed bolts or screws, you may be able to disassemble them

The above just scratches the surface of what professional movers with experience know about moving furniture and disassembling furniture. You’ll learn plenty, just like I did, by trying to do it yourself.

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“The IKEA-Exception”

The furniture in your home didn’t just grow there, right? It had to have been carried in.

But the one exception to the “furniture doesn’t grow there” concept is IKEA-like furniture, or in other words, most anything you had to assemble yourself.

Full Service moving companies will generally refuse to move customer-assembled furniture made of pressboard. This is because such furniture was designed to be assembled, put in place, and never ever moved again. Any customer requesting their pressboard bookcase (or pressboard anything) be professionally moved usually has to sign a waiver stating they understand it will very likely get destroyed and the movers will assume zero responsibility for the destruction.

If you have any pressboard furniture or any furniture that – be honest with yourself – is generally cheap and flimsy, consider selling it or giving it away. Moving it costs time and money and will more than likely turn it into an unusable piece (or pieces) of trash.

Wrapping Furniture

how to move heavy furniture

At some point during the move-out process, you’ll need to wrap your furniture so it doesn’t get scratched, gouged and cracked into oblivion.

Cloth furniture pads (also known as “moving blankets”) are what movers use, and we highly recommend them. Wrapping your furniture before you carry it through your home and out the door can help protect it against incidental dings in the doorway and, quite possibly, holes in your walls.

No true professional mover will ever dream of transporting heavy furniture without furniture pads.

Protip: Moving pads can make it hard to keep a firm grip on your furniture. I always preferred to wrap everything in the staging area, or right there on the truck.

The Most Important Basics When it Comes to Wrapping Furniture

Wrapping a refrigerator or a bookcase is pretty straightforward. Wrapping a non-rectangular item like a sofa or a chair can be a challenge.

  • The key is to secure your furniture pads neatly and tightly, covering every surface except, in general, the bottom side
  • You mostly need to just make sure the pads don’t come off. Some movers use shipping tape to keep their pads in place, while others use shrink wrap. Both are effective but costly (not to mention a little wasteful). That’s why other movers use big rubber bands called “mover’s bands”. They are versatile and reusable for applications far beyond moving furniture (like, say, wrapping an office chair)
  • To secure those pads, whether you use tape, shrink wrap or those big rubber bands, just remember: avoid putting tape or shrink wrap directly on your furniture’s surfaces

How Many Furniture Pads Do I Need?

For reference, furniture pads the pros use measure 72” x 80”, give or take.

End tables, small bookcases, and dining room chairs usually only need one (1) pad; most furniture needs two (2), while things like sofas, really large dressers, even some big headboards need three (3) apiece.

How many furniture pads do you need, then? Your best bet is to go from room to room, check how many things you have that need to be wrapped, note how many pads each item will require to cover their surface, then tally it all up. (To be safe, you might want to tack on a half dozen more!)

How Do Pros Move Furniture Through Doorways?

how to move heavy furniture

Angling

If your sofa is too wide to fit through a doorway in your home, there are a few things you can do.

The simplest is to tilt it 45 degrees (more or less) so the front edge of the seat cushions and the top of the back of the couch are aligned vertically. This will make the bottom rear edge of the couch look like it is sticking further out, but all you geometry lovers out there will appreciate how this actually makes the couch narrower.

Curling

If your couch is still too wide, try standing it on end and curling it through.

Laying down a blanket first will help you smoothly and safely slide your couch through the doorway. Ease the top back edge through first, then curl the sofa around the side of the doorway closer to the seat cushions as you slip the rest of the couch through. (You can also push it through seat cushion edge first.) This same strategy can be used when trying to get oversized easy chairs through a seemingly too-narrow door.

Detaching

If you find you need a few extra inches of clearance before your sofa will pop through that doorway, try removing the legs or feet.

Even though they are sometimes nothing but short squares of wood, I’ve found on many occasions that taking them off is the difference between success and a damaged door jamb. On occasion, I’ve had to actually remove a door from its hinges in order to get a couch out the door. While not difficult, you will need a flat head screwdriver and a hammer to coax those hinge pins out, and a couple of extra sets of hands to keep the door in place until those pins pop free.

Moving Furniture Up and Down Stairs

how to move heavy furniture

Hauling large pieces of furniture – more importantly, heavy pieces of furniture – down a flight of stairs is a dangerous proposition if you don’t take it slow (and smart).

  • Make sure you have a strong friend (if not two) on the lower end as you go down (or up) the stairs. Take those steps one at a time. Rest as often as need be, simply by laying that dresser or bookcase down, right on the stairs. Just make sure it doesn’t start sliding!
  • Watch for walls, banisters, and hanging light fixtures
  • It’s easy when you’re watching your feet to forget about everything else. And that, I can tell you, includes your knuckles!
  • When sliding items around corners on landings, use a blanket underneath
    • When doing so, put a blanket down to make the sliding process easier and to avoid damaging that dresser and/or the floor. If the floor is carpeted, the item is really heavy, or if the surface it is resting on is uneven, try walking that thing forward – using small, slow, easy steps

Using Wheels to Move Your Furniture

how to move heavy furniture

If you aren’t The Hulk, a little extra help in the form of wheels can make a huge difference. Here are what the pros use:

  1. 4-wheeler: A 4-wheeler is great for moving large, heavy items over long flat distances. Two main things to watch for: your piece of furniture is resting firm and balanced, and that the wheels, usually black rubber, aren’t marking or scuffing your floors.
  2. Hand truck: A hand truck has two wheels and a metal plate on which to rest your furniture, and a long upright surface with handles. Their soft-ish wheels let you move heavy items up and down stairs and across uneven surfaces all by yourself. However, we highly recommend having a second set of hands at the lower (bottom) end of that piece of furniture any time you are negotiating stairs.
  3. Appliance dolly: An appliance dolly is basically a heavy-duty hand truck with a strap to secure in place the refrigerator, washing machine, dryer or whatever. Despite its name, an appliance dolly can absolutely be used to haul furniture.

This All Seems Hard. Are There Furniture Movers Near Me, Just In Case?

Most likely, yes!

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Start by searching HireAHelper’s massive network of local movers to find movers near you to tackle the big stuff. You don’t necessarily need to hire an entire moving crew if you just need to move your heaviest items.

Normal moving rates will apply, usually starting at a couple hundred bucks for two experienced professionals for two hours. They will usually bring all the necessary equipment, too!

If you just aren’t sure you want to move heavy furniture yourself, relax. Professionals know how to do everything in this article, plus way more.


Illustrations by Marlowe Dobbe

How to Best Unload Your Moving Truck

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Loading your truck is like getting ready for prom. You want everything to be perfect.

Unloading, on the other hand, is kind of the same way; take everything off, drop it on the floor and go jump in the pool with your friends, right?

Yes and no. Unloading a moving truck is definitely easier than loading one, but like jumping in the pool, there are good ways and bad ways to do it.

Below are some tips for safety and speed so you can not only do the job right but have plenty of time for the post-party. (And this all applies for moving containers too!)

How to Prepare Your Unload

Park on a flat, level surface

If you are renting a portable container like a PODS, you can expect it will be set on even ground. The same thing goes for a rental truck.

You’ll want to park in a similar level place, to make unloading both safer and easier. If you simply have to park on a sloped surface, point the front of your truck downhill. (You can imagine why.)

Apply the emergency brake

This applies even if you park on a level surface. It also doesn’t hurt to put chocks – or rocks or blocks of wood – under one or more of the wheels. 

Open the back of the truck slowly

Your stuff will have shifted around in transit, and the possibility of something tumbling out onto the ground, or on you, is very real.

If something is about to come tumbling out, you may feel and/or hear it pushing against the door as you open it. But not always.

Keep your eyes open and have an extra set of hands ready.

Ramps slide out quickly, be careful

Rental trucks generally come equipped with a loading ramp that slides right out from under the rear door. Unlatching it, sliding it out and locking it in place is simple. So is hurting yourself if you aren’t careful.

That ramp is heavy! And pulling it too hard can turn it into a battering ram with you being the one getting battered. Ease it out all the way and set it down on something not your toes. And remember to set those hooks at the top of the ramp securely in place!

How to Unload Safely and Quickly

Get off to a pretty slow start

That’s right! Even if nothing looks about to topple over, you still want to take it easy when you begin unloading your stuff.

Your stuff will shift and resettle in transit

This goes triple if you have a freight trailer!

The pedal of the bicycle you so carefully placed on top of all those boxes might now be stuck in between two of those cartons, and pulling too hard trying to free your bike can send a whole stack of stuff cascading down on top of you. 

Remember, if your truck was packed to the gills, you won’t have much room back there for your feet. Take your time. Watch your step. Ease those first items off the truck, always aware of how close your Nikes are to the edge of that deck. One misstep and there goes your stuff (and you).

Assign a ramp person

If you have someone (or a few people) helping you, assign one person to stay on the truck to break down the load and put everything at the edge of the deck where the others can grab it without having to climb into the truck.

Not only does this save time, it also eliminates a ton of bending over.

Working like this, it’s never long before the person on the truck gets ahead of the others. This is a good time for that person to nominate someone to help carry that sofa or dresser off the truck and into the house. In addition, jumping off the truck and helping get all the stuff they’ve set on the deck into the house is the obvious way to keep the process rolling.

Tackling the unload all by yourself? Try working in a similar fashion. As you break down your load, position as many boxes and other items as possible along the edge of the deck. Then you’ll be able to make a bunch of trips back and forth without having to walk up and down that ramp every time, saving both your legs and your back.

 

Form a box brigade

Building on above, if you are lucky enough to have two or more people helping you unload:

  • Keep one person working on the truck
  • One person carrying stuff from the truck to a staging area (usually the garage or the front door)
  • One person working inside carrying everything from the staging area to where it all belongs

Naturally, the person on the truck will start getting ahead of the person carrying stuff to the staging area, who will in turn probably get ahead of the person running back and forth inside the house. Periodically jumping off the truck or stepping inside to help your buddy catch up keeps everyone moving – and quickens the process of emptying out that truck or portable container.

Which, of course, leaves more time to enjoy the pool.

Use a dolly

When you are unloading your moving truck, a hand truck (also known as a dolly) is your best non-human friend.

Rolling heavy stuff means you don’t have to carry it. Rolling a stack of boxes means making one trip instead of three or four! The bigger your load and the heavier your stuff, the more you will thank yourself for having that hand truck around. It’s an essential item to rent of your moving truck doesn’t come with one, or if you don’t hire moving labor.

Make sure, by the way, to use that hand truck correctly. You should always be higher than the dolly when rolling stuff down that ramp. If you are hand-trucking something large and/or heavy, have an extra set of hands at the lower end to keep that thing moving steadily—and slowly!

Want to really learn how to use a dolly? Check out this post.

Center everything before it goes off the truck

It goes without saying that when you’re unloading major appliances and large pieces of furniture – or anything for that matter – you want to be doubly certain neither your feet nor the wheels of your hand truck miss that ramp.

But you also want your hand truck to hit the ramp squarely; if one wheel starts going downhill before the other your hand truck will start to tip to one side. Your buddy on the bottom end will naturally try to steady it, which can send one of his feet off the side of the ramp, and things will just keep going downhill from there.

Whether you are rolling or carrying that big heavy appliance or piece of furniture, you want to get centered on the back of the truck before you head for that ramp.

Again, when using a dolly, those wheels go down before you do. If you and a buddy are carrying that item, whoever is holding the bottom end needs to travel down first. In either case, the person on the lower end is responsible for maintaining a straight line of forward progress. 

Ready to unpack?

That’s a whole other thing, so make sure to read our unpacking guide too!

Protip: If you have to walk up a slope or up any stairs, it’s good practice to turn yourselves around so the person holding the top of that big bulky piece is again in a higher position.

Going upslope, however, the person on top takes over steering duty. The person on the bottom then will have the responsibility of providing most of the upward momentum. (This is especially true when going up a staircase.)

In other words, the person on bottom pushes while the person on top does their best to avoid banging into the walls and tripping up the steps. 

Get Some Quick Help

And if all else fails (or you realize you have more stuff than you thought you did after loading your truck), do yourself a favor and double-check our movers’ prices for unloading trucks.

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From my decades of experience moving people, an unbooked mover is pretty motivated to come out, as opposed to sitting around doing nothing. Do a quick fly by on HireAHelper if you were wondering, “But are there any local movers near me available to lend me and my friends a hand?”

I’ve saved plenty of people’s moving day who thought to check, even last second.

Illustrations by Emily Roberts

How Much To Tip Movers? A Mover’s Perspective

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What’s the meaning of life? Where does the universe end? How much to tip movers?

For some questions, there are no simple answers. But we’re going to give it a shot.

First off, let me say that as a mover: I never thought I was entitled to a tip. Like my fellow crew members, I operated on the idea that it was completely up to the customer to decide whether to tip or not. All we movers could do was provide great service and hope (and we did hope!) that our customers would be impressed enough to loosen up their wallets.

When they did, we were appreciative. When they didn’t, there wasn’t much we could do but shrug our shoulders and head home.

The reasons you might want to tip your movers are many: they were professional and courteous; they did great work; they handled all of your questions and requests gracefully; they arrived on time, finished on time, and didn’t waste any time in between. Maybe they just did their job, not scratching or cracking a single thing.

On the other hand, perhaps your movers didn’t live up to your expectations. Maybe they took too many cigarette breaks or used a lot of bad language. Maybe your situation makes tipping your movers tough. Bottom line is, the decision on how much to tip movers is yours.

If you do decide to tip, great. Your crew will be delighted. Now the question is:

How much do I tip?

How much to tip movers - picture of mover carrying couchThe most common answer you’ll hear or read is $10 per mover for a half day, $20 per mover for a full day.

Other recommendations call for $4-5 per hour, per mover, or $6-8 per hour if you are really impressed with their service.

Another way to figure how much to pay movers is by using a percentage of the cost of your move – 5-10% seems to be the standard range. In some cases – like hiring HireAHelper movers for the day – this will work out because you know what the total cost of the day’s move will be. But if you are moving long-distance, a good chunk of the cost of your move goes toward transportation, making it pretty tough to figure out the cost of a single day’s labor.

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Think it’s getting too complicated? Let me let you in on a little secret: movers don’t care about the math. So instead of getting hung up on hourlies and percentages consider setting a baseline tip you can afford (maybe the $10 or $20 per mover mentioned above) and then bump it up or down depending on how skilled, polite and professional your crew members were.

Another factor to consider when calculating how much to tip movers is the difficulty of your move. Did your movers have a lot of heavy stuff to deal with? Were there a lot of stairs, or was it all uphill from the truck to your front door? Did they disassemble or reassemble a bunch of furniture for you? And did they handle it all like true professionals?

Protip: There are two ways movers can get paid:

  1. Hourly, as is the case with HireAHelper movers.
  2. By the job, which is usually the case for a long-distance move.

Getting paid hourly means your movers will automatically be compensated for the time it takes to negotiate those extra stairs and carry all your stuff up your sloped driveway to your front door and finally, into your home. Getting paid by the job means they won’t. Just something to keep in mind.

Note: Some van lines will charge fees for “accessorial services” like extra flights of stairs or long distances between truck and front door. The movers doing the grunt work, however, may or may not see much of these added charges.

How do I tip?

While it may be quicker and easier to hand your lead mover some cash and ask them to split it up among the crew, the sad truth is that the occasional unscrupulous leader will pocket the cash and tell the crew “Sorry, they stiffed us.” It’s probably quite rare, but it happens. (Never to me, I could say, but then again, how would I know?)

Handing out tips to your movers individually ensures no one gets stiffed. More than this, it’s a powerful and personal gesture. I always appreciated being given any tip directly, accompanied by a thank you and a handshake.

Want to really show your appreciation? Call your movers by name throughout the move, as well as at the end. When you are tipping them, thank them for something they did well, or something that you appreciated. This kind of positive feedback puts you in rarified “awesome customer” territory. It can also, in your movers’ minds, make the money seem secondary. (Well, almost.)

What if you notice one or two of your movers working harder than the others?

Is it okay to give them a little extra? Absolutely. How much to tip movers can depend directly on each individual’s performance. Should you be secretive about it? That’s a trickier question to answer. One customer once whispered in my ear as he slipped me a great tip: “Don’t tell the other guy how much I gave you.” To be honest, I thought the other guy worked just as hard as I did, so the ride back was pretty uncomfortable. (On other days I would have felt fine if the customer gave me more than the slouch taking all those cigarette and pee breaks.)

If you feel you should reward one or more of your movers for going above and beyond, go for it. Saying something more like “Thank you for the extra effort” as you hand them their tip is one way to articulate why you are giving them a little extra.

When do I tip?

The answer to this may seem obvious: At the end of the move! But once or twice I had a customer hand everyone on the crew a ten or a twenty before we got started and say “Take care of my stuff guys, okay?”

If this is how you operate, great. Your movers won’t mind being tipped for showing up. But if you’ve hired a reputable mover – one with a nice number of 5-star reviews – there will be no need for bribes.

You could, however, prepare something to drink for the guys. People don’t work well when they are dehydrated. This goes double or triple or whatever–ple for movers. So offering your movers water or sports drinks right from the start is not just a nice gesture, it’s a smart investment.

A cooler filled with bottled water and Gatorade set out in the garage or on the front porch is a welcome sight for your movers – and more practical than paper cups in the kitchen. Just let your crew know where it all is and tell them to help themselves.

Moving on a cold, rainy day? A freezing winter’s day? Coffee or hot cocoa is a nice and much appreciated gesture, and the five-minute chance to warm up makes for a positive start to the day’s move. (Once your crew is warmed up and moving, that Gatorade will go down much better!)

7 Embarrassing Lessons I Learned While Moving People

7 Embarrassing Lessons I Learned While Moving People

Lessons I, Kevin The Mover, learned during my earliest days on the job through the mistakes of others (and my own).

Is pizza a tip?

This is another question with no set answer. I can tell you, though, that pizza is like a tip: not necessary, but never turned down.

Pizza is easy, and they deliver. For something different, and if you have the time, take sandwich orders and run down to the deli. Or do what one awesome customer did and put out a bunch of sandwich stuff – cold cuts, cheese, rolls, mayo and mustard, a couple bags of chips. Enough for a couple of sandwiches per mover should do everyone right.

But can pizza take the place of a tip? Let’s just say that if lunch is how you want to show your appreciation for your movers, that’s your call. What I don’t recommend is saying “This is your tip, by the way.” Or “The pizza was your tip, guys, I hope that’s okay.” Remember: you may be the second or third move of their day.

Even a modest tip on top of lunch would mean a lot to your movers. But if you can’t swing it, if lunch is their tip, if there’s no tip at all, then don’t worry – there’s no need to say anything.

Except thank you, of course.

What if something went wrong?

Good question. Accidents do happen. Just remember that your movers, no matter how careful and conscientious they may be, are also human. The big thing is not if something goes wrong, but how they handle it if it does. Imagine if at your work, breaking your back for five hours was invalidated after a minor accident!

Remember also that you are tipping the movers, not the moving company they work for. Sales representatives, the office staff, customer service folks – these people are all separate from your move crew. Keeping this in mind if things get crazy is both helpful and appropriate.

Regardless if something goes wrong, if you feel your movers did a great job, please take the time to give your movers one last tip – in the form of a positive review. What costs you nothing but a few moments of your time can help the people who busted their butts for you to attract more customers and land way more work. And that helps put more cash in their pockets.

The meaning of life? I’m not sure how to answer that. How much to tip movers? We have some ideas.

But the answer ultimately lies with you.

If You Only Clean 5 Things When You Move in, Just Make Sure It’s These Things

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Moving into a new house is SUCH an exciting time! There are so many fun memories that lie ahead, including everything about unpacking, getting settled in and decorating your gorgeous new home. But before totally settling in and getting cozy, we think it’s important to do that super important deep clean.

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