Are you looking for a luxury residential elevator ride or just the basics?
Elevator Drive System - A residential elevator may be a roped-hydraulic drive elevator, winding drum elevator, traction elevator, vacuum or pneumatic elevator, or a counter-weighted chain drive elevator. The type of drive you choose depends on your desires, your budget, the limitations of your home and your state codes. All of the different drive systems need to be maintained at least once per year and have safety devices.
If the motor is in the hoistway, as it is with the counterweighted chain drive machine room-less systems, there is a little bit more noise. The counter weights may also make a little noise as they travel up and down. Accessing the manual lowering device is easiest with the hydraulic drive systems. The hydraulic drive elevators and some winding drum elevators require a seperate machine room. The least expensive of the winding drum elevators are noisier than the more expensive units. Vacuum drive, or pneumatic elevators, are quite noisy, but come with their own shaft or hoistway and do not require a pit. Not all states allow the machine room-less elevators and the vacuum drive elevators, so make sure you check your local codes before choosing a certain type of elevator.
To give you a point of reference to what you already know, most small commercial buildings with 2 or 3 stories use hydraulic elevators. There are very few people who can smell the hydraulic fluid, so if your salesperson uses this as a reason that you should not buy a hydraulic elevator, go smell a hydraulic elevator before you rule them out just for this reason. The hydraulic elevators take longer and are a little more difficult to install - especially the most expensive ones, but should have the smoothest and most quiet rides - when installed and adjusted correctly. Traction drives are also smooth and quiet. If you choose to go with a hydraulic home elevator, ask for the hydraulics to be hard-piped instead of using a hose. You may choose to use a very short piece of hose in the machine room right by the tank for noise isolation. A hydraulic hose needs to be replaced periodically, but hard pipe does not. The hydraulic pipe should be schedule 80 seamless black pipe and not something found at the local hardware store. There should never be a hydraulic hose in the hoistway. Hydraulic elevators are the easiest to lower in case of mechanical break down. If a person uses a wheelchair and cannot climb out of an elevator that is stuck between floors, you may want to choose a hydraulic elevator that you can easily lower to the floor below by opening the emergency lowering valve. Remember that your elevator must be the right one for you and your needs not just because that is the only kind a certain company sells.
Elevator Cab and Hoistway Size - Typical cab sizes are 3 feet wide by 4 feet deep or 3 feet wide by 5 feet deep or some close variation thereof. National code limits the cab size of a residential elevator to 15 square feet. The typical hoistway inside dimension from sheetrock to sheetrock is around 52 inches wide and 57 or 69 inches deep if you are using the standard accordian gate and swinging hoistway doors. The newer side-sliding doors will require a bigger hoistway in both width and depth. Each manufacturer has a different size requirement though, so choose your elevator and get your plans before building or build large enough to accomodate a variety of elevators. For more info see, Planning for your Future Elevator. Almost every home elevator needs a pit that is recessed into your foundation or basement floor. Pit sizes range in depth from 8 inches to 15 inches and much more for the most expensive commercial drive systems. If you are planning for an elevator and have not yet chosen the home elevator brand, use a 12 inch pit depth to allow for most elevator models.
Elevator Hoistway Location - The easiest place to build your elevator shaft is on the outside of your home because you will not have to relocate ductwork, pipes, or electrical work. The shaft can be built with minimal disruption to you. The shaft can be built to match your home. You don't go outside to go into your home elevator. You merely go through a door that is located in the wall of your home, go right into your home elevator and then back through a door in your house wall into your home. You can get all the clearances, overhead, pit depth and space you need, so that your residential elevator choice will not be limited by space constraints. You should not replace a staircase with an elevator. It will actually lower your home value, as people will not buy a home where you cannot just run downstairs to the lower floor when needed. We have seen residential elevators that have had to be torn out in order to get a house to sell when the elevator replaced the stairs, not to mention that there are no decent-sized elevators that will fit in the typical 36 inch staircase width.
Elevator Cab Configuration - The least expensive configuration is to be able to enter and exit your elevator on the same side. So, if you go in from the lower landing, you will come back out the same way on the next floor. This is typically referred to as in-line or stacked openings. Another option is to go straight through the elevator to exit, also called opposite openings. This is the easiest layout for a person who uses a wheelchair, as there is no backing in or out or turning required. You may also choose a 90 degree, or adjacent openings, configuration, however this is more difficult for a person using a wheelchair to maneuver within the space limitations of a residential elevator.
Home Elevator Prices - When choosing the residential elevator that is best for you, think of the purchase as being similar to buying a vehicle (but ideally without the pushy salesperson). All of the cars will get you from Point A to Point B, but some have a luxurious, smooth, quiet ride, while others allow you to hear more road noise and feel the bumps in the road. Home elevators are the same way. While riding in some home elevators, you hear all kinds of noises and feel the bumps, yet while riding in other home elevators, you wonder if you are even moving until suddenly you have arrived at your destination.
The materials in some home elevators have been chosen for their low price point while other elevatorsí parts are chosen for their performance. The most expensive elevators have custom cabs that can look like a birdcage, glass capsule or spaceship, and ride on a commercial elevator sling. For good examples of this type of elevator, look at the cab pictures at www.CustomCabsInd.com These elevator systems are at the high end of the spectrum and will easily run over $100,000. Next down the line are the high-end elevators that allow the use of hundreds of pounds of stone flooring, chandliers and other heavy materials to be installed in the cab. They have a higher weight capacity and overall more heavy duty materials. CemcoLift makes this type of elevator, as well as a high-end standard residential elevator. Not all residential elevator companies may choose to install these types of elevator as they are not easy to install and require a higher level of expertise. These are the types of home elevators you typically find in higher end homes, as the price tags, typically $24,000 - $50,000, match the high quality and level of expertise required. The parts are chosen for their quality and performance and there are many options available to customize your elevator.
In the mid-range, you will find most home elevators in the $16,000 - $25,000 range, depending on your travel and options such as automatic gate and door operators. In this range, you are better off choosing the dealer first and then the home elevator. This is the arena where your best product will be based on how well it is installed. Choosing the least expensive elevator or dealer in this category is usually not the best route. If the price is too low, the company probably does not have the best installers, which is critical to the performance and safety of your elevator. Most residential elevator companies sell a number of different brands within this price range. The focus of the manufacturers in this range has been to make the installation as easy and quick as possible, while keeping the cost of the parts down. This is where most of the home elevator business falls. This is the perfect elevator for the average home. The mid-range home elevators are made by companies such as Savaria Concord, TK Access, Federal Elevator, Matot, National Wheel-o-vator, American Crescent and Inclinator.
On the low end of the spectrum, there are small winding drum elevators without all the bells and whistles of the other elevators. These are your elevators where function is your primary concern. These lowest-end residential elevators don't have the battery lowering option or the finish options that come standard on the more expensive elevators. A good example of this type of elevator is the Windsor by TK Access. Some people who are looking in the price range will choose a vertical lift instead of an elevator, as some vertical lifts are available with the battery lowering even in this price range. If you start out by telling the company what price range you are looking in, they can head you in the right direction quicker.
Keep in mind that the cost of the elevator is only part of your project budget. You will also need to get a price to build the hoistway which houses the elevator, as well as bring over the power and phone line required for your residential elevator. It is not unusual for a mid-range residential elevator installation project to cost $60,000 including the construction of the hoistway. Some of the lower end elevators do not require as much construction so may only cost in the $20,000 - $25,000 range. Just be sure to take the construction costs into account when considering the installation of a home elevator.
Test Ride - If you know a person who has a residential elevator, ask if you can ride their home elevator. If you don't know anyone with a home elevator, your dealer can usually take you to another customer's home, but please only do this if you are fairly confident that you are ready to purchase from that elevator dealer. Showroom installations may not be indicative of what is really done in the field as the elevator is right there and can be constantly dialed in. Ask to see inside the hoistway and in the machine room. Look at the wiring and the care with which all the pieces were installed. Ask what all the pieces are and how they work. If your consultant doesn't know, that person may not know enough about the products they are selling to really know what will be best for you. The installers must be very attentive to the details of your elevator. We have seen a traveling cable tear on a small screw that stuck out from the hoistway wall.
Residential Elevator Break-downs - As elevators age, they are going to need pieces and parts replaced occasionally, just as a vehicle would. You should also expect to have maintenance done once a year to make sure everything is running correctly and there are no signs of wear anywhere. Home elevators typically fail due to human error, not mechanical failure. One example of a break-down we have seen that may surface at the beginning of an elevator's life is if a factory technician did not install a wire securely at the factory, it may not show up until the elevator has been used a few times. Contractors are also very hard on elevators and as long as they are still working in or around the elevator, they often step on wires or pull wires loose (not covered under warranty.) If your elevator technician takes a short cut, or does not have enough experience, they may leave a wire loose in the hoistway or leave a fitting sticking out that may catch your traveling cable. Another cause of an elevator not running is if you, the rider, drive your scooter or wheelchair into the gate or fall against the elevator gate, you could break your gate switch which will cause the elevator to stop running (also not covered by your warranty.) Residential elevator break-downs are quite rare, but these examples show why you should choose your manufacturer and installer carefully.
Referrals - If you ask for a referral, remember that you will be given a name only of someone who that dealer knows liked their work and their product, so requested referrals are not a very accurate source of information.
If you can find a good local company to work with, they can assist you in choosing the right product for you. However, you still should be well informed as to your elevator choices. The process is very similar to buying a vehicle. All elevators will get you from Point A to Point B, but the manner in which you travel is up to you.