Recently modernized elevator car. New fixtures and interior are just part of a modernization.

Tips – Dealing with an Elevator Modernization

Recently modernized elevator car. New fixtures and interior are just part of a modernization.
Recently modernized elevator car. New fixtures and interior are just part of a modernization.

The cost of a complete pit to roof-top machine room makeover can easily run in the tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the total travel distance, type of elevator, and work to be done. But writing the check is just the tip of the hatred iceberg.

Why the hate? Because modernization comes with a myriad of problems. As the building owner or manager, you have to make all sorts of decisions and accommodations, coordinating the intricate dance of building tenants with elevator personnel. Some need to get in and out and others up and down. Schedules have to be merged, communications opened, storage areas coordinated, parking and unloading allowed, inconveniences avoided, and ruffled feelings assuaged. Patience is the watchword, as modernization work can drag on from a couple months to often over a year. In that time span, patience can wear as thin as crepe paper. Then the anger and hate sinks in as reasonable people become less so.

It is best to snuff out the reason for the hate before you get hip deep, and proactive communication and understanding can keep you from that point of burning rage. Two lines of communication need to be opened, maintained, and nurtured, first to the tenant and then to the elevator company.

The Tenant

For the manager and building owners, it is important not to forget the tenant. These are the people that the elevator folks seem to forget to the point of being considered a near nuisance. The elevator techs feel that the tenants want in or out of the building in the middle of a crucial aspect of the elevator work, or that they interrupt the work with questions and complaints. However, it is important to remember that they, the tenants, are in essence paying for the modernization, as their rent is where the funds come from. But too often, their concerns are ignored or given the back seat. In both apartment buildings and office complexes, reliance on the elevator is the reality for the people who use and pay rent in the building.

Keep in mind that early on, for a day or so, hoofing it up a flight or two doesn’t seem all that inconvenient.  But a week and a couple bunions later, you’ll see the best of tenants question the need for the new elevator equipment and wonder why it is taking so long. Be aware, of this and go the extra mile in communication and convenience. Part of that is being ready and willing to discuss the following in an open and forthright manner if you are the building manager or owner:

  1. Why the update is needed. Is it safety? To bring the elevator up to code? Both? More? Be ready to explain everything, warts and all, pluses and negatives.
  2. The timeline agreed to. Nothing is worse than mentally preparing yourself for a big inconvenience and then having it drag on for weeks past the promised deadline. Give updates often.
  3. The noise. Let the tenants know that working on an elevator can be loud. There is sometimes drilling and hammering involved and heavy equipment being moved.
  4. Dust, dirt, and grime. Let the tenants know that, although every effort will be made to contain the mess, some will sneak through. It is a work area.
  5. Tenants’ needs. Ask how you can help your tenants out or if they have a significant need on the horizon. Sometimes it is nothing more than hiring some strong backs to do extra lifting or getting a hand truck.
  6. Safety.  Remind your tenants to follow directions and signs that warn of dangers.

The Elevator Contractor

There is a similar list for dealing with the elevator contractor. Often they will hedge, but a reputable and experienced elevator company will be able to give you the following information:

  1. An honest timeline in writing. A day or two leeway is nice and forgivable, but beyond that and you should lower the boom. If the contractor is off the target more than a couple days, they either don’t know what they are doing, didn’t do a good job with the site survey, or didn’t follow the Modernization Checklist produced by NAEC. The bottom line is that if they are days or weeks off, it is not your fault but theirs. Let them know about it.
  2. A list of your responsibilities. This should be contained in the contract you sign. Highlight them and make sure you are not the problem. If you promised the contractor after-hours access, then you must provide for that. If you promised them onsite storage, then you must give it to them. Don’t get in the way of the job finishing on time.
  3. Special concerns or needs in writing. Memories are short, so don’t rely on yours. Also, no contract is carved in stone. Add anything that you want to make sure you are clear on compensation and to see to it that the concerns are addressed.
  4. Comparative contracts. Let’s just say that you need to keep everyone honest. Sometimes they all come in close, but watch out if one is really low. They could be missing something big. Check what they are going to do in comparison to what the other companies are offering in writing–not just a nebulous “replace jack,” but each step and item required.
  5. References. No, really, check references.
  6. Non-propriety parts. Proprietary parts are nothing more than a gun to your head for a lucrative, one-way maintenance agreement with the installer. Don’t budge on this point; non-proprietary parts will cost you more in fees and maintenance over the life of the unit than the cost of the unit itself overall.

I know these lists of pointers cannot fully extinguish the angst of dealing with a modernization, but I certainly hope it helps. Whether we like it or not, every elevator will need updating at some point. So take your time, consider how you can help, and drop the hate.

Advertisements
A view from under the elevator car of an in-ground jack.

Hydraulic – Don’t Believe What You Hear

A view from under the elevator car of an in-ground jack.
A view from under the elevator car of an in-ground jack with the piston extended.

Rumors are not relegated to the far reaches of society or the hoi polloi.  They can encompass the middle and upper classes, sometimes making the chatter even more believable. This idle talk can be about subjects as innocuous as elevators. One of the fabricated tales often heard by those in the periphery of the elevator industry is that hydraulic elevators are bad for the environment. This old canard is based on out-of-date technology and just plain old poor information, but yet the rumor still survives. Just like JFK assassination theories, stories of aliens visiting with Donald Trump in the White House, and Hitler living in Brazil with Elvis, the persistent fable rears its ugly head all too consistently. The truth of the matter is that modern hydraulic elevators pose no real threat to the environment and to say otherwise is a prevarication of the worst order.

However, true anti-hydraulicists often echo this line as if from the mouths of angels:

The elevator will cause the groundwater to be infiltrated by the poisonous oils that make the elevator go up and down. These contaminants will travel through underground aquifers to the local lakes, streams, creeks, and rivers, thus choking off fish and other wildlife and harming children that swim in them. 

In reality, the facts about hydraulic elevators tell a much different story:

In ground hydraulic jack

Hydraulic elevators go up because hydraulic fluid pushes a piston or plunger inside a jack up by a motor and pump in a tank.  This causes the elevator to rise when you push a button. That much is true. It is also true that the jack can be in the ground. What the fear-monger fails to mention is that now elevator jacks are all encased in heavy PVC piping that catches any leaks.  No fluid will reach the ground, the groundwater, or the rivers and streams. Because the jacks are not in dirt or groundwater and because the casing is plastic, they tend not to rust out at all, giving decades of reliable service. 

Yes, but what if the the jack breaks, then the PVC fails? What then?

Well, believe it or not, hydraulic fluid has changed over the decades, and when a new hydraulic elevator is installed or the oil is changed, a biodegradable oil can be part of the package. For instance, AgriTech produces soy-based hydraulic elevator fluids that are designed specifically for use in elevator hydraulic systems for pressurized fluid. This oil is anti-wear, non-corrosive, and high performance.  But just as importantly, this oil is truly green and renewable. 

Another reason that hydraulic elevators are safe is that many hydraulic elevator jacks aren’t in the ground anymore. It is true that some jacks are still in ground. It is often the best option, depending on the travel distance of the elevator. But now for most operations between two and four stories, you will find two jacks that work in tandem to push the elevator to the desired height. These jacks are sitting on the bottom of a four-foot-deep, concrete elevator pit that is under every commercial elevator. The tops of these jacks are attached to a sling on both the sides of the elevator car. From there, even if there is a leak, it will never be more fluid than the pit can hold. If the sump pump tries to pump out the oil, many jurisdictions require an oil/water separator.

So you can see, the elevator industry has evolved, making the product safer for the elevator-traveling public and the environment. One hopes that once and for all, we can dispel the myth of the dangerous hydraulic elevator.

Traction Elevator Safety – A True Tale

Empirestate540**Disclaimer: Read to the end. Don’t stop halfway through, no matter how much you want to, or you will regret it.

The date was July 28, 1945. The time, 9:40 AM. The city, New York. A thick fog blanketed the five boroughs, and the buzz over the fog shrouded skyline was that of a two-engine B-25 Mitchell bomber winging its way to New Jersey from Bedford Army Airfield in nearby Massachusetts. Despite warnings of zero visibility, Lieutenant Colonel William Franklin Smith Jr. pressed forward with the mission of transporting personnel.

Simultaneously, a 20-year-old elevator operator named Betty Lou Oliver, originally from Fort Smith, Arkansas, was on duty in the Empire State Building, on the 80th floor in the #6 elevator.  Elevator operators were common in the 40s. They were almost always young women that had graduated from a charm school, and they did more than just punch buttons. They were expected to know the building inside and out so they could guide visitors to the right floor and represent the building owner to the public.

Miss Oliver was in the elevator when suddenly, the building shook, and the sound of crushing metal and disintegrating bricks and mortar filled the foggy air.

The disoriented pilot had hit the Empire State Building at the 79th floor, tearing a gaping 18×20-foot hole in the north side. The building was immediately engulfed in flames from the fuel, and pieces of the plane became projectiles.  Shards of glass and metal filled the air up and down 5th Avenue. One of the engines landed a full block away, while the other engine and some of the landing gear were thrown into the elevator shaft, where they  plummeted to the bottom. Miss Oliver was ejected from her post in the elevator car, suffering burns, a broken pelvis, and broken vertebrae in her neck and back.

The flames were doused quickly, and rescue teams entered the building, searching for survivors. Betty Lou was found in a pile of rubble, and although in significant pain, she was still alive. She received medical attention and was placed in an elevator to be evacuated to the ground floor. But then things went from bad to worse.

The engine and landing gear that had fallen down the elevator hoistway had hit the cables suspending the car, severing them in the process. When the button for the first floor was pushed and the elevator doors closed, the elevator car plummeted 79 floors to the basement.

This still remains the only elevator car fall due to a complete cable system failure. A standard elevator contains several cables (up to eight), and each can hold the weight of a fully loaded car. Also, there are braking systems in place that stop the cables if there is a problem. Unfortunately, the problem in this case was that there were no cables still attached to the car. So only in this extremely rare occurrence, when all of the cables failed simultaneously, would a fall ever occur. That is why, despite movies and horror stories, elevators are one of the safest modes of transportation in existence.

According to ConsumerWatch.com, “U.S. elevators make 18 billion passenger trips per year.” All of those ups and downs result in about 27 deaths annually, according to estimates from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Consumer Product Safety Commission. That works out to a fatality rate of 0.00000015 per trip. If you exclude people who pry open elevator doors and fall in the hoistway or who intentionally misuse the elevator, or elevator techs, then that number goes down even more.

So, what happened to Betty Lou Oliver, the woman injured in a freak accident only to face death again? Believe it or not, she survived. The thousands of feet of elevator cable cushioned her descent, letting her live another day and many more after that. She recovered in less than eight months and even went back to the Empire State Building to ride to the top once more. She then returned to Fort Smith, Arkansas, with her husband, Oscar Lee Oliver. She had three children and seven grandchildren and died November 24, 1999, at the ripe old age of 74.

 

Close the Door on Elevator Repairs

Sill
A clean sill.

Elevator doors open and close all the time. As a matter of fact, according to the Elevator History website, every three days, elevators worldwide carry the equivalent of the Earth’s total population. With a global population of 7.4 billion, that’s a lot of elevator trips! And that means there are lots of doors opening and closing.

Mechanically, elevator doors are very reliable, especially when you are considering the total use, but they can, and do, have failures. The good news is that not all problems with the doors means a catastrophic breakdown, and there are some very specific, easy and safe actions you can take if your elevator doors aren’t working as well as they could.

The simple maintenance tips below can help keep the elevator and its doors running smoothly without waiting for the elevator technician to show up. This is especially true if the problems include slow closing doors or doors that are staying open when they are supposed to close.

  • Clean the sill plate – The elevator door sill is the usually metallic plate that you step over every time you walk through the doors into the elevator car. What you may not have known is that this is not just a transitional piece of decoration. It is the actual track that the elevator doors slide back and forth on. A small plastic piece on the bottom of the door slides back and forth in the sill track, so a small rock or even heavy dirt build-up can cause the door to become jammed or slowed. The solution is a good cleaning. Use a soft brush or vacuum cleaner to make sure the track is debris free.
  • An obstruction is not the only thing to look for in the sill plate. Check for any sticky substances. Many times, because the sill goes unnoticed, building maintenance personnel don’t realize the groove in the sill plate is supposed to be clean. They see a brown goo in the track and think it has always been there or should be there. Especially in high traffic elevators such as hotels, we see tons of soda-pop spilled in the sill. This creates a sticky film that often gums up the works and can impede the door from opening and closing. This is a little harder to clean, but try some soapy water and a mild scouring pad.
  • In most elevators today, there are what looks like simple black plastic strips that are on the edge of the door and on the door jamb of the elevator car from the floor to the top of the door. These are more than just a single light beams like the old days. They generate an infrared light curtain that if interrupted by any object, tell the door to open. This is to prevent the door closing on people and reduce injuries. These infrared lights can be interrupted by dirt or wax build-up from the wrong type of cleaning fluid on the infrared sensors, paint or even something just hanging in the way and being blown into the light path.  Give the black strips a good cleaning and make sure it is not blocked by anything. Be careful, though! Even heavy scratches can cause a false reading.

Of course, if you are not certain about what should be in the sill track or how to clean the components, call the elevator maintenance team you are contracted with and get a better explanation or schedule an appointment, but a good cleaning can go a long way in the operation of the doors. One thing for sure, we have seen all varieties of obstructions from pen caps and bottle caps to coins and pencils. All can stop the door from proper functioning.

Remember that if you add these cleaning tasks to the monthly building maintenance schedule, it should help keep the doors sliding like they should and close the door on some of the elevator repairs.

Taylor Swift and Your Elevator Contract

wonderful-taylor-swift-desktop-free-hd-background-mobile-cute-smile-look

Do you remember when Taylor Swift was 18? She was Fearless and still sangin’ country. How about insulated Crocs – the shoes you could eat? Blockbuster video stores? Or RadioShack? These are all ancient history; including Taylor’s twang.  They have all disappeared or were a fad that faded with time, all from around ten years ago give or take.

One of the few things that, unfortunately, has survived longer tha

n any of this is probably your current elevator service contract. They are horribly lopsided agreements specifically designed to keep you locked in and shelling out too much money for too long a period of time. Even despite bad service, as seen in the complaint from a website below, the only thing that will survive the Apocalypse will be the Crocs on your feet, Twinkies, cockroaches and your elevator maintenance agreement. Here is the all too often common complaint and threat that you can find:

“Unfortunately, our Condo has joined XXXXXXX’s list of unhappy customers.  Our homeowner’s association pays this company nearly $6,000 a year to have them on a service retainer.  $6K to basically do nothing! So when something goes wrong, I expect them to be on it.  Our elevator has been down over a week while they figure out how to order parts.  Seriously?  Have you heard of air shipping? This is so unacceptable.  Our next HOA meetings agenda we will be discussing how to terminate our contract this company.”

Believe it or not, despite the complaints the elevator company does not care about you or your homeowner’s association (HOA). Shocking to hear that admission from the elevator industry itself, but it is true. Why, you may ask? Because you are being played. The big elevator companies intentionally have contracts for maintenance that are five years in length or more. The five year time period is pitched as standard and most people willingly sign them.  The sand starts running to the bottom of the hourglass but it goes slowly and memories quickly fade. You don’t even think about the contract until the renewal date approaches, but then it is too late.

Then, without any notice, the maintenance contract, which has an intentionally exceedingly weird window for termination renews automatically.  This is because the elevator company is banking on the HOA, building owner or business in question to have changed leadership, lost the starch out of their ire or the terms of the contract signed so long ago that they have long since been lost. Most people have bigger fish to fry so the renewal time passes unnoticed until of course there is a breakdown or the customer receives notice of the bill going up (which it will), and then it is too late. Cue the evil laugh.

If you do not believe me, here is the language from a standard elevator maintenance contract:

“This contract shall commence on January 1, 2008 and shall continue for a non-cancellable period of 5 years.  It shall automatically renew for additional 5-year periods unless either party delivers written notice at least 120 days in advance of any renewal date*, of their intent to terminate this agreement.” *emphasis added.

So, if you sign a maintenance contract today and in five years miss that magical 120-day window before the end of the contract, five years after the ink has dried, you are locked in for another five years and get this, there are automatic fee increases all along the way.

Once that next five years has run, suddenly you are wondering where all the time and money went and how Taylor Swift can still look like she is 18 years old after 5, 10, or 20 years has passed (I, personally, think she is a Vampire). Looking into the crystal ball and seeing into the future of 2025, you will also be surprised that T-Swift has breathed more life into her ever expanding career by conquering the heavy metal genre and going Goth, and also that your elevator contract is still bleeding you money each month for very little service as you missed the cancellation window again.

It is enough to drive you crazy!

So, let me do us all a favor by telling you how you can avoid missing the date and wringing your hands with worry over the cancellation. First and foremost, quit complaining on blogs and faceless websites and take some proactive action that matters! Right now, take out your elevator contract, find the official address and send them a cancellation notice by certified mail. Then, you will have at least tapped on the window for cancellation. This helps in a couple of great ways: It will enhance your negotiation position and allow you to shop for other companies. Something you can discuss at your next HOA.

As far as Taylor is concerned, you are on your own.  I only wish I could have a solution so easy when it comes to avoiding her over the next ten years.