Boring Old Elevator Contracts

Contract PhotoI remember buying my first house. I was so anxious to move in that I barely perused the mounds of paper in front of me. The banker kept pushing documents towards me and I continued to sign. Promissory note? Title insurance? Escrow? I had no idea. I just knew to get the house, I had to scribble my John Hancock about a million times. I don’t know who said, “A signature is worth less the more it is signed.” But if that is true, mine wasn’t worth a plug nickel after that day. Or maybe it was the interest rate I agreed to?

In any case, the hard part of a major purchase is usually the contract.

Below is a list of the important components of an elevator maintenance contract and what they mean. It is our hope to help you navigate elevator ownership a bit better.

  1. Scheduled Maintenance – In basic terms, this is how often the elevator technician shows up to check on things and make adjustments to your elevator. The standard used to be one visit per month, but contracts have evolved, meaning fewer visits. Now, in some contracts, there is no specified number of visits at all. This can lead to a weird dynamic where you are paying a monthly invoice, but you are seeing your elevator technician quarterly or even less. To combat this, pay special attention to the frequency promised. Once you get the service you are paying for, always have someone assigned to check the log that every elevator should have and make sure they are doing what was promised. One ingenious building owner changed the key to the machine room so she knew exactly when the technician finally showed up. Turns out they were not living up to the promises in the contract.
  2. When will the contract end? – The longer the contract, the better the price, right? Not always. That is why it is important to shop contracts, prices and duration before you sign on the dotted line. Also, remember with longer contracts, you run the risk the company’s service will go downhill, and then you have little or no recourse.  Of course, if the same company is responsible for maintenance over a longer period of time, there is a chance that they will try to keep up with routine maintenance so larger problems won’t pop up.  A balanced approach with a trusted company is probably a better strategy than annual negotiations or a 10-plus year commitment.
  3. Automatic Renewals –  You probably can’t find an elevator contract without an automatic renewal clause. It protects the customer from a contract running out, the elevator breaking down and there not being an agreement in place to make the repairs at a reasonable price. However, this has become the most lopsided aspect of most elevator maintenance agreements. That is because most building owners are not watching the sand run through the hourglass on a five-year contract closely enough to cancel the contract according to the terms. There is usually a three month window of cancellation before the term ends, and if you miss it, too bad, so sad. You are stuck for another contract term. Our advice is cancel your contract now through certified letter. It doesn’t matter if there are still years on the deal; cancel immediately, then keep proof of the cancellation in your file.  This way, you can always get out of it at the end of the term. This can help with negotiation for the next contract as well.
  4. What’s covered? – One of the most frustrating things about elevator contracts for the building owner or manager is when a repair is needed, but the broken part is not covered. Make sure to see if ropes, motors, tanks, jacks, traveling cables, pumps and controllers are covered. This way, you can compare apple to apples when shopping the contract.
  5. Exclusions Apply –  No contract will cover everything, so it is a good idea up front to know what is not covered. Some of the most notable items usually excluded include: any damage due to vandalism, proprietary parts (never buy an elevator with proprietary parts), the machine room walls and doors, obsolete parts and buried pipes, liners and casings. Lastly, anything outside the control of the elevator contractor, including damage due to power fluctuations or leaving a dirty elevator door sill, won’t be covered. You can’t believe how many times elevators are down due to a small pebble in the sill track with repairs all at the owner’s expense.

Lastly, elevators and elevator contracts can be tricky and difficult to navigate so employing an elevator consultant may not be a bad idea. They can help sort all of this out and make recommendations based on your needs and budget before you sign your name one more time.

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It is time for a new elevator when…

DSC_0025We recently installed a brand new elevator at a middle school and the superintendent was kind enough to tell us why the project was such a success. If you are thinking about a new elevator instead of wrestling the old one, this video testimonial could be the most important video you see.  It is a fantastic and honest look at why they replaced an elevator and the problems they were having that led them to the decision to upgrade with a new Phoenix Modular Elevator.

So, video has gotten us all thinking, what are the signs that your elevator needs replacing or modernizing? Sometimes it is like you are walking in the dark and guessing, so here’s a short list of considerations:

  1. You begin viewing yourself as Ahab and the old elevator as Moby Dick.  To refresh your memory, Ahab goes nutty in a search for a big white whale (Moby Dick). He starts seeing the whale as pure unadulterated evil and desires to overcome it by any means necessary. If you have ever thought about your elevator as your evil nemesis or a Moriarty to your Holmes, you need to step back and do a cost benefit analysis of a modernization or replacement. Make sure to include in your spreadsheet the cost of sleepless nights caused by lamenting over the many elevator failures. An elevator should never be your enemy.
  2. The time between repairs is getting shorter and shorter. When you start to have a deeper relationship with the person on the other end of the line of your answering service for the elevator repair company than you do with members of your own family, you either need a new maintenance company or your elevator is just well past its prime. Believe it or not the average life for an elevator is around 30 years give or take. So, if your elevator is older than the Glenfiddich, single-malt Scotch whiskey, on your shelf, maybe it’s time for something new.
  3. Parts have to be manufactured out of whole-cloth because they don’t exist any more. Strange but true, elevator parts are pretty easy to find. As a matter of fact there are companies that specialize in rare parts for all kinds of elevators. Even if the company is long out of business, you can usually get what you need. A warning, it can take some time to get them shipped and arrive in a reasonable time, but if your elevator technician is literally having your broken parts mended or fabricated because the elevator company has gone the way of the dodo, it might be time for an alternative especially if combined with point #2.
  4. The current elevator is not ADA compatible and the shaft or hoistway is too small to accommodate a modernization to a compliant elevator. People, its 2019 and time to make your building accessible. A modernization is a great way to give your elevator a complete overhaul. You can have cosmetic improvements, but also full-blown replacements of jacks and sheaves and motors depending on the need. The problem is when the existing elevator shaft or hoistway is just too small to accommodate a larger elevator car. In that case a new elevator hoistway and car are needed.
  5. You’re tired of talking to people through closed elevator doors. If you find yourself constantly shouting through a closed elevator door to people trapped inside, you may need a new elevator. But, if you like helping people through the anxiety and feeling of entrapment, then by all means keep your old one. After all it is sometimes difficult to meet new people or have a captive audience for your amateur stand-up routine. However, if your comedy act is flat you might want to look into a new elevator or modernization.

The above symptoms are just the tip of the iceberg. There can be even more reasons but, most often it is a lethal combination of all or several of the points above that spell the demise of the old white whale you have in your building. If you are not sure if you need a new elevator, feel free to contact us for a realistic discussion about when it is time to replace or modernize.

Elevator Ropes – The Basics

ricardo-mancia-582830-unsplashThere are two primary types of ways an elevator moves up and down. For low-rise applications (buildings between two and four floors) hydraulic jacks are king. The jacks can be in- ground or above ground, single stage or telescopic and can provide nearly 100 feet of travel depending on the circumstances and need (see chart below).

They are most often the wisest choice if you are wanting to go just a couple floors or so. When you hit five floors plus you have to start looking at several different options and once your elevator requirements move beyond 100 feet there really is only one way to go and that is with a roped system.  The only exception to the rule is a crazy hybrid that uses both ropes and hydraulics (roped hydraulic). These are getting as rare as unicorns.

Jack Travel-01

With that said, let’s take a brief look at elevator ropes and the different types you can find in an elevator. First, keep in mind when elevator people say ropes, we are not meaning ropes that you climbed in gym class or made a lasso out of when playing Cowboys and Indians.

Elevator ropes are highly engineered and made of steel with other composites. Also they are not single wires but several strands of various sizes wrapped together.  A typical cable or rope can have over 150 strands of wire precisely designed to be strong, flexible, and give long service. Multiple wire strands are used to increase the life of the cable and give flexibility. When you run a cable over a pulley wheel or sheave, the part of the wire on the sheave makes a shorter trip than the outside of the wire. This stretching over time would create weakness for a single strand. So elevator ropes are flexible strong and give long life if maintained properly. For a great resource on ropes go to the Elevator World site here!

The types of rope in an elevator can vary depending on the job that they need to do. Here are some of the more common ropes you can find lurking in your hoistway:

  • Hoisting Ropes – These are the ropes you see in all the movies.  Several are used to suspend the elevator cab and make the car go up and down. These are also the cables used for the counterweights as the counterweights and elevator car are in the same system. The counterweights do just what they are called; they counter the weight of the elevator car when loaded so it takes less effort to move the car up and down. High-strength ropes are used in high rises due to the required speeds that you see today. For instance the fastest moving elevator car in the world, hits a speed that you would find on freeways; an astounding 45 miles per hour! Ultimately the grade of steel is not only determined by the speed but on the car capacity as well. The heavier the weight the car can lift, the higher strength required.
  • Governor Ropes – A governor is part of elevator safety that you will find in the hoistway or overhead space. The second that an elevator car starts falling or even rising too fast, the governor triggers the safety mounted on the car frame and brings the car to a halt. The governor rope runs over the governor sheave and down to the elevator car and is attached to the safety trip mechanism. The governor rope continues all the way down to the pit and runs under a sheave down there and then makes the journey back to the governor. This governor rope arrangement forms a continuous loop while the elevator moves up and down the hoistway. If the car starts going too fast, centrifugal force pushes flyweights outward in the governor against the spring.  In simplistic terms it tells the brakes to kick in and stops the car from falling or rising too quickly. As this entire safety system relies on the governor rope, it is very important that it is reliable and in great working condition.
  • Compensating Ropes – Turns out that all of the cable or rope to make an elevator car go up and down is really heavy. This is especially true for really tall buildings. Think about this; a standard one inch elevator cable can weigh 1.85 pounds per foot. As elevator cable makes several trips up and down the hoistway, this weight can really add up. So compensating ropes “compensate” for all the weight of the hoisting ropes on the car or counterweight side. Probably any elevator that exceeds 100′ of travel needs these ropes that are connected to the sling that holds the car and the counterweight frame.

The most important thing about any elevator rope is that they must be in good operating condition at all times. This means inspected often. The technician when performing routine checks doesn’t just look up the hoistway, nod their head and move on; they must check the ropes closely for proper tension, any wear patterns, the diameter of the rope, any rusting, pitting or breaks in strands, the sheaves, proper lubrication and connections.

That is why when you go with a traction elevator, you are paying a lot more in monthly maintenance fees and also why you need to monitor the frequency of the visits and how long the mechanic is taking in the machine room, overhead, and hoistway. You are paying through the nose, so make sure they are spending their time doing what they are supposed to be doing. If you have any questions at all, discuss your elevator with an elevator consultant, work with the elevator inspector, ask them plenty of questions and discuss concerns. If all else fails, contact another independent elevator technician to check things out with an opinion as to current maintenance.

Maintenance Means Long Life

20181204_165053Recently on an elevator modernization job undertaken by the Phoenix Modular Elevator’s service team, some artifacts from the 1920’s were discovered. Not only was there a rack of tools from nearly 100 years ago, but diodes, relays, chains and gears that looked better suited for the set of a Frankenstein movie rather than an elevator machine room. Even our well-seasoned crew leader at the site was stunned enough to snap a few shots before work began.

Old Control UnitThis real old elevator and machine room faithfully gave service from 1926 to present, but finally gave up the ghost. Many would attribute that kind of longevity to the simple design. There were not many bells and whistle on elevators in the Roaring Twenties. Others would say that craftsmanship and attention to detail were the key and that just doesn’t exist anymore in this age of mass production and plastic. But a more likely answer is the owner and elevator service company had a long-term commitment to service. We see hundreds of elevators each year and commitment to service seems to be the biggest difference between the elevators that have a long life and those that don’t.

But unfortunately service is starting to take a backseat in some respects.

Years ago in the elevator industry, the standard was monthly service. Every time the calendar flipped to a new page or month you could expect the friendly elevator technician to show up and inspect, test, grease, adjust and oil. Hands got dirty and wrenches were turned. With this elevator that meant the technicians were committed and cared for this venerable old mechanism, made evident by the longevity of the elevator itself.

1926 Center Hatch BoxCurrently the standard is not monthly in most maintenance contracts as defined by the bigger companies. Wiggle words have started creeping into contractual language and now “monthly” has evaporated from the lexicon and has been replaced by the term “periodic”.  Even in a circumstance where the customer had the definition of periodic in the contract changed to be defined as monthly the elevator company tried to only show up when they wanted. When the elevator mechanic didn’t show up as expected the customer fought and won but that is a battle few undertake. The customer that argued the terms of their agreement was hoping the elevator in their building would surpass the usual 25 years of service and give a lifetime of reliability, like the one we recently modernized.

All they really need is great, consistent maintenance and little luck. Eighty years later Phoenix Modular Elevator may have another modernization to do and whoever is around then can marvel at the technology from 2018.

Let It Snow – 5 Ways to Get Your Elevator Ready

SnowWe are getting unseasonable and unreasonable snow in our neck of the woods–Southern Illinois–so we thought we would revisit precautions for cold weather when it comes to your elevator.

First, we begin with two words that are rarely used in terms of elevators anymore but are likely the most important…preventative maintenance. It is the easiest way to ensure that your elevator will give you great service throughout the entire year, but especially in winter. Routine inspections will catch problems that can cause shutdowns before they happen. Unfortunately, many contracts that once specified monthly checkups no longer exist. The friendly elevator technician seems to visit less and less, unless there is an emergency. So first things first, check your current contract and see if you are owed a visit. If so, schedule one pronto! While the technician is there, cover the items listed below. You should make every effort to look into these with your service provider before the wintry weather gets too bad:

  1. Hydraulic oil temps – A chill in the air can cause fluctuations in temperature of the hydraulic fluid that makes your elevator run. Optimally, the oil should be between 75 to 95 degree Fahrenheit, although it can tolerate temps lower and higher. If you have no heat in the machine room, your equipment is in a garage or on a roof with windy weather, you may need to see about getting a tank heater or insulating the machine room and getting some heat. You know you may have a problem with this if your elevator has trouble leveling at the floor properly.
  2. Have you ever heard an elevator moan and groan? That could also be due to cold weather. The grease or lubricant on the rails may be dry or sticky.  You have probably heard the term “Slower than molasses in the winter.”  Your lubricant can be the same. You may need to check with the maintenance provider if you are hearing odd, creaking noises from the hoistway. They can grease the skids, so to say.
  3. If your elevator car is just too cold in the winter, you may have the elevator parked on a cold floor. Many elevators have exterior access and sometimes the car is inadvertently parked at those floors when idle. Be sure to not have your car automatically parked at exterior hoistway openings or parking garage entrances. If you want a cozier ride, have the car park on a floor with heat and air.
  4. Have your technician double check the battery lowering or battery backup system. Many elevators have a way for the elevator to automatically move to the lowest or main floor for egress when the power goes out. A battery is used for that lowering. If the power goes out due to ice storms or heavy snow, the backup is needed. So, now is the time to make sure the system works as intended.
  5. Check the sump pump – Most elevators have a pump in the bottom of the pit. The purpose, of course, is to keep water from building up in the pit and damaging the equipment that resides at the bottom of the hoistway. It turns out, having standing water is a bad thing, and if the pump is broken, turned off or unplugged, that standing water can turn to ice in the winter and make things worse. To prevent ice from building up and creating problems with freezes and thaws, make sure your tech checks the pump.

If you are a building owner or manager, it is a good idea to take care of getting these specific items looked at as soon as possible. Due to the reduction of the occurrence of monthly maintenance and most companies only providing maintenance when they want to, it may take a prompting phone call. It is much better to deal with scheduling the visit now than when someone gets stuck or the elevator stops working. Remember, cold weather can cause all sorts of problems, both immediate or over a long period of time. Be proactive so your elevator can give you years of reliable service.