Taylor Swift and Your Elevator Contract

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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.

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Please Check Your Specs

PlansWhen it comes to new elevator installations or big modernization projects, it is crucial to check your specs. I am talking about the specifications of the project where the elevator is concerned (Section 14) and the very basis for the bids you will get for the job to be completed. One of the no-nos we see most is the old copy-and-paste routine where old plans or ideas get dragged and dropped into place without the slightest run through or consideration (we’ve actually seen specs with the wrong project name because they were copied-and-pasted right from another project). The more complex the overall project, the more likely someone just plopped old specs down from previous jobs. Resist this temptation as it could keep you from finding the right fit at the right cost.

How can this time saving, “control c”, “control v” hurt you down the road? Here is one example:

We made a sale at Phoenix Modular Elevator in the New Elevator Sales Division of the company. After the celebration and all the corks were popped, reality started to sink in on the part of the customer. Despite us being the lowest price overall and a great fit for the elevator (including the car, hoistway wiring and installation), they asked if we could squeeze a bit more out of the price and the elevator car was the first place they started looking for savings.

In the specifications for the elevator that we put in a bid for, that they signed off on, bought, and was being produced was a steel-core elevator cab. The problem with a steel cab is that they are way more expensive (to the tune of three times as much), but do not offer any benefits that a wood core cab wouldn’t offer. As a matter of fact, steel cabs are louder, rattle more over time, are more prone to have mechanical failures, and no where else can you sound as much like you are in a tin can. But, steel cabs are easier to handle, because they come in panels, when you are building an elevator car in a vertical shaft (a truly dumb way to build an elevator). We build ours outside of the hoistway and insert the cab in the manufacturing process. So, we can do either steel or wood core cabs. It makes no difference to us other than cost. Sadly, it was just too late for this customer’s project and that potential cost savings was lost because someone copied and pasted the specs.

When we called to confirm details, we were told to “Quote to the spec.”

If they had taken a closer look at the specifications early on, then this could have been avoided. They could have indicated no preference for the type of cab and we would have included the less expensive, much quieter, wood core model. So, with that said, here are specific things that you should make sure are correct in your specs:

  1. Type of cab: steel or wood. Either are fine but steel can drive costs.
  2. Mode of conveyance: Fancy way of saying how it goes up. Too many folks are sold more expensive options.
  3. Capacity: How much can it carry. Measured in weight such as 3000 lb. to 5000 lb. or more. Local and national code can dictate the capacity, but often, especially with multi-elevator projects, there’s a bit of wiggle room as long as one unit meets code required capacity.
  4. Footprint: I can’t tell you how often we have read the specs. and then the size changes later on down the road. If you’re not restricted by a pre-existing hoistway, chances are any code complaint unit will be more than fine, regardless of the dimensions listed on the spec.
  5. Special needs: ADA compliant (all of our units are), gurney compliant, or freight.
  6. Door type: Side slide or center parting; two speed vs. single speed.
  7. Type of finish: We take the time to price out the specified finish, so be sure that you absolutely need or want the stainless steel ceiling or metal panels sometimes called out in the spec.
  8. Stainless steel or other finishes for the doors and jambs.
  9. Additional features – Only include ones you really want (battery lowering, NEMA4 fixtures, security features, etc.). We’ve spoken to a number of people who asked why our price was so high, and when we went through the spec, they realized they didn’t need the card-reader security feature or vandal resistant hall calls.
  10. Is modular a suitable replacement?

We can provide any of the above and more. If you have a special request in mind, we can and have done it before. However, asking for things like center parting doors instead of side slide, just because it’s “in the spec”, can cost you. Keep in mind that, by-and-large passengers don’t care about or notice most of these things, so you don’t have to care either. Most people just want to push a button and for the elevator to go up (or down, as the case might be).

If you are not sure about any of the above, it’s ok to ask for standard, baseline packages and then add on to the elevator once you have compared everyone based on the same specs. Additionally, we will look over the plans and make sure that everything will meet code and function.

I wish we had a dime every time we priced according to the specs, made a call to verify and are told emphatically to follow the specs, but when the job is awarded, the specs are then changed. Suddenly, we are quoting and re-quoting, the price goes either up or down depending on what is missing or wrong. Many elevator companies have caught on to the fact that specs are just copied and they don’t follow them at all. They just quote their standard and in the fine print on the quote it indicates that the price will change once the contract is awarded. This defeats the purpose of requesting bids at all where one company follows the specs and another doesn’t.

Please, Use the Fireman’s Key (Not an Ax)

Hall CallThere is as old joke about fireman’s keys in the elevator business. Basically, if someone is stuck in the elevator and 911 is called, the way firemen get people out of the elevator is with the “fireman’s key”…their ax.

For any joke to be funny there has to be some truth behind the humor. So, chances are, more than once emergency personnel have used an ax or other implement of destruction to pry someone free from a stuck elevator. It is a (sad) reality and probably happens more than it should. After all, the purpose for the call to 911 is to get someone out of a stuck elevator and not to necessarily worry about the state of the elevator doors afterward.

Part of the problem is that in some areas, fire departments do not have the resources to have tons of training on elevator passenger extraction and, honestly, not much opportunity to receive this training, even if the resources were available. In the area we are located in, some communities may have only one or two elevators in the whole town. That means that the possibility of rescues are extremely limited and, more often than not, the passenger is freed due to the actions of the elevator service technician long before 911 is dialed.

This also means that training is difficult to come by and is even more difficult to obtain when the elevator service company refuses to help with that training; this is an actual circumstance of a local fire department. We got a call from the fire chief asking if we could provide some rudimentary training on how to open elevator doors, extraction, and a break down of what all the keys are for.  Turns out, there is actually a fireman’s key that isn’t shaped like an ax.

The more cynical firemen believe that the rejection of training by the big elevator company may be a bit conspiratorial: bashing a door in with an ax creates the need for a new hatch, new adjustment, and new mechanisms. I take a slightly less cynical view, however: we have become aware that lots of fire departments have been turned down when they request this help, due to liability concerns.

We do try our best to accommodate the various emergency personnel, but I thought I would go over a couple things that may help in the mean time. For you building owners that don’t want your elevator door pried open with the jaws of life, especially in rural areas, I would recommend that you contact your fire department and see if they have had training. If not, let your elevator company know and ask them to schedule training on your equipment with the local department; you might have more sway towards convincing them seeing as you’re their paying customer. It could save headaches down the road.

Fireman’s basic tips that will help you deal with most problems:

  • Find the building or facility manager: You will need them to help you know what elevator is stuck if there is more than one, what floor it is near, where the machine room is and if the elevator technician has been called or in contact. Tell them the elevators will be out of service temporarily.
  • Assess the situation:  If it is not life-threatening and you have no formal training wait for the elevator company.  Give them a call to find out their ETA also they may have some real simple solutions over the phone.
  • Assure the passengers. Tell them they will not run out of air, get comfortable, stay away for the door and no smoking. Also, it is good to tell them that they are safe as elevators are designed not to fall.  Ask them to stay calm, not pry at the doors and not to look for the secret hatch in the ceiling. There is one but it only opens from the top of the car. Give them information as you get it. Most importantly tell the passengers to STAY IN THE CAB! Until told otherwise.
  • Ok the elevator company is not available right away. What then? A couple things to try. Have one crew member with communications ability to go to the machine room. Have them make sure the elevator is “On” in the machine room. Sounds crazy but sometimes if a whole building loses power or a phase of three phase power the elevator’s electricity could be tripped. If the elevator is off, turn it on. It can take a couple of minutes for the system to reset. You can also try turning the main power switch off and then restarting.
  • elevator-flame-hall-stationIf that doesn’t work, make sure the power is on. Then get the firefighter’s key from the building manager (stamped with FEOK1), one will be on site or the building manager may have one in a safe place.  Keep in mind some real old elevators do not have “Fire Service” at all so you just have to wait for the mechanic. Go to the lowest floor and look for the hall call (the elevator buttons). There should be a place to insert the key that when turned to the “on” position will automatically send the elevator cab to the lowest floor.

If this does not work then you will have to try more extensive rescue efforts that include: Turning off power to the elevator, locating the position of the stuck car, using an elevator door key to open the hatchway door (not your ax) above the stuck elevator car, lowering a ladder to the top of the elevator car if needed, opening the cab rescue hatch, lowering a ladder into the elevator car key3and then assisting the people when they exit. If you have to go this route BE SAFE! Have the crew in the machine room stay there so no one turns the power on during the rescue.

Most importantly stay safe (If you feel I’m repeating myself your right. Stay safe.) and if you have not had any specific training get some before you have to attempt the rescue.  Elevators are very safe and very reliable. But can be deadly if not handled with care especially when they are not working properly.  Here is great link with some very helpful information and here is another that has some helpful diagrams.

New Years Resolution to Improve

Move to Finish 4In this past year, Phoenix Modular Elevator has made tremendous strides forward in its effort to provide great service locally and an alternative to stick built elevators across North America. As most of you know in 2017 we moved to a brand new facility in Mount Vernon, Illinois and that has improved our quality and speed, with elevators flying through our production process. It has also given our service team more room to grow and more capabilities as well.

Part of our growth meant we needed to add more team members that do everything from welding and drywall to elevator repair, maintenance and service. To help make our service even better we have hired a purchasing manager to assist with getting the right parts in fast. As well as new service employees to maintain elevators across our region.

But we are not satisfied with standing still. Our goal for 2017 was an ambitious 40% growth over 2016 and we have surpassed that goal. But reaching the goal did not come easy. We knew we had to be able to have the space and equipment to service and manufacture elevators that to go well above fifteen stories and to be able to produce and service elevators in larger and larger numbers. Due to our new expanded facilities and service personnel we feel we can now provide elevator service to any customer regardless of the number of elevators they have in their building or buildings throughout the region.

We remain optimistic for 2018 as we are again projecting 40% growth and to help push us further down the road, we again are building new space and adding an additional concrete apron around the facility to make dropping off materials and components easier, more efficient, and faster.

The new building will be constructed and operational by March of 2018 and will house our maintenance and service team. They are the folks that keep all of the machinery of the factory up and running but also keep elevators all over the area running smoothly. The site will be complete with a repair bay for the fork trucks and other needed large equipment as well as inventory for service repairs. This will greatly improve productivity. It will also give us the space we need to develop and maintain more production and service equipment.  We have great ideas to improve our methods and now we will have the space to make them a reality.

This is a very exciting time for Phoenix Modular Elevator and we are looking forward to a happy New Year indeed. We hope your’s is just as prosperous.

Weather Halts Construction – But Not Modular

20160105_143405We have all seen the headlines: The winter weather this year, and nearly every year, puts a damper on the construction industry and new elevator installation. Work vehicles get stuck in the snow, batteries are drained dead in equipment, and materials often have a negative reaction to sub-zero temperatures. If you are having a new stick built elevator installed, it is important to know about these delays.

Concrete is one of the materials that suffers most during construction in winter weather and it’s also one of the most common ways people build hoistways or shafts. Pouring concrete is delayed anytime it gets too cold, according to Darrell Bailey from Morton Building, a firm that specializes in metal buildings of all sorts. He has seen people try to pour concrete in bad weather with horrible results. He said, “It will freeze and bust. You just can’t pour on frozen ground,” and “that means you are stuck until things thaw out.” There are some actions that can be taken to speed up the process, such as trying to warm the ground with concrete blankets or black plastic for a few days before the pour, but the results are hard to predict.

Another option is changing the mixture by adding extra concrete mix to reduce the amount of water or by adding a chemical accelerator such as calcium chloride or other heating agent. If those procedures allow for the job to continue, you still have additional work to do and several issues to work around. The area must be protected and cured for a minimum of 3 – 7 days and you can’t move anything heavy on it or put loads on it at all. You must use blankets, black plastic, or another insulating material as it cures and sometimes you’ll have to heat it from the inside and out. But there are no guarantees that these procedures will work and, if you push it too far, the surface of the concrete can freeze and pop off and it has the potential to NEVER be as durable as if it were poured in the proper temperature.

With this most recent spate of freezing temps, most of the nation’s construction came to a screeching halt. After all, you can’t even lay CMU (concrete blocks) that has either a temperature below 20°F or contains frozen moisture, visible ice, or snow on their surface. That stops a lot of building, especially elevator hoistways.

But little of this applies in the modular building industry because the bulk of the work is completed inside of a factory away from inclement weather. With modular elevators for instance we manufacture the hoistway out of tough, durable steel and then wrap it in glass-mat sheeting on the exterior and drywall on the interior for a one or two hour fire-rating.  We do not need a CMU or concrete elevator shaft to be completed. All the while it is snowing and freezing outside, the hoistway is being built inside where it is unaffected by freezing cold temperatures. As the hoistway is being constructed, the elevator components are also being manufactured in our factory or being assembled. At the end of the assembly-line you have an elevator and hoistway all in one piece, fully assembled and ready to be delivered, swung into place, and installed. The install takes less than a week and our manufacturing lead time on standard models is eight weeks plus time to ship. Keep in mind these are quality commercial elevators that are just like any other; once they are installed, they run exactly the same as any stick-built unit, but they just take a lot less time to install and they aren’t stopped by a little cold weather, snow, or ice.

The developer, building owner or designer of the project containing an old stick built elevator will just simply have to wait for the thaw to finish the job, where the modular elevator has been completed and will be in place and ready to go in a matter of weeks. Keep this in mind when you are considering a new elevator for a retrofit project or new construction.