Rotting from the Inside Out – My Tooth, Your Elevator Jack

Candy CaneRecently, I bit down a bit too hard on a candy cane and I felt a strange sensation. My mouth was suddenly filled with a substance that was more like small gravel or sand than a candy cane.  I knew that gravel wasn’t on the list of ingredients, which meant something I dreaded much more:   One of my molars was broken and the pieces filled my mouth. Ouch!

I’m obsessive about my brushing and flossing, to the point of pride.  But, little did I know, deep in the recesses of my #18 molar, insidious forces were at work.  Painlessly and silently, tooth decay destroyed my dental pride from the inside out, and made a dent in my bank account.

A similar story can be told about elevators. They can look nice and shiny, with highly polished stainless steel hall calls, gleaming handrails and fancy glass interiors. They can be well cared for and brushed to a brilliant sheen, but the mechanisms that make them go up and down maybe rotting from the inside out, without anyone being the wiser. This is particularly true of older, in-ground jacks of hydraulic elevators because part of the elevator system is in the ground.  And far below the surface of the earth, they could be rotting with corrosion and rust.

In ground hydraulic jackPre-Nixon administration hydraulic jacks were made with a single metal bottom plate. With the jack exposed to the water in the ground, over time it can rust.  When it rusts all the way through the wall, the hydraulic oil begins to leak out.  If the jack loses oil all at once, the elevator car could fall.

Today’s jacks have a “double bottom” with the “second bottom” consisting of a bulkhead and orifice the slow any leakage and prevent a complete, sudden emptying of the jack.  In addition, the jack is contained in a sealed PVC liner, so there is no contact between the jack and elements that could rust it.

Should you worry about this if you are a building owner?  If you have a very old hydraulic elevator with an in ground jack, it is a concern.  If you have not had quality routine maintenance, it is a concern as well.  One of the telltale signs is that your oil level drops over time but it’s not visible in the pit buckets, which contain oil that leaks through the packing.  If oil is disappearing without a trace, it’s likely going into the ground.

OldHydraulic Jack In GroundAnother way to detect a leak is during annual inspections, which are required in most jurisdictions, and include a hydraulic system pressure test.  During this test, the hydraulic system of the elevator is tested to the maximum pressure the system can maintain. This maximum pressure is referred to as the relief pressure. The relief pressure can be up to 150% of the working pressure as per many state codes.

The working pressure is the pressure in the hydraulic system running at full speed and full weight capacity. During this annual pressure test, old and weak jacks plagued by rust and corrosion are susceptible to rupture. When it does, be glad it occurred during a test and not when passengers where along for the ride. It is always better to have a failure during a safety controlled test.

Just as I found out with my tooth, elevator repair can be expensive if it requires an entire jack replacement.  However, because safety is paramount, if a problem exists it must be discovered and repaired sooner rather than later. The bottom line, is despite my desire not to have dental work done, it was needed.  And if your aging jack is leaking, it’s much better to find out before the leak gets dangerous.  Then you can replace it on your time schedule instead of performing emergency surgery.

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Freight Vs. Passenger – The Difference is more than Size

The differences between freight and passenger elevators are as simple as the definitions of each that you can find in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) – Code for Elevators and Escalators. Unfortunately, just like most code books, the definition doesn’t really reveal much. For instance the freight elevator is defined as, and I quote:

“An elevator used primarily for carrying freight” (no kidding) “and on which only the operator and the persons necessary for unloading and loading the freight are permitted to ride.”

The code does go on to indicate there are three different classes of freight elevator– general, motor vehicle, and truck loading–but beyond that there is little that legally distinguishes freight from passenger. This is confirmed by the definition of a passenger elevator. It is defined in the same publication as:

“An elevator used primarily to carry persons” (again, no kidding) “other than the operator and persons necessary for loading and unloading.”

Well that was the shortest blog post ever right? Now we all know the differences.

It’s, sadly, not entirely that easy, because beyond the code and just hanging a sign that says it is a freight elevator, there are accepted features of a freight that make it very different, when talking to a person in the elevator industry.

fed1
Photo courtesy Fred Small – http://www.elevatorbobs-elevator-pics.com

The first thing you notice about freight elevators is that the doors usually open from the middle with the opening being horizontal not vertical. This is not a requirement by any law and some vertical parting doors are in operation for freight elevators (usually hinged).  Some are even on the market today, but usually one of the factors that separate passenger and freight is the way the doors work: up and down (instead of left and right). The reason they are designed this way is because the opening for entry to the car is to cover the entire width of the car itself to get things in and out easier. However that is only part of the reason. Doors opening up and down also saves space. If the doors moved to the left and right, instead of up and down, the hoistway would have to be extremely wide to accommodate doors big enough for the actual freight being carried. So, the hatch doors opening up and down is to save space in the hoistway and, as a result, it saves space in the interior of the building, as well.

Another feature is that quite often the doors are manually operated, especially for older models, with a gate closing the exit or exits of the elevator car. As a safety feature, the elevator will not run until the gate and doors are fully closed, even if they are manually operated.  Wooden gates were popular at one time and many are still in use, however, there are currently stronger, heavy duty metal gates that are more often installed.

Freight Elevator they are different than passenger elevators.
Photo courtesy Pierre Tremble – http://www.elevatorbobs-elevator-pics.com

Also, doors don’t have to be muscled open and closed when using automatic, instead of manual doors. They can be operated with the touch of a button, if desired. To make the gate easy to use, they are often counter-weighted and they can be manually raised and lowered or can be controlled with pressing a button, as well.

Not to confuse matters, but it’s important to keep in mind that freight elevators can also have rather standard looking doors too, with them all operating like a regular passenger elevator, just heavier duty.

Another feature that you would notice right away is that the freight elevator does not, in most cases, have a dark, but warm, hand rubbed walnut finish with gold inlays and mirrors in the interior of the car. The cars are built to be utilitarian with 14 gauge or better steel wall panels and a heavy reinforced gate. The floor is also made for heavy, and I mean heavy, traffic. It is usually a no skid steel floor on a steel car platform. Sometimes the heavy steel floor is covered in a rubber, non-slip surface. All of these features are to make the elevator as durable, and safe, as possible.

In the freight elevator car, unlike passenger elevators, the rails you find are strategically placed to take the brunt of the damage from carts or loads being moved by hand trucks or fork lifts. This saves the car a lot of damage. Also, the rails are designed to be easily changed when damage does occur.

Just as the definition according to the ASME code book is ambiguous, at best, so is what can be called a freight elevator. Almost any type of elevator can qualify as a freight elevator because the uses can be so varied depending on the need. But when it comes to describing the standard freight elevator, look for the doors and the width of the opening first, as it is usually a dead give away whether or not it’s freight.

 

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

All About Elevator Jacks

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.

When it comes to many elevator applications, especially for buildings between 2 and 5 stories, you will find a hydraulic jack is a common, yet crucial part of the system that drives the elevator up. As a matter of fact, approximately 70% of all elevators installed are hydraulic in nature and contain jacks.  The jacks are part of a system that includes hydraulic fluid, tanks, motors, and pumps with the jack being the final piece of the system.  So, understanding the basics of the elevator jack is crucial if you are considering buying a new elevator or modernizing the jacks in an existing elevator.

Depending on the system you have, the distance your elevator travels, and the space available, you have several options available. This article will explain the various types of jacks and the advantages and disadvantages associated with each.

  • Single Stage Holeless – Many times when new elevators are being placed, you can’t drill a hole in the bottom of the elevator pit or it is cost prohibitive to do so. Enter the holeless elevator jack. The most common jack used for short travel distances is the single-stage variety. A single stage means that it is one piston that goes up and down and it does not telescope when it reaches a certain height. These can be used for passenger or freight elevators.

The benefits of this type of jack (often called a twin-jack and used in tandem on either side of the elevator car) is that they are lighter and easier to put into place, are the most economical choice, and can be designed to carry very heavy loads. On the downside, because you are often dealing with two jacks, more adjustments must be made and it takes a bit more maintenance. Also, because the jacks commonly go on either side of the car, and there is no hole for the jacks to retreat in, there must be more space at the top of the hoistway above the car.

  • Single Stage In-Ground – This option is very common, especially when you can drill a hole in the bottom of the pit and want to travel multiple floors.  Because it does not telescope, the moving parts are limited and it is, therefore, reliable. It has also been around for a very long time as a solution and has a solid track record.

The good things about a single stage in-ground jack is that it is easy to install, fairly economical, especially for mid-rise projects, has a huge capacity, and maintenance is limited to one jack.   They also provide a very smooth ride. On the downside, the jack is in a hole. This can lead to leaks of hydraulic fluid into the underground water supply or contamination of the soil. Keep in mind that most of the contamination issues have been resolved with new technology and regulations. However, the threat remains: units can have a cracked PVC casing which can cause flooding of the pit and some fluid leakage. Also, old corroded sheaths that the jacks reside in need to be replaced, usually at a significant cost.   Also, the depth of the jack must be equal to the travel of the elevator car. This can mean an expensive, deep hole.

  • Telescopic Jacks (Holeless and In-Ground) – Telescopic jacks can have up to four pistons, each traveling inside each other. These are used when a more compact solution is needed for either freight or passenger elevators. Telescopic jacks going in-ground will reduce the depth of the hole required, but can sometimes be more costly in and of themselves.

The big plus is that there is a reduced drilling cost for an in-ground application and a higher travel distance than for holeless projects.  Also, the installation is usually fast as the jacks are compact and easy to handle. The disadvantages include the obvious; there are more moving parts, so initial set up may be more complicated (bleeding the jack completely, is required). Depending on overall travel distance, follower guides will be needed, requiring additional engineering. Long-term maintenance may be more costly, as well. Finally, there are simply more packing and seals due to multiple pistons.

Jack Travel-01

Each of the above jacks have their place and purpose depending on travel distance, but, as you can see in the chart, there is overlap based solely the height the elevator needs to go to. Other factors include price, the ability to drill, and even personal preference (some feel the ride is better in elevators that have an in-ground jack).

The best way to determine the optimal option for your building project is to contact an elevator consultant or an unbiased company that can provide any type of elevator.  They should welcome all your questions and be willing to break down all possibilities by price or other factors important to your project. If you would like to talk with us about elevator jacks, visit us here.

Elevator Contracts – Shop All Exclusions

raquel-martinez-96648For some, shopping is about more than finding bargains, it is an obsession. They can’t quit comparing apples to apples and finding success in each penny saved. This is despite the fact that quite often going to store after store means burning more gas and time than actual savings generated.  Of course, the more costly the item, the more justification there is for doing a thorough job of looking around and comparing products.

When it comes to elevators, it seems like everything is expensive, especially when it comes to repairs that are outside of the warranty or maintenance contract. People feel trapped by the contract and elevator company, so, often the work is approved without considering other options. But shopping around can help lessen the overall cost of elevator ownership.

If, like most buildings owners, you have a standard oil and grease agreement, you may find that there is lots of (necessary) stuff left outside of the contract or that has been excluded.  For instance, service calls and parts are usually specifically not covered, and good luck getting any major repair to fall under the current maintenance agreement you have. Even full service agreements have their limits. Usually, for repairs outside of the agreement, you will be required to get a quote for the work contractually excluded and only after approval will the work begin. What your current provider may have failed to tell you is that in most circumstances you can ask a different elevator company for bids as well. You get to do some shopping.

Keep in mind, exclusions are reasonable in most cases; owners are just unaware of them until the elevator needs work that is outside of the contract. Here are some of the more common exclusions you need to keep in mind:

  • Vandalism or elevator misuse – This is not just graffiti in the elevator car but any intentional act that hurts the operation or aesthetic appeal of the elevator. An elevator door that has been hit one too many times with a cart can be an example. It is excluded because vandalism is difficult to predict and there’s no way to get a firm handle on the costs until after there’s a problem.
  • Obsolete parts – most elevator contractors and contracts charge a premium for the difference between the normal purchase cost of a regularly available part and the cost to custom manufacture it or find someone that will. Oftentimes, when you start hearing “modernization” mentioned by your technician, it is because parts are getting hard to find.
  • Modernization – It is rarely covered in most elevator contracts. Modernization is excluded because it is a major update to systems and can be quite costly. A modernization really requires a second opinion and an estimate.
  • Proprietary Parts – Proprietary parts are not always excluded directly, but having access to parts and tools that are limited to a specific company makes getting a different company to work on your elevator or bid for work extremely difficult. Never purchase an elevator with proprietary parts and/or control systems. Doing so will severely limit your options for choosing a maintenance service provider.
  • Damaged underground pipes (for hydraulic elevators) – Corrosion can cause real headaches, especially regarding old elevators. Fixing corrosion, otherwise known as replacing pipes, can be a huge cost and is excluded in most contracts.
  • Items outside of the control or scope of the elevator contractor – This can mean a lot of things including, but not limited to, major things like power surges, power failures, or lightening strikes or minor problems caused by debris in door tracks that are preventing doors from functioning. Sometimes, even keys left in the wrong position can generate a service call and can e excluded by maintenance contracts. We have all heard of the $1000 light bulb. If light bulbs are not covered in the service agreement, they can indeed cost you a precious amount.

Especially when it comes to modernization and pipe replacement it is more than just a simple apples to apples comparison for pennies on the dollar. These are very expensive jobs and multiple bids need to be obtained. Extensive upgrades to the elevator cab should be open for multiple bids, as well. Remember, almost any elevator tech can work on any other elevator regardless of the brand (only proprietary parts can be an issue). So, do some shopping and see what others have to offer.  The difference could be thousands of dollars.

If you are in Illinois, we can offer more specific information and estimates. Visit us here.

Modular Ready for Disaster

Credit Mark Murray
Photo Credit – MassLive/Mark Murray

Imagine if a tornado or other act of nature destroyed your local school just before summer break and just twelve weeks prior to the first day of class for the next school year.  What would you do then? How would you meet the needs of the community, students and teachers? This time of year with hurricane season bearing down on us, it is a distinct possibility that a damaging storm could occur.

Elias Brookings Elementary School in Springfield, Massachusetts was faced with that problem.  It was June 1, 2011 when a tornado moved quickly through the city, leaving damage to property and four dead in its path. Significant damage was done to some of the school buildings, leaving Brookings Elementary unusable.

With classes for the next school year slated to start on August 29th, options were limited, so a bold plan was announced. An entire functioning temporary two-story classroom building would be operational by the first bell of the new school year, to be used while a new building would be planned and constructed. Complicating matters was that two-stories were needed for the temporary school building due to the limited space available on the property, so an elevator had to be part of the package.

Modular was the only solution.

Modular Saves the Day
Photo Credit – MassLive/Mark Murray

Phone calls were made, meetings were held, plans were drawn up and within weeks modular classrooms were being hoisted into place. The elevator was designed, built, shipped and installed in just six weeks.

For people not familiar with the elevator industry, that accomplishment is nearly miraculous, despite the fact that we do it every day. Most elevator construction, including the hoistway, takes 8 months or more, not eight weeks. The good news for Brookings Elementary, the staff, teachers, students and parents, is that school was opened as promised, on time.

School Opens on Time
Photo Credit – MassLive/Mark Murray

Regardless of the disaster, there are times that buildings and vertical transportation are needed quickly, and modular buildings and elevators can help save the day. Sometimes modular helps reduce costs of business interruption or enables school to open quickly or on time. In some circumstances, like for Brookings, modular is the only solution.

Also, in this case a temporary fix was needed, but offsite construction is more flexible and faster to install than standard stick-built projects, whether it is temporary or permanent. If you are in a situation that needs a fast building solution, modular building should be considered.