Candles on the Cake: When is it time for Elevator Modernization?

Birthday cake with candles on color background

We all get to that age when we have more candles on the birthday cake than breath to blow them out. We sit and wonder, as the glow of the cake outshines a 50 watt light bulb, where did all the time go? Your elevator is getting older, too, and although we don’t usually bake a cake to celebrate each anniversary, the years can stack up just the same and faster than you think.

Your trusty elevator may be 25, 50 or 100 years old and as the calendar pages turn, it seems to run fine. Every time it breaks, your elevator mechanic manages to resuscitate the old machine and get it going again. But last month, after wrestling with finding parts and managing the repairs, the mechanic comes to you with the a radical recommendation…modernize “Old Faithful.”

Just one glance at the cost and you immediately wonder what a modernization is exactly and if there are any benefits to you and your riding public. Weighing the factors means knowing the facts because it may be time to bite the bullet and write the check for an update.

First, a modernization does not necessarily mean redoing the aesthetics seen by the public:  the interior of the elevator car, lobby, hall calls and door openings.  Doing this will certainly update the overall look and feel of the building.  But the visible finishes are not the main goal of a modernization.  An elevator modernization means replacing the key components that make your elevator run with parts that meet current codes and utilize current technology.

Components that are typically replaced in a full modernization include:

Controller:  This is the electronic brain that manages all the other components.  Older elevators have mechanical relays and contacts, while current controllers use solid-state

Elevator Rust

electronics. Time and corrosion can hurt the function of the mechanical relays.

Power Unit (hydraulic):  This is the pump/motor/valve assembly inside the tank.  Newer valves are an improvement because there are fewer moving parts, meaning they require less maintenance and are easier to adjust.  They also function better at temperature extremes and offer increased efficiency of the elevator. That means more money in your pocket instead of the elevator company’s.

Hoist Machine or Motor (traction):  This is the component that drives the ropes back and forth, to move the car up and down.  Updating the motor at the same time as the controller will provide better travel times, smoother operation, fewer shutdowns and less maintenance.

Fixtures:  This is all the buttons, including the car operating panel, hall stations and position indicators in the hallways.  Older fixtures, especially in the car, may not have all the features that current code-compliant fixtures do such an ADA phone and button panel with proper sizes, locations and dimensions. Also, if you have a very old unit, the bulbs may be incandescent. LED lights will provide a small amount of energy savings, but will last much longer, saving replacement cost.

Door Equipment:  This includes the door operator, clutch, and pick-up rollers.  A loud opening and closing door could mean that significant wear and tear has occurred and an overhaul needs to take place. There are motors, belts, wheels and gears that turn to open elevator doors and these wear out.  Quality routine maintenance can keep them working for a long time, but if they have been neglected, full replacement (modernization) may be needed. Also, safety regulations are updated periodically. Current codes require door restrictors, which old elevators often lack. To make your elevator doors, safer a modernization should take place.

Because many of the above are electrical components, newer ones may need more wires, so typically traveling and hoistway cables are replaced at the same time so all the wiring is new.

Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily have to do a full modernization.  Any of the above components can be replaced individually without a complete overhaul.  However, you get more bang for your buck if you do multiple things at once.  If you’ve ever done a “while we’re at it” kitchen remodel where you start with wanting new counters, decide to replace the cabinets they’ll sit on, and then opt to install new flooring while the cabinets are removed, you’ll understand this.  If you replace parts that are wired into the existing controller, it may be difficult to retrofit the wiring to work, so you need to run new wiring.  Or the controller may not know how to work with some of the new features because they weren’t invented when it was born.  And so on.

How do you know when it’s the right time to take some candles off the cake?  You should always talk with more than one elevator contractor to get their recommendations.  And you should read our next post, which will tell you the potential benefits  so you can decide if they’re worth the cost.



4 thoughts on “Candles on the Cake: When is it time for Elevator Modernization?

  1. I love this article because most building owners assume Modernization has to mean “new everything”. Breaking down the components and cost savings, is key. The investment can save money, time, and stress.


    1. Thanks for your comments. Worse than that some people think modernization means an update tot he cab. I even read an industry article recently that confused the two. Thanks again for your comment.


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