Category Archives: Helpful Tips

Kids, iPhones, Technology, and Elevators

hal-gatewood-336679-unsplash
Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash

Just seeing a small child with a cell phone drives me a bit crazy.  Maybe I’m getting old, but have you recently had to have a one-on-one or heart-to-heart with a young child or even a teen that is holding a cell phone? Because they are trained so young and distracted, rest assured the conversation will be a bit one-sided. You will see glazed-over eyes darting back and forth and fingers fiercely and frantically, fleetly flying from icon to icon. Forget finding depth of soul or a modicum of understanding. It is a wasteland of mumbles and stares and epitomizes the bane that is technology.

Based on the above, it is easy to see how the Luddite movement took hold among the English textile workers in the 19th century. They were so upset with technology and potential lost jobs that they vowed to destroy the weaving machinery in factories as a form of protest. Count me as  modern day Luddite. But before we smash the latest IPhone on the alter of dissent, we need to rethink the value of technology, because, whether we like to admit it or not, technology has and always will be a net-plus.

Technology increases productivity, employment in the long-term, wealth and knowledge. It makes our lives easier, in many respects, and often times better.

Take the example of a technology we rarely consider anymore because it is so common place: the lowly elevator. It is arguable that when Elisha Otis had that famous rope cut that was suspending him above the crowd on a platform at the New York Crystal Palace exposition, 1853 World’s Fair and it did not fall; the world changed forever.

Since then, New York and thousands of other metropolitan areas were literally able to grow “up”.  Before the safe elevator, the growth of cities was relegated to horizontal space or how high a person was willing to walk up, one step at a time. After old Elisha, the push of a button made it easy and quick to be whisked away to a different floor, sometimes hundreds of feet higher, in a matter of seconds. Even the term “skyscraper” was not in use regarding buildings until the elevator made it possible.

So why is this important? We are living in an age that has embraced the technology of elevators so much that we barely notice it anymore. “Ding” and we step in; of course unless the “out of order” sign is taped to the hall call. So when that elevator is down, it is more than an inconvenience.  We expect to push the button and to go up or down with ease and we are disappointed, and even angered, when it does not work like we want. When broken, we are forced to trudge up a flight of stairs or two. Oh, the inhumanity!

So, as a building owner or manager, making sure the elevator runs properly is a big must. People are relying on that technology probably more than a teenager and a phone, and the taller the building, the more reliance.

To make sure the elevator is functioning properly with precious few shutdowns, you have some work to do. You must stay in contact with the elevator company. They are more than a friendly face that pops in occasionally, they are your maintenance partner.  Hold their feet to the fire because your relationship with the users (your tenants and visitors) are reliant on them.  The elevator maintenance personnel must be able to do the following:

  1. Diagnose – If it takes multiple times to get the problem figured out, there is a problem. Are they diagnosing or guessing?
  2. Explain – No one wants a problem but when there is one, a courteous explanation is required. They must be willing to take the time, go over the issue, and explain it all.
  3. Solutions – Solving the problem is a must. Constant guessing and return trips shows a lack of experience or ability.
  4. Fast – The maintenance provider should be willing to stay longer and work harder when needed. No one should stand for a slow-motion repair.
  5. Honesty – This is often reflected on the bill. Sometimes, if you don’t keep tabs, you end up paying for dropped tools, long lunches and nap time, instead of repairs.

If you suspect a lack of ability in any of the above, send a certified letter canceling the service contract. You probably should do that anyway, so you won’t get stuck with another five year contract you can’t get out of and that has automatic rate increases (but that’s another blog post). Sending the cancellation letter will not get you out of your current woes; however, it will serve notice with your provider. Secondarily, open a line of communication. Don’t just rely on the person that shows up to do the job, to relay concerns, especially about them! Likewise the scheduler at the office is probably the wrong person to contact about your concerns. Start climbing the ladder. Eventually you will get someone that cares about your problems. If not, then aren’t you glad you cancelled?

 

 

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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.

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.

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.