Category Archives: Know Your Elevator

New Sympathy When the Elevator Breaks

Bunker HillI was recently on vacation with the family. We did the Griswold family version of an eastern United States holiday tour. We hit all of the sites from Washington D.C. to Maine and, for a short time, I was able to put the elevator industry in the rear-view mirror and think about whale-watching and cannoli’s. But then came Boston.

The family and I loaded up on bottled water and all eight of us hit the Boston Freedom Trail. We started out at Boston Common, breezed past the Robert Gould Shaw monument and looked around the Park Street Church.  The cemeteries were interesting as was the King’s Chapel and the site of the Boston Massacre. Few dropped out of the tour and trudged back to the Commons.

But then came the USS Constitution, a few more turned around and the final blow to all but three of us loomed tall on the horizon. Bunker Hill. Myself, my son and his wife continued up through the winding streets until we were greeted by Colonel William Prescott, wielding a sword and a grimace in front of a towering obelisk.

I am not complaining. The tour was fantastic. We saw all the sites you could ever want to, but they neglect to tell you at the very end of all that walking is a monument at the crest of Bunker Hill. The impressive tower overlooks the city, the harbor and the surrounding area and sits there as a reminder of the Revolutionary War. But to me it was also a personal challenge to climb to the top. It was like Everest to Hillary and Norgay. I had to give it a go.

I started off strong, literally jogging up the first 75 steps (I know this because they are numbered), making way for others coming down the narrow spiral staircase and left my son and daughter-in-law in the dust. But, by step 150, they caught up and passed me as I slowed to a snail’s pace. But I persevered and dragged my weary rear-end the remainder of the 294 steps to the very apex of the monument. If I only had a flag to plant!

View from the TopIn my mind, when I finally reached the zenith, with my oxygen- depleted brain dizzied by the experience, my only thought was, “Where is the elevator?” After all the Washington Monument in DC has one; why not Bunker Hill?

When one was not available, I took it a step further and began thinking, “This is what it must feel like if your elevator is broken in your apartment building. Trudging up step-after-step, exhausted especially after a full day of work. And heaven forbid you have to carry groceries or deliveries. Or even worse, what if you have a disability of some sort?” For this reason the elevator repair business and elevator technicians are crucial; they need to be timely and ready to fix any problem. Thank goodness most are.

However, if your business or apartment complex is not having good luck with elevator repairs, remember my story about Bunker Hill and the people that need to take your elevators up and down. They are relying on you! To give good service, it is perfectly fine to complain to the repair company, call supervisors and shop for another service. If you are like most businesses, your elevator is in good repair and when it does fail, it is fixed right away, thanks to the guys that are keeping you moving up and down. They deserve a handshake and a thank you.

I had a choice as to whether I climbed 294 steps for a spectacular view of Boston. A person that lives in the fifth floor of an apartment complex doesn’t and they are counting on you.

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You Should Care – Non-Proprietary Please

The elevator door is the hardest working part of the elevator.The words “Proprietary” and “Non-proprietary” elevator components and parts and the costs associated with them can be a a bit cloudy depending on who you are talking to. Of course, big companies that provide non-proprietary parts are for them, and people that aren’t, see all the flaws. So what are the real differences between the two?

The best place to start with any question like this is with a definition of terms. In this instance, the definition of non-proprietary is the following, taken from an elevator spec sheet calling for a non-proprietary solution:

“All materials provided shall be serviceable by any Journeyman Elevator Mechanic, and, replacement parts for all equipment furnished shall be available on the open market. Access to diagnostic/troubleshooting routines shall require no secret codes. Provide any/all manuals, schematics, wiring diagrams and service manuals that are available to the manufacturer’s installers and service personnel. Any decaying circuits or devices requiring “factory re-charging” shall be considered a violation of this SPECIFICATION section; such equipment shall be removed and replaced with conforming equipment at no extra cost to the Owner. Technical help shall be furnished to the Owner, or Owner’s Agent as needed, for the life of the equipment. Controls must be of a type that does not require replacement of any other component (door operator, signal fixtures, etc..) in the event a controller replacement is necessary.”

All that verbiage translates into any qualified elevator mechanic should be able to work on the elevator with no problems, get the parts they need, and not have to jump through a million hoops to get things done, and if they do, the company that makes the elevator will have to pay out the nose for not telling the truth about the product.

Because proprietary parts tie you to one provider, there is significant push back, but companies still produce elevators with those systems. They do so to increase the total profit of the elevator in the long haul. This is because they have found that after unfair, multi-year service contracts that are virtually impossible to get out of, many wise building owners and managers do everything they can to change maintenance contract providers due to poor service or high cost. The original contractual rates are often extremely high; you can’t get out of the contract without an act of congress and there are annual automatic increases to boot! So to keep people from fleeing in droves and to lock you in forever and throw away the key, “Bigg Elevator” produces elevators that only they can create parts for or provide service for. Whether you like it or not, you have to come crawling to them for what you need.

But it doesn’t stop there. To sell more elevators with proprietary parts, often times they price the new elevator as low as possible because they know they will be making it up over the decades of service profit they will be realizing. Cheap upfront prices can cost you in the long-haul.

It is hard to believe that this scheme by Big Elevator works, but it does because of a couple factors. First, the architect (the person that often chooses the elevator) has got bigger fish to fry and often goes with what they know. This can lead to taking the path of least resistance. That’s right. In the construction trade it is called drag-and-drop-itis. Often rushed architects are so used to using the same elevator that they control-c, control-v, the elevator into the specs and drawings. Habits are hard to break when under tough deadlines.

The second reason is that the builder will not be paying for long-term contracts, so what do they care? They are looking to sell or move the building to a different owner or company shortly after the build is done. They want to keep the project under budget so they go cheap in the short-term on the elevator and stick the future owner with the bill. Everyone knows that the elevator contract is rarely the hold-up on any property deal so they will often opt for short-term cheaper cost, knowing the next guy will be paying for service contracts and proprietary parts. Their main priority is to get the job done fast and as inexpensively as possible. The familiar, cheaper short-term option is the choice.

With all that said, be very wary when buying a building that has an elevator. Always check and double check because, whether you like it or not, you may have a boat anchor around your neck in the form of proprietary parts and systems.

For the above reasons we recommend the purchase of non-proprietary equipment as it provides a more economical choice as a long term investment. As with parts that are proprietary, non-proprietary must conform with government standards and safety regulations so there is no fear of choosing lower quality or unsafe parts. It is unfortunately true that all the extra money that non-proprietary costs you, ultimately, gives no extra value.

So, to sum up, the differences between proprietary and non-proprietary elevator systems is only the cost (up front versus long term), being able to hire a wider variety of elevator technicians, and no difference in quality or safety. By buying a non-proprietary elevator system, owners get the freedom to choose the maintenance company they want and shop the price they wish to pay. Proprietary parts put you at the mercy of Bigg Elevator. If you choose to purchase non-proprietary equipment, it should be specified in your purchase agreement that the product being installed contains no proprietary hardware. We will always do that. Find another option if the company you are thinking about will not.

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. What does this have to do with elevators? Find out here! 

Freight Vs. Passenger – The Difference is more than Size

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Photo courtesy http://www.elevatorbobs-elevator-pics.com

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….Find out the answer here. 

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.

Click here for an explanation of each kind of elevator jack.