Category Archives: ups and downs

Elevator U: The Myth of Maintenance Teamwork

pierre-etienne-vachon-116891 (1)
Photo by Pierre-Etienne Vachon on Unsplash

Long-term planning for elevator maintenance takes cooperation from several parties and often is equated to teamwork. However, the idea that a team is always the solution to the problem often misses the bigger point. At the recent Elevator U conference we learned a lot about the various people that make elevator maintenance systems work but, surprisingly, the word team was never mentioned.

This is may be because when you hear the word “team,” you think of a group of individuals all dressed in the same uniform striving for victory, all pulling in the same direction. Even though everyone’s in-game goals may be different, victory for the team is always the objective, so they cast self-wants aside for the win.

Baseball is a great example of this.  See how elevators equates to baseball by clicking here.

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This is an example of an elevaotr machine room that need signifcant cleaning it is against code and dangerous.

It’s a Machine Room, Not a Broom Closet

colley-elevator-photo-machine-room2There is an old joke that the long in the tooth elevator folks repeat to the new guys. If they happen to make the mistake by saying an elevator has just one stop, the rookie will inevitably hear, “It’s an elevator, not a broom closet.” The veteran will be quick to point out that every elevator has at least two stops or it simply will be a broom closet with expensive doors. Unfortunately, they don’t have a similar joke about the machine room with the punchline being “It’s a machine room – not a broom closet.” Ba dum tshh.

Machine rooms don’t start out being a catch-all, but the open space is a tempting sight for everyone in a crowded building. The result is that some building owners or managers see lots of real estate in a machine room that is going unused, and they lick their chops with envy and desire to fill that void with all kinds of stuff. Just as often, it is well-meaning employees seeking a place to dump items they want to get out of their way. Lastly, the machine room can become a hiding place and lounge for refuge-seeking smokers on winter days and those looking for a quiet place to take a coffee break.

As a result, machine rooms often become a repository for cleaning materials, flammable liquids, brooms, buckets, mops, ladders, boxes piled to the ceiling, files and filing cabinets, banker boxes, rags, light bulbs, chairs, Christmas ornaments, newspapers, cigarette butts, books, magazines and old candy wrappers. You get the point.

clean-machine-roomBut the machine room is not a break room, storage area or broom closet, and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) code for elevators makes it clear that the space needs to be left open and safe.

ASME is the American National Standard for elevators, or the Bible as far as elevator requirements are concerned. The current national standard states there must be a minimum of 18 inches to access the tank, or power unit, and 36″ clear in front of electrical components.  Furthermore, nothing is allowed in the machine room that is not elevator-related.

Simply put, buckets and mops don’t help the elevator run smoothly any more than flammable materials like paint and industrial strength cleaning fluids affect the elevator speed. So they aren’t allowed in the machine room.

The machine room door must also be self-closing and self-locking. This ensures that only properly trained elevator mechanics will enter it, and it won’t be a break room for employees hiding from the boss or the boss hiding from the employees.

Why so picky? For good reason. Untrained people could inadvertently damage equipment, or come into contact with high voltage.  Flammable materials could combust and start a fire, damaging the equipment. So the machine room needs to be emptied of all the extraneous items that might have found their way into the room, and non-elevator people need to stay out.

Lastly, each state may have additional requirements, which may exceed the national code. Massachusetts, for instance, requires 24 inches on two sides of the power unit in the machine room. Michigan requires that the machine room door be within 10 feet of the hoistway.  But none of them permit storing furniture and janitorial supplies.

You may be losing a broom closet, but you will be gaining peace of mind knowing that your machine room and all of its components are safe and sound!

(photo credit to Colley Elevator – Chicago, Illinois)

 

Your Elevator May Have Bromhidrosis

Man With Hyperhidrosis Sweating Very Badly Under Armpit

Are you embarrassed by a horrible odor emanating from your pits? Does it make you self-conscious? Have others pointed out the smell? Are you tired of trying dozens of different products to mask the odor? We may have a solution! A word of caution: if you are thinking about your armpits, you may have a medical condition called bromhidrosis and we can’t help you. However, if you are referring to your elevator pit(s), that dark area at the bottom of the elevator hoistway, we can help!

The pit is where much of the crucial equipment that keeps your elevator running smoothly (click here for info on the pit) is located, and if it starts smelling down there, it may be a symptom of a larger problem. Keep in mind that only a certified elevator technician can open the elevator doors and inspect a pit.

There are three things that can cause a bad smell, and two can cause significant elevator issues. The first and most common, especially in the rainy season, is standing water. The elevator pit is often the lowest point of any building. Water can seep or leak into the pit and if the sump pump has lost power, is plugged up, is broken or not set right, it could cause stagnant water to build up. Standing water can also occur if the concrete floor of the pit is uneven and not sloped properly to the pump hole. 

If water is the problem, the foul smell is hydrogen-sulfide gas (rotten eggs) caused by anerobic decomposition, and breathing this for too long can cause serious health issues. Also, the stagnant water can create an environment for mold and mildew to build up. For many people who are sensitive to molds, exposure may cause a variety of health problems, including throat irritation, coughing or wheezing and more severe reactions. The problem needs to be addressed promptly.

This damp environment is not good for the elevator, either. The moisture can cause premature rusting, electrical shorts, and if there is standing water, it can hide bigger issues with the elevator. Fortunately, the solution is relatively simple. The sump pump needs to be checked and tested regularly. If everything is in working order but there are still puddles, low spots in the pit floor may need to be raised and sloped with grout to force water into the sump pump hole. 

The second smell that is a sure sign of trouble is an oily smell. Oil is crucial, especially for hydraulic elevators, as this is what makes the unit go up and down. A persistent smell of oil could mean a leak in the jack seal, which can lead to eventual inability of the elevator car to travel all the way to the top floor.  This can be remedied by replacing the seals, or packings, which is a normal maintenance task.  Less commonly, the piping or fittings might be leaking and need replacement.

If you have an older in-ground jack, the cylinder might have rusted out, releasing oil into the ground below.  This can have an understandably negative impact on the environment and groundwater.  The fix for this is pulling out the existing jack and replacing it with a new one.

The third unwanted smell is more of an annoyance and was discussed at length here. Basically, almost anything can and has fallen into a pit. Not to get too graphic, but human waste, food past its shelf life and even dead animals have found their way to the depths of the pit. Getting the pit inspected and cleaned is the best way to avoid this problem.

So, if you have an awful odor rising from your elevator pit, it maybe a bigger problem than you can cover up with a can of Febreze.  Get over your pride, call your elevator technician and with forthrightness and honesty say, “I own elevators and my pits stink.” You will not be scorned or belittled; instead, you will find the help your (elevator) pits need!

Lessons from Crime

Just because a guy calls himself an elevator repairman doesn't mean that he is.
He seems official enough, he’s carrying a clipboard!

On Monday I pulled into the parking lot, grabbed my lunch and half empty coffee cup and casually strolled into the office. I was stopped by the people at the front desk with shocking news. We had been robbed! The building was broken into over the weekend. Missing items included a lap top, some tools and a few other items including a credit card.

When that happens you kind of kick yourself and then chalk it up to experience, tighten security and move on. But a different lesson started to emerge from the incident when the detective from the local police department showed up to tell us about the progress on the case.

The officer relayed like most criminals, the guy that broke into our office was no Mensa member. He took the credit card and immediately went to his friendly neighborhood Walmart store to make a small charge; more than likely to test if he could get away with getting something larger. For the police it was as simple as looking for the transaction from our credit card records and voila we had a great snap shot of the would be master criminal. He also went to an ATM to try to withdraw some cash. A difficult proposition it you don’t have the PIN. But, again although he didn’t hit the jackpot, he did get several quality photos taken of himself! Suitable for framing.

However, the Walmart photo revealed the lesson that we can all learn and apply to our businesses. When he waltzed into the store he was wearing a hard hat and a day-glow safety vest. I guess he was trying to look official or like he was a hard working, lunch pail toting, regular guy with some authority, all decked out in his costume. His trick may have gotten him some undeserved respect in Walmart, but what this rocket scientist didn’t know is that ultimately it just made it easier to find him in the photographs the cops needed. It was not a case of Where’s Waldo! Let’s face it day-glow, construction yellow kind of sticks out like a sore thumb, painted day-glow yellow.

The lesson is that work sites, large buildings, schools and other areas with and without elevators have lots of people coming and going all the time. Some are wearing hard hats, some are wearing safety vests and rarely there is a check of ID or verification that the person wandering around is who they are representing they are.

It is a good idea to have a “check in” area for workers, contractors and subcontractors and keep close tabs on who comes and goes. Just because a person says they are from your elevator company doesn’t mean that they are. We feel it is not a nuisance to be asked for a company ID. If you have your suspicions call in and ask the company.  This is especially true if  it is someone you don’t recognize or hasn’t been to your building before. This lesson is even for owners of smaller buildings who sometimes tend to be more trusting. For elevator companies it should mean that introductions should be made and checking in is a must before you get to work.

Bird in a Mirror or Canary in a Coal Mine

Bird MirrorRecently I ran across some websites totally devoted to people taking their picture in elevator mirrors. Some of the photos were sexy, some funny and some highly inappropriate. One set of photos were in the documentary style of a daily photograph, marking life one frame at a time, one elevator ride at a time (see the website here). It is interesting that mirrors in the interior of elevators have become so fascinating to so many.

There is an old story about how mirrors were first placed in elevators and in elevator lobbies. The legend is that…Continue reading here.