Straight Talk About Elevators

Elevator Definitions
Elevators can be confusing, but knowing some terms can help.

A lot of talk about elevators is not only confusing but intimidating. In many buildings the elevator is not only the biggest piece of machinery, it is one of the most complicated and gets more of a workout day to day than almost anything else on the premises. For that reason many building owners’, administrators’ and maintenance staff’s eyes glaze over in confusion when the subject of maintenance, repairs or upgrades come up. Unfortunately, some elevator mechanics will intentionally talk over the heads of folks to confuse and mystify the system.

Just knowing the basic terminology about elevators and the various parts can help turn this mechanical leviathan into a manageable and understandable part of the building infrastructure.

To help out below you will find a list of some terms and parts of the elevator and what each does:

Hoistway: The hoistway is the vertical shaft that houses the elevator.

Buffer or Buffer Spring – A device designed to stop a descending car or counterweight beyond its normal limit of travel by storing or by absorbing and dissipating the kinetic energy of the car or counterweight. Found in the pit.

Pit: That portion of the hoistway extending from the level of the lowest landing to the floor at the bottom of the hoistway.

Guide Rails: Sometimes just called rails, they are steel T beams with guiding surfaces.  These are installed vertically in a hoistway to guide and direct the course of travel of an elevator car and elevator counterweights.

Guide Shoes: Devices used to guide the car and counterweight along the path of the guide rails. They also assure that the lateral motion of the car and counterweight is kept at a minimum as they travel along the guide rails.

Roller Guides: Guide shoes which use rollers that rotate on guide rails rather than sliding on the rails.

Machine Room:  This is the room that contains the drive system and the controller, which are the engine and brain that make the elevator work. Machine rooms are typically right next to the hoistway or at the top, but they can be remote as well.

Travel: The total distance that an elevator goes in the hoistway. The hoistway roof is always higher than the “travel” to accommodate the equipment above the car and provide some refuge space.

Stops: This is one of those terms that can confuse people. Stops are the openings or entrances into the elevator from the building.  An elevator can have any number of stops above one. If an elevator had only one stop it would be a closet.

Car: This is the assembly that travels up and down the hoistway carrying the load (people and stuff). It includes a platform, sling, enclosure, and car door or gate.

Cab:  It is where people stand during their ride and is the decorative part of the car.

Landings:  Each floor, balcony, or platform used to receive and discharge passengers or freight. It’s where you get on and off.  This is the same thing as a stop.

Rope:  Believe it or not, it is not a traditional rope at all but steel cables that move over pulleys, or sheaves, to move the car up and down the hoistway.

Hydraulic: One of three methods by which an elevator is moved, whereby the elevator is “pushed” up by oil pressure provided by a pump in the machine room to a piston in the hoistway. This type can also have ropes or one or two pumps.

Traction:  Another method by which an elevator is moved.  This consists of a car and counterweights, connected with ropes that are driven back and forth by a machine to move the elevator up and down.

FPM: Feet per minute. This is the standard that speed of travel is calculated for an elevator.  The longer the travel distance, the higher the fpm is usually specified.

Of course these terms are just the tip of the iceberg, there are dozens more. But, keep in mind although this is a good list, nothing beats asking questions about your elevator you have in place. Ask how it works and specifics on any repairs you have had completed or may need from your visiting service technician.

Anyone from an elevator company should take the time to answer your questions thoroughly. In that way, you can make better decisions when it comes to repairs, maintenance contracts, replacements or upgrades.  If you’ve got a burning question, send it our way and maybe we’ll do a post to answer it!


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