What would you do if you learned that the elevator in your apartment building was going to be down for a month while undergoing extensive repairs or upgrades?
In an article that appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Peg Meier followed the life of Joann Hunt as she adapted to life on the top floor of her apartment complex while the elevator was out of service for a full 30 days right before Christmas.
Meier details the struggles for the 78 year old, active woman that could not negotiate the three flights of stairs in her living quarters. She simply lost the ability and freedom to come and go as she pleased and was left with very few options. To be completely fair, the apartment complex management offered to move her to a first floor unit during the repairs, but it lacked full cooking facilities so Ms. Hunt declined. The repairs in question (to bring the elevator up to code) were slated to take just over a month between Thanksgiving and Christmas. So she was stuck. What a way to bring in the holiday season!
I bring this article to mind not to indict the elevator industry, the apartment complex, or the elevator service company that was doing the repairs. Sometimes extensive work is needed to bring the elevator up to current code and make it safer and more energy efficient. I bring this up to remind building owners that elevators have become more than a convenience, they are essential. This need for updating and repairs can cause interruptions in the lives of those that have come to expect the swoosh of the doors and the familiar ding of the chimes.
So, we’re providing a public service announcement about what can be done to alleviate the stress that similar repairs can make on building users.
Here are some tips that can help you if you are needing some elevator repairs that will leave your tenants and visitors hoofing it up and down the stairs:
Communicate effectively in advance. Keeping people in the dark is the last thing that you want to do. There is some pain associated with giving people bad news, but that bad news hurts significantly less when a person knows the elevator will be down and for what amount of time. Let people know in advance through fliers, signs, emails, or a quick knock on each door.
Find ways around the inconvenience. In this story, the apartment complex tried to accommodate the best they could, and it was rejected, but the effort was worth it and likely made the tenant less resentful. Another way to help is to have staff available to help carry things up and down the flights of stairs, if possible. Introduce people to Amazon Prime Now or other local grocery or restaurant delivery services that will shift the stair climbing to the deliverer. Think out of the box to help people.
Update often. Even after you have let everyone know the plan in advance, update them on the progress that is being made. People will want to know if the contractor is finishing on time, finishing late, or (even better), finishing earlier than planned. The farther ahead they know about changes, the better they can adjust to them.
Shop before you buy. Shop for the repair not only based on the price, but also based on convenience. Not all elevator companies are the same. Some have the ability to offer more overtime or more personnel to get a job done more quickly. Bid out the job to multiple companies and let them know that price and time frame for the repair will be considered in the bid award.
Apologize. A heartfelt and genuine “I’m sorry” goes a long way, so apologize for the inconvenience often to everyone that uses or wants to use the elevator and thank them for their patience during the work and after it is completed. Communicate this through the same methods and with the same amount of effort as at the beginning of the process.
In the article about Joann Hunt, she had plenty of things to do to keep her busy. She also had friends that helped her during the month-long repair. She did a lot of meditation and maybe that did the trick, because the inconvenience did not seem to ruin her holidays in the least. However, lots of people would be angry at the notion of several trips up and down flights of stairs for their business or living space especially during the holidays. Not to mention, 3 flights is a lot different than 7 or 10. If you take some time to communicate clearly and shop for timeliness as well as price, people may find a little more generosity for you in their heart, especially during the holidays.
For some, shopping is about more than finding bargains, it is an obsession. They can’t quit comparing apples to apples and finding success in each penny saved. This is despite the fact that quite often going to store after store means burning more gas and time than actual savings generated. Of course, the more costly the item, the more justification there is for doing a thorough job of looking around and comparing products.
When it comes to elevators, it seems like everything is expensive, especially when it comes to repairs that are outside of the warranty or maintenance contract. People feel trapped by the contract and elevator company, so, often the work is approved without considering other options. But shopping around can help lessen the overall cost of elevator ownership.
If, like most buildings owners, you have a standard oil and grease agreement, you may find that there is lots of (necessary) stuff left outside of the contract or that has been excluded. For instance, service calls and parts are usually specifically not covered, and good luck getting any major repair to fall under the current maintenance agreement you have. Even full service agreements have their limits. Usually, for repairs outside of the agreement, you will be required to get a quote for the work contractually excluded and only after approval will the work begin. What your current provider may have failed to tell you is that in most circumstances you can ask a different elevator company for bids as well. You get to do some shopping.
Keep in mind, exclusions are reasonable in most cases; owners are just unaware of them until the elevator needs work that is outside of the contract. Here are some of the more common exclusions you need to keep in mind:
Vandalism or elevator misuse – This is not just graffiti in the elevator car but any intentional act that hurts the operation or aesthetic appeal of the elevator. An elevator door that has been hit one too many times with a cart can be an example. It is excluded because vandalism is difficult to predict and there’s no way to get a firm handle on the costs until after there’s a problem.
Obsolete parts – most elevator contractors and contracts charge a premium for the difference between the normal purchase cost of a regularly available part and the cost to custom manufacture it or find someone that will. Oftentimes, when you start hearing “modernization” mentioned by your technician, it is because parts are getting hard to find.
Proprietary Parts – Proprietary parts are not always excluded directly, but having access to parts and tools that are limited to a specific company makes getting a different company to work on your elevator or bid for work extremely difficult. Never purchase an elevator with proprietary parts and/or control systems. Doing so will severely limit your options for choosing a maintenance service provider.
Items outside of the control or scope of the elevator contractor – This can mean a lot of things including, but not limited to, major things like power surges, power failures, or lightening strikes or minor problems caused by debris in door tracks that are preventing doors from functioning. Sometimes, even keys left in the wrong position can generate a service call and can e excluded by maintenance contracts. We have all heard of the $1000 light bulb. If light bulbs are not covered in the service agreement, they can indeed cost you a precious amount.
Especially when it comes to modernization and pipe replacement it is more than just a simple apples to apples comparison for pennies on the dollar. These are very expensive jobs and multiple bids need to be obtained. Extensive upgrades to the elevator cab should be open for multiple bids, as well. Remember, almost any elevator tech can work on any other elevator regardless of the brand (only proprietary parts can be an issue). So, do some shopping and see what others have to offer. The difference could be thousands of dollars.
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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.
Everyone wants to see the friendly elevator guy with the big smile and the big handshake. After a merry greeting and traditional backslapping, he disappears down the hall and goes to work. Thirty minutes later, you hear the familiar sound of the tool belt jangling toward you and you know you are about to get a full report. But, after 40 minutes of discussing the weather, family, friends, fishing, the best BBQ in town, the nuances of abstract animation in the film noir era, oh and the elevator, he leaves. Both of you are the wiser for solving the world’s problems, but are you lighter in the pocketbook for the casual conversation.
This may be happening more than you think. How often do you actually look at the contract or repair bill and compare it to actual time spent on the elevator itself? Or do you know exactly what the contractual terms of your agreement are? Some may be billed a flat fee for certain maintenance regardless of time spent, but others may be paying for every five-minute increment. The terms are very important to know.
Each and every person who hires an elevator contractor understands that they will pay for time to repair and maintain elevators. No shock there. This normally comes in the form of a flat monthly fee with some exceptions for work outside of the scope of the contract. Others choose more comprehensive contracts that cover nearly all costs other than vandalism, intentional destruction or “Acts of God.” Also, hourly rates can vary widely depending on the geographic location and availability of technicians. Shopping the hourly rate may be a great place to start when looking at cutting the expense of maintenance, but actual time on the job may be hiding a bigger problem. Time actually spent on the job may not be matching what you are paying for.
Here are some things to be aware of that can increase costs.
Forgotten tools – Have you had to pay for trips back to the shop or to the hardware store? Do you know if you have?
Chitchat time – Are you forking over fees to find out what the weather is like in Bemidji or how the Bears did?
Extra assistance – The elevator guys shows up with a team. Not sure if it is training or “bring your extended family to work day,” but you need to find out.
The magic act – The incredible disappearing elevator mechanic. First you see him and then you don’t. Where was he for the past two hours? You checked the machine room and elevator and no one was to be found. Did he dematerialize into another dimension only to reappear suddenly just in time to go home?
Lunch break, coffee break, smoke break – It is hard to swallow paying for all three of these in an hours time but it can happen.
Whoops – The elevator professional drops his pliers from the top of the car and they end up in the pit. Oh well, one more unneeded trip to the dungeon.
These are just a few things that you maybe paying for that you are not even aware of. But, there are somethings you can do to alleviate the problem.
Know your contract. If you are paying a monthly fee that is all inclusive and the elevator tech is a chatty Cathy and you like the banter..who cares. Enjoy the conversation. On the other hand, if you are being charged for every second that ticks off the clock, it’s time to reassess.
Insist on a sign in and sign out every time they come and go. This will accomplish a couple of things. First, it will help alleviate the disappearing act. It will keep you informed on progress, it will make the technician more responsible and you will have a chance to find out what is going on with the elevator.
Always check the maintenance log! It is your right and if “routine maintenance” is all that is written and it took two hours, there is a problem. Also insist that a log is kept in the machine room. This should be added to your elevator plan.
Open a dialog with the technician. When he seems to be working a long time, safely track him down and ask what is going on. Remember, this is your building and you are granting him and his company the privilege of working on it.
Open a dialog with the dispatcher or supervisor. Do this before problems start if they ever do. You should be on a first name basis with the person that tracks the time and services of the technician. This may also get some of your basic questions answered for free.
Remember the vast majority of elevator technicians are hard-working, want to fix problems right and have integrity when it comes to the people they service. However, that does not mean that you shouldn’t check their work and build into your routine a time to do some follow up and re-reading of the contract.