Tag Archives: 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.

Taylor Swift and Your Elevator Contract

wonderful-taylor-swift-desktop-free-hd-background-mobile-cute-smile-look

Do you remember when Taylor Swift was 18? She was Fearless and still sangin’ country. How about insulated Crocs – the shoes you could eat? Blockbuster video stores? Or RadioShack? These are all ancient history; including Taylor’s twang.  They have all disappeared or were a fad that faded with time, all from around ten years ago give or take.

One of the few things that, unfortunately, has survived longer tha

n any of this is probably your current elevator service contract. They are horribly lopsided agreements specifically designed to keep you locked in and shelling out too much money for too long a period of time. Even despite bad service, as seen in the complaint from a website below, the only thing that will survive the Apocalypse will be the Crocs on your feet, Twinkies, cockroaches and your elevator maintenance agreement. Here is the all too often common complaint and threat that you can find:

“Unfortunately, our Condo has joined XXXXXXX’s list of unhappy customers.  Our homeowner’s association pays this company nearly $6,000 a year to have them on a service retainer.  $6K to basically do nothing! So when something goes wrong, I expect them to be on it.  Our elevator has been down over a week while they figure out how to order parts.  Seriously?  Have you heard of air shipping? This is so unacceptable.  Our next HOA meetings agenda we will be discussing how to terminate our contract this company.”

Believe it or not, despite the complaints the elevator company does not care about you or your homeowner’s association (HOA). Shocking to hear that admission from the elevator industry itself, but it is true. Why, you may ask? Because you are being played. The big elevator companies intentionally have contracts for maintenance that are five years in length or more. The five year time period is pitched as standard and most people willingly sign them.  The sand starts running to the bottom of the hourglass but it goes slowly and memories quickly fade. You don’t even think about the contract until the renewal date approaches, but then it is too late.

Then, without any notice, the maintenance contract, which has an intentionally exceedingly weird window for termination renews automatically.  This is because the elevator company is banking on the HOA, building owner or business in question to have changed leadership, lost the starch out of their ire or the terms of the contract signed so long ago that they have long since been lost. Most people have bigger fish to fry so the renewal time passes unnoticed until of course there is a breakdown or the customer receives notice of the bill going up (which it will), and then it is too late. Cue the evil laugh.

If you do not believe me, here is the language from a standard elevator maintenance contract:

“This contract shall commence on January 1, 2008 and shall continue for a non-cancellable period of 5 years.  It shall automatically renew for additional 5-year periods unless either party delivers written notice at least 120 days in advance of any renewal date*, of their intent to terminate this agreement.” *emphasis added.

So, if you sign a maintenance contract today and in five years miss that magical 120-day window before the end of the contract, five years after the ink has dried, you are locked in for another five years and get this, there are automatic fee increases all along the way.

Once that next five years has run, suddenly you are wondering where all the time and money went and how Taylor Swift can still look like she is 18 years old after 5, 10, or 20 years has passed (I, personally, think she is a Vampire). Looking into the crystal ball and seeing into the future of 2025, you will also be surprised that T-Swift has breathed more life into her ever expanding career by conquering the heavy metal genre and going Goth, and also that your elevator contract is still bleeding you money each month for very little service as you missed the cancellation window again.

It is enough to drive you crazy!

So, let me do us all a favor by telling you how you can avoid missing the date and wringing your hands with worry over the cancellation. First and foremost, quit complaining on blogs and faceless websites and take some proactive action that matters! Right now, take out your elevator contract, find the official address and send them a cancellation notice by certified mail. Then, you will have at least tapped on the window for cancellation. This helps in a couple of great ways: It will enhance your negotiation position and allow you to shop for other companies. Something you can discuss at your next HOA.

As far as Taylor is concerned, you are on your own.  I only wish I could have a solution so easy when it comes to avoiding her over the next ten years.

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.