Tag Archives: modernization

A view from under the elevator car of an in-ground jack.

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. This article will explain the various types of jacks and the advantages and disadvantages associated with each.

  • Single Stage Holeless – Many times when new elevators are being placed, you can’t drill a hole in the bottom of the elevator pit or it is cost prohibitive to do so. Enter the holeless elevator jack. The most common jack used for short travel distances is the single-stage variety. A single stage means that it is one piston that goes up and down and it does not telescope when it reaches a certain height. These can be used for passenger or freight elevators.

The benefits of this type of jack (often called a twin-jack and used in tandem on either side of the elevator car) is that they are lighter and easier to put into place, are the most economical choice, and can be designed to carry very heavy loads. On the downside, because you are often dealing with two jacks, more adjustments must be made and it takes a bit more maintenance. Also, because the jacks commonly go on either side of the car, and there is no hole for the jacks to retreat in, there must be more space at the top of the hoistway above the car.

  • Single Stage In-Ground – This option is very common, especially when you can drill a hole in the bottom of the pit and want to travel multiple floors.  Because it does not telescope, the moving parts are limited and it is, therefore, reliable. It has also been around for a very long time as a solution and has a solid track record.

The good things about a single stage in-ground jack is that it is easy to install, fairly economical, especially for mid-rise projects, has a huge capacity, and maintenance is limited to one jack.   They also provide a very smooth ride. On the downside, the jack is in a hole. This can lead to leaks of hydraulic fluid into the underground water supply or contamination of the soil. Keep in mind that most of the contamination issues have been resolved with new technology and regulations. However, the threat remains: units can have a cracked PVC casing which can cause flooding of the pit and some fluid leakage. Also, old corroded sheaths that the jacks reside in need to be replaced, usually at a significant cost.   Also, the depth of the jack must be equal to the travel of the elevator car. This can mean an expensive, deep hole.

  • Telescopic Jacks (Holeless and In-Ground) – Telescopic jacks can have up to four pistons, each traveling inside each other. These are used when a more compact solution is needed for either freight or passenger elevators. Telescopic jacks going in-ground will reduce the depth of the hole required, but can sometimes be more costly in and of themselves.

The big plus is that there is a reduced drilling cost for an in-ground application and a higher travel distance than for holeless projects.  Also, the installation is usually fast as the jacks are compact and easy to handle. The disadvantages include the obvious; there are more moving parts, so initial set up may be more complicated (bleeding the jack completely, is required). Depending on overall travel distance, follower guides will be needed, requiring additional engineering. Long-term maintenance may be more costly, as well. Finally, there are simply more packing and seals due to multiple pistons.

Jack Travel-01

Each of the above jacks have their place and purpose depending on travel distance, but, as you can see in the chart, there is overlap based solely the height the elevator needs to go to. Other factors include price, the ability to drill, and even personal preference (some feel the ride is better in elevators that have an in-ground jack).

The best way to determine the optimal option for your building project is to contact an elevator consultant or an unbiased company that can provide any type of elevator.  They should welcome all your questions and be willing to break down all possibilities by price or other factors important to your project. If you would like to talk with us about elevator jacks, visit us here.


Elevator Contracts – Shop All Exclusions

raquel-martinez-96648For 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.
  • Modernization – It is rarely covered in most elevator contracts. Modernization is excluded because it is a major update to systems and can be quite costly. A modernization really requires a second opinion and an estimate.
  • 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.
  • Damaged underground pipes (for hydraulic elevators) – Corrosion can cause real headaches, especially regarding old elevators. Fixing corrosion, otherwise known as replacing pipes, can be a huge cost and is excluded in most contracts.
  • 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.

If you are in Illinois, we can offer more specific information and estimates. Visit us here.

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.

Candles on the Cake: When is it time for Elevator Modernization?

Birthday cake with candles on color background

We all get to that age when we have more candles on the birthday cake than breath to blow them out. We sit and wonder, as the glow of the cake outshines a 50 watt light bulb, where did all the time go? Your elevator is getting older, too, and although we don’t usually bake a cake to celebrate each anniversary, the years can stack up just the same and faster than you think.

Your trusty elevator may be 25, 50 or 100 years old and as the calendar pages turn, it seems to run fine. Every time it breaks, your elevator mechanic manages to resuscitate the old machine and get it going again. But last month, after wrestling with finding parts and managing the repairs, the mechanic comes to you with the a radical recommendation…modernize “Old Faithful.”

Just one glance at the cost and you immediately wonder what a modernization is exactly and if there are any benefits to you and your riding public. Weighing the factors means knowing the facts because it may be time to bite the bullet and write the check for an update.

First, a modernization does not necessarily mean redoing the aesthetics seen by the public:  the interior of the elevator car, lobby, hall calls and door openings.  Doing this will certainly update the overall look and feel of the building.  But the visible finishes are not the main goal of a modernization.  An elevator modernization means replacing the key components that make your elevator run with parts that meet current codes and utilize current technology.

Components that are typically replaced in a full modernization include:

Controller:  This is the electronic brain that manages all the other components.  Older elevators have mechanical relays and contacts, while current controllers use solid-state

Elevator Rust

electronics. Time and corrosion can hurt the function of the mechanical relays.

Power Unit (hydraulic):  This is the pump/motor/valve assembly inside the tank.  Newer valves are an improvement because there are fewer moving parts, meaning they require less maintenance and are easier to adjust.  They also function better at temperature extremes and offer increased efficiency of the elevator. That means more money in your pocket instead of the elevator company’s.

Hoist Machine or Motor (traction):  This is the component that drives the ropes back and forth, to move the car up and down.  Updating the motor at the same time as the controller will provide better travel times, smoother operation, fewer shutdowns and less maintenance.

Fixtures:  This is all the buttons, including the car operating panel, hall stations and position indicators in the hallways.  Older fixtures, especially in the car, may not have all the features that current code-compliant fixtures do such an ADA phone and button panel with proper sizes, locations and dimensions. Also, if you have a very old unit, the bulbs may be incandescent. LED lights will provide a small amount of energy savings, but will last much longer, saving replacement cost.

Door Equipment:  This includes the door operator, clutch, and pick-up rollers.  A loud opening and closing door could mean that significant wear and tear has occurred and an overhaul needs to take place. There are motors, belts, wheels and gears that turn to open elevator doors and these wear out.  Quality routine maintenance can keep them working for a long time, but if they have been neglected, full replacement (modernization) may be needed. Also, safety regulations are updated periodically. Current codes require door restrictors, which old elevators often lack. To make your elevator doors, safer a modernization should take place.

Because many of the above are electrical components, newer ones may need more wires, so typically traveling and hoistway cables are replaced at the same time so all the wiring is new.

Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily have to do a full modernization.  Any of the above components can be replaced individually without a complete overhaul.  However, you get more bang for your buck if you do multiple things at once.  If you’ve ever done a “while we’re at it” kitchen remodel where you start with wanting new counters, decide to replace the cabinets they’ll sit on, and then opt to install new flooring while the cabinets are removed, you’ll understand this.  If you replace parts that are wired into the existing controller, it may be difficult to retrofit the wiring to work, so you need to run new wiring.  Or the controller may not know how to work with some of the new features because they weren’t invented when it was born.  And so on.

How do you know when it’s the right time to take some candles off the cake?  You should always talk with more than one elevator contractor to get their recommendations.  And you should read our next post, which will tell you the potential benefits  so you can decide if they’re worth the cost.