Tag Archives: modernization

Avoid Feeling Trapped During Elevator Repairs

Trapped elevator Christmas, Elevator Repairs, elevator helpful list,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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

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Rotting from the Inside Out – My Tooth, Your Elevator Jack

Candy CaneRecently, I bit down a bit too hard on a candy cane and I felt a strange sensation. My mouth was suddenly filled with a substance that was more like small gravel or sand than a candy cane.  I knew that gravel wasn’t on the list of ingredients, which meant something I dreaded much more:   One of my molars was broken and the pieces filled my mouth. Ouch!

I’m obsessive about my brushing and flossing, to the point of pride.  But, little did I know, deep in the recesses of my #18 molar, insidious forces were at work.  Painlessly and silently, tooth decay destroyed my dental pride from the inside out, and made a dent in my bank account.

A similar story can be told about elevators. They can look nice and shiny, with highly polished stainless steel hall calls, gleaming handrails and fancy glass interiors. They can be well cared for and brushed to a brilliant sheen, but the mechanisms that make them go up and down maybe rotting from the inside out, without anyone being the wiser. This is particularly true of older, in-ground jacks of hydraulic elevators because part of the elevator system is in the ground.  And far below the surface of the earth, they could be rotting with corrosion and rust.

In ground hydraulic jackPre-Nixon administration hydraulic jacks were made with a single metal bottom plate. With the jack exposed to the water in the ground, over time it can rust.  When it rusts all the way through the wall, the hydraulic oil begins to leak out.  If the jack loses oil all at once, the elevator car could fall.

Today’s jacks have a “double bottom” with the “second bottom” consisting of a bulkhead and orifice the slow any leakage and prevent a complete, sudden emptying of the jack.  In addition, the jack is contained in a sealed PVC liner, so there is no contact between the jack and elements that could rust it.

Should you worry about this if you are a building owner?  If you have a very old hydraulic elevator with an in ground jack, it is a concern.  If you have not had quality routine maintenance, it is a concern as well.  One of the telltale signs is that your oil level drops over time but it’s not visible in the pit buckets, which contain oil that leaks through the packing.  If oil is disappearing without a trace, it’s likely going into the ground.

Old Hydraulic Jack In Ground-01Another way to detect a leak is during annual inspections, which are required in most jurisdictions, and include a hydraulic system pressure test.  During this test, the hydraulic system of the elevator is tested to the maximum pressure the system can maintain. This maximum pressure is referred to as the relief pressure. The relief pressure can be up to 150% of the working pressure as per many state codes.

The working pressure is the pressure in the hydraulic system running at full speed and full weight capacity. During this annual pressure test, old and weak jacks plagued by rust and corrosion are susceptible to rupture. When it does, be glad it occurred during a test and not when passengers where along for the ride. It is always better to have a failure during a safety controlled test.

Just as I found out with my tooth, elevator repair can be expensive if it requires an entire jack replacement.  However, because safety is paramount, if a problem exists it must be discovered and repaired sooner rather than later. The bottom line, is despite my desire not to have dental work done, it was needed.  And if your aging jack is leaking, it’s much better to find out before the leak gets dangerous.  Then you can replace it on your time schedule instead of performing emergency surgery.

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.