Thursday, August 17, 2017  



Should You Install a Home Elevator?

by Sue Walter

   Home elevators, once found only in the homes of the rich and famous, are becoming more common in general homebuilding and remodeling as baby boomers look at alternatives to keep them in their homes as they age.  Ranch homes or other homes built on one level solved this problem well, but many of our newer homes were built with basements, second stories and even attic living spaces that require climbing flights of stairs.


   It’s funny how you never give a thought to your own mobility until you lose it. Then you may be faced with trying to get to a bedroom and bath on one floor and the kitchen on another. When you can’t get up the stairs, mobility issues will need to be quickly addressed so you can remain in your home. With that idea in mind, many home elevators are being installed for future use rather than for an immediate need.

   If you want to be prepared without actually installing an elevator, you can ask your architect to plan the layout of your new home so you reserve a place for the elevator. Stacking closets over each other in the multistory house would make adding an elevator easier if you should need one. In the meantime you can use the space. You can convert the closets to an elevator shaft should the need arise. If your home is already built and you need an elevator, the installer will try to retrofit a space to accommodate it. If a space cannot be found in the interior layout of your home, an elevator can even be put on the outside of your home. It can be enclosed and appear chimney-like on the outside of your home or, if you prefer, a clear glass elevator will take you up while providing a view of the great outdoors.

   Leo Hergenreder, owner of Ashley Elevator, has done installations in both new buildings and retrofits to existing houses. “You would be surprised how small a space it takes to get an elevator into an existing house. Elevators as small as 3 feet by 3 feet or even 30 x 30 inches are possible.” Often these small elevators are inconspicuous; their entrances framed to look like a closet door.  They can be simple or elegant depending on the needs of the homeowner.
   Basically there are three main types of elevators. The first type, a hydraulic elevator, is moved by a hydraulic piston device. Although hydraulic elevators require additional space for a machine room to house equipment, they are quieter, smoother, and faster than the other three types.   The second type includes both traction elevators and winding drum elevators.  This type works by sliding up and down a track with a counterweight or hoist mechanism. They need space above the elevator to house equipment. The third type is a pneumatic elevator. It is essentially a giant polycarbonate tube that works with air pressure. Similar to the deposit tubes at the bank, they use air pressure to move the cab inside the tube, but at a much slower pace than the bank tubes. Some of the advantages of this system are that you do not need to construct an elevator shaft or have room for machinery. The controls take up little space. The problem is getting it into existing houses. It needs a clearance of 39 inches and most doorways are usually no more then 36 inches wide or less. Also, it tends to be slower and has less capacity then the other types.

   Coming in many shapes and sizes, a residential elevator can be customized to meet the needs of the individual. Although they can be extremely small if need be, if the intent is to move someone in a wheelchair, a 36” x 48” size would be more realistic. This size would hold two people or one person in a wheelchair and one person standing. Of course, even larger sizes are available if needed.

   Once you’ve decided on the size of elevator you need, the design options are unlimited.

Materials for the interior spaces can be chosen to complement the home’s interior design. For a modern theme, sleek metal sides or glass elevators fit well. Art work hung on the walls can be used to personalize the space. For a sophisticated look, rich wood paneled walls soften the interior. Mirrors can be added to make the space feel larger. They are especially nice when used with the wood panels. Hardware choices usually are coordinated with existing home hardware to match and fit in with your home’s decor.

   The choice of lighting is another way to customize your elevator. Art deco light fixtures would add charm and evoke an earlier era. Or use modern fixtures to brighten the space for a more futuristic look. Windows can even be added to bring in natural light.

   Planning for an elevator takes time. Unfortunately, the need for an elevator may be urgent and sudden. An illness or injury may strike and the need for assistance in going up and down stairs becomes a priority. A place will need to be found in the house. A shaft may need to be built and the elevator ordered to fit the space. You will need to choose the design and features you want. If all goes well, it will take 4-8 weeks to install.

   An immediate solution is the stairlift. It is the quickest, simplest, and easiest solution to getting up stairs in your home. Essentially it is a chair that rides up and down the staircase. The chair is attached to a track that is bolted to your staircase. The expense of a stairlift is very reasonable when compared to an elevator. There are many brands and types. Some will even accommodate turns on the stairs and stair landings. The main advantage, other than cost, is that it can be installed right away. In addition to transporting people, they can also be used to get your laundry, groceries, or other essential items to the next level. A disadvantage of the stairlift is that it does take up part of the stairs and is always visible. But if you need a quick solution to home mobility, this is probably your best bet.

   Mr. Hergenreder has installed both stairlifts and elevators. Sometimes the stairlifts are used temporarily until the elevator can be completed. Another option is a wheelchair lift which is similar to a stairlift, only without the fixed chair. The wheelchair lift is an open platform which carries a wheelchair. It is more common in commercial buildings than in homes.

   Customers who end up choosing to purchase an elevator do so for both necessity and convenience. Fifty percent of his customers already need them at the time of purchase and the other fifty percent are building a new home and decide to add an elevator as an option.

   One of the trends he is seeing is younger couples installing elevators in their homes for their elderly parents who come to live with them. Even relatively healthy people have found that after adding a home elevator, they use it more than they thought they would. Want to move furniture from one floor to another? Elevators make it easy. Also, the cost of an elevator is now much more affordable than it used to be.

  Installing an elevator not only adds mobility options for you, but it also gives your home a valued home improvement.  If there were two similar homes in a neighborhood for sale and one had an elevator, the house with the elevator would be a more attractive choice for most buyers. According to Mr. Hergenreder, “Elevators move real estate as well as people.” Many real estate agents feel it does give your house an edge when it comes time to sell.

  Although still somewhat of a luxury item, the home elevator has become increasingly popular in recent years. With an aging population, there is every reason to believe this trend will continue and not exclusively in the high end home market.  The desire to remain in your home is a strong one. Elevators provide a viable option to homeowners with multi-level homes.

  Many thanks to Leo Hergenreder of Ashley Elevator in Richmond for supplying information for this article.