Baby Boomers are aging, and people of all ages are increasingly caring for elderly parents with mobility issues. That has increased the demand for home elevators in multistory homes. A home elevator is a terrific help with mobility and moving cargo floor to floor, but diligent research and planning are a must. Here’s what you need to know.
Elevator components and types
Here are the basic parts of an elevator.
- The hoistway is the enclosed shaft in which the elevator passenger car passes up and down. Depending on the drive system used, some elevators don’t have an enclosed hoistway.
- The engine room is a separate closet space housing the motor and other operating equipment.
- The car or cab is the passenger compartment that transports people and objects.
- Elevator doors come in a variety of designs. Many home elevators have both an outer and an inner door. The outer door looks like any other in the house. Behind it, a second door to the cab slides open and closed. Some elevators without a hoistway use a glass door that slides open or opens outward.
There are four types of drive systems for elevators.
- Hydraulic systems use pumps to fill and drain a piston that moves the car up and down. Or the piston may operate a pulley-and-cable apparatus to move the car.
- A drum system winds and unwinds a chain or steel cable on a drum mounted atop the car. There may be a large counterweight that moves up and down in opposition to the car. This system may not use a hoistway, in which case the car rides up and down on a track along the sides.
- Cable or chain drive systems may also wind onto a drum, but not one positioned on the top of the car. They may also use a counterweight.
- Pneumatic systems operate like tubes at a bank drive-through. Suction raises the passenger car to the upper floors, and gravity causes the car to descend.
Do your due diligence
Several aspects of buying and installing an elevator require study.
Buying and installing an elevator costs from $30,000 to $75,000. Sellers offer financing but compare their interest rates and terms to alternatives such as a home equity line of credit (HELOC). Often the HELOC rate is better, plus HELOC interest is tax-deductible.
Think carefully about where you will install the elevator. Is there a closet or other space downstairs with a corresponding available space directly above it? If not, you may need to add a hoistway to a side of the house. In that case, you should file for approval from your neighborhood homeowners association if there is one. You also must check with your county or city government about getting a building permit.
Make sure the elevator car is large enough to accommodate a wheelchair or a person with a walker as well as one other passenger.
The cost and logistics of where to install an elevator are important, but safety is your biggest priority. Elevators can be risky. In particular, the space between the outer and inner doors can be dangerous for children. The equipment must be installed correctly. The machinery uses significant electrical power.
States regulate and inspect commercial elevators in office buildings, but sometimes residential elevators don’t get as much attention. You should include finding and paying an inspector as part of your planning.
Before the expense and hassle of such a major renovation, consider alternatives. Can you or your aging parents sell the two-story house and move to a one story? Leaving a beloved home of many years may still be worth the savings in money and energy.
You could also consider a chairlift system built into a staircase. Although these are far less expensive than elevators, many consider them unsightly. Additionally, users in wheelchairs will have to be shifted into the lift seat and have another wheelchair waiting upstairs.
Finding a dealer and installer
Nationally known elevator sellers and installers include AmeriGlide, Savaria, Nationwide Lifts and Stiltz. Get proposals from at least two companies. Check references and contact the state regulatory agency for elevators for any record of citations or sanctions. Also, check with the Better Business Bureau and Yelp. Choose the company with the best combination of positive reputation, price and attention to safety.
Related – The Resale Value of an Accessible Home