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Fill in the Blank: My Elevator Runs Like ____________.

04/01/2019 9:03 AM | CAI Rocky Mountain Chapter (Administrator)

By John O’Sullivan, VDA Elevator Consulting

There are not a lot of positive choices to finish that sentence with, so if you didn’t respond with a positive word or phrase in the blank, then you need to ask yourself a few questions. 

Is my Elevator Service Provider doing their job properly? 

Has my elevator reached the end of its life expectancy and is it just worn out? 

Do my tenants abuse the equipment?

Do I have the wrong type of elevator to meet my needs? 

Is my building properly elevatored? 

These are some of the major issues that are discussed with property owners and managers every day. So often, they want their elevator equipment to run dependably, but just can’t seem to get the reliability they so badly need.  Typically, they call their elevator contractor and place a service call, and the contractor comes out and fixes it.  But, soon enough, it breaks down again. It’s a vicious cycle. 

So how do we stop the cycle? Let’s talk about each of these scenarios separately. 

Is my Elevator Service Provider doing their job properly?

Unfortunately, many companies throughout the industry perform “Call Back Maintenance” which means that they typically only perform routine maintenance when the unit breaks down and they must go there to repair it. The issue is, often they come in and return the elevator to service, and then quickly leave, never having actually fixed the problem or performed routine maintenance. Hence, the vicious cycle.  A building manager needs to read their maintenance agreement and understand what the elevator contractor’s responsibilities are. If the maintenance agreement reads “regularly and systematically” as a definition for the frequency of maintenance, then that’s a big part of the problem. Your maintenance agreement is not written in your favor. It needs to have a clear and well-defined scope with performance requirements specific to your building.  Too often owners and managers sign maintenance agreements that are written by the elevator contractor. These typically include automatic renewal clauses that lock you in for extended contract durations. Building management should only sign a maintenance agreement that is written in their favor, so that it protects the building owner’s investment and protects management’s best interests. The building management company should also meet with the elevator maintenance contractor quarterly if possible, but at least twice a year, to discuss reoccurring issues and develop strategies to help improve elevator performance. Annual “Quality Control Evaluations” by an independent elevator consultant can help keep your finger on the pulse and help prevent ever getting caught in this vicious cycle to begin with.  

Has my elevator reached the end of its useful life expectance and is just worn out? 

When an elevator starts reaching the end of its life expectancy, which is typically 20-25 years, then it is time to start planning for an Elevator Modernization.  There are many factors that can contribute to the decision-making process, particularly in a commercial or residential building. Poor maintenance practices and a general dissatisfaction with elevator service are important, but not necessarily the primary reasons to modernize. Just like any other piece of machinery, it will reach a point where modernization must occur. It’s up to you to make sure that you have done your “Modernization Due Diligence” to confirm that you have reached that point.  Obsolesce is a buzzword often thrown around in the industry. Remember, just because your Elevator Contractor says a component is obsolete, doesn’t necessarily make it true.  In fact, it is seldom true and there are often other ways to repair and improve the equipment’s performance and maximize its life cycle until you can afford to modernize the elevator properly. There are usually several costly building related items that will need to be performed as well when a modernization takes place, so make sure to have all these items identified and budgeted for. This is an expensive undertaking and the process can be a very frustrating and confusing. Make sure to have someone experienced in your corner that will guide you through the process and help protect your interests and help to ensure that the project runs smoothly, as well as provides you with the best possible equipment for the next 20-25 years.  

Do my tenants abuse the equipment?

On occasion, no matter how well an elevator is maintained, or how new the equipment is, the elevator continues to shut down due to user abuse or “vandalism.”  While this is extremely frustrating, it can be very difficult to control, and costly to repair. In certain situations, vandal resistant buttons and vandal resistant cab interiors can be installed to help minimize the damage. Cameras can also be installed to monitor the situation, but they do create added liability if you don’t monitor them properly. Adding card readers and key switches are often the best solution and keep the vandals out of your elevators.   

Do I have the wrong type of elevator to meet my needs? 

Many times, owners try to take “Passenger Elevators” and make them perform like “Service Elevators” or “Freight Elevators.” Typically, passenger elevators are not designed to handle this type of abuse and will quickly become damaged and dilapidated. Modifications can be made to beef up a “Passenger Car” and convert it into a “Service Car,” improving its overall durability. A “Freight Elevator” is a completely different animal due to its vertical bi-parting doors and extra heavy-duty cab interior. This freight car transformation can be very costly and often isn’t necessary.

Is my building under elevatored? 

Many buildings have been transformed since they were originally designed.  Their tenant populations have dramatically increased and yet the quantity of elevators available to handle the increased traffic flow has remained the same. Some improvement can be obtained through modernization. The only way to tell for sure how much improvement can be obtained is by conducting a “Building Traffic Analysis” where the population and building layout are all taken into consideration and studied to determine what improvements are actually achievable. Advances in Destination Dispatching and increased elevator speed can add up to a significant improvement. A few seconds saved here and there at each stop can result in a dramatic improvement. 

At the end of the day, it’s your responsibility to take control of your elevator situation. It will be through your diligence and proactive involvement that will allow you to someday honestly fill in the blank with: My elevator runs like a “A Champion”, “A Fine-Tuned Machine”, or “A Swiss Watch”.


VDA is the world’s largest elevator consulting firm that assists our clients with Project Design, Quality Control Evaluations, Maintenance Contract Documents, Modernization Documents, and Project Bids on new and existing elevator and escalator equipment. VDA has a local office in Littleton, CO.  For more information, contact John at josullivan@vdassoc.com.

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