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A Standard Home Elevator

A standard home elevator is what most people think of as an elevator: a cab or cabin inside a hoistway or shaft. This can be accomplished by taking away space on each floor in your house or adding space to each floor outside. The terms hoistway and shaft are interchangeable references to the structure where the elevator cab moves up and down.

The interiors can be finished in a contemporary, transitional, or traditional style. Cab finish vernacular is nearly identical to kitchen cabinet door vernacular. For example, a transitional look might be single recessed-paneled cabin walls like craftsman or shaker cabinet doors painted white.

A contemporary cabin might be flat bamboo, glass, or walnut with no embellishments, similar in design to European flat foil kitchen cabinet doors. A traditional cab might be raised or double-recessed panels with an applied molding.

The finish of control panels, handrails, lighting, trim, and cabin entry doors, whether accordion doors, bi-folding, or collapsing panels, is another factor in the design style.

The hallway or hoistway doors are also part of the design aspect of an elevator project.

Signature Elevators & Accessible Design displays two major standard elevator brands in our showroom: Cambridge Elevating and Fox Valley Elevators.

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Non-Traditional Home Elevators

While pneumatic vacuum elevators and Stiltz shaftless elevators are good home elevators, they’re not considered standard. These options either join a shaft and elevator into a single product or system, or they don’t require a shaft, unlike standard elevators.

The Home Elevator Hoistway or Elevator Shaft

In many ways, the design and location of the hoistway are the biggest parts of a standard elevator project. The outside dimensions of the shaft are typically 5 feet by 5 feet. This is the width of a standard hallway bathroom and nearly as deep.

Imagine putting stacked bathrooms on each floor. Where would you put them? What stacked spaces could you give up for an elevator? Or would you add that stacked space outside of your home?

Residential Elevator Shaft Construction

An elevator shaft is not the equivalent of stacked closets. An elevator shaft must withstand two forces: tension and compression. The forces in tension are easy to understand if you think of a tree. Imagine an elevator cab weighing 500 to 1000 pounds plus its capacity, let’s say four people weighing 900 pounds for a total of 1400 to 1900 pounds. Now imagine that cab attached to the top of a 30-foot pine tree. What’s going to happen to that tree? It’s going to be pulled down by the weight and capacity of the cab. That represents the forces of tension.

The forces in compression are the downward shear force of the cabin transferred to the steel beams it rides on straight down to the ground. Imagine if the elevator’s steel beams were sitting on the beach. Over time, the steel beams would be driven into the sand such that the third stop would sit on the sand. That’s the forces in compression at work.

These two forces must be controlled for the rest of the time by how the elevator shaft is built into or onto your house. The shaft must be plumb and straight to ¼ of an inch from top to bottom and must stay that way forever. In other words, an elevator shaft must be engineered and built in a far superior and stronger way than the way the rest of your house.

The shaft construction is where almost all the problems associated with a residential elevator project emanate. Signature Elevators is unique among elevator contractors because we build our own elevator hoistways with our own employed carpenters and craftspeople.

The norm among almost all other elevator companies is to leave the construction of the elevator shaft to you, the homeowner. They may provide the names of subcontractors they know, but they’re ultimately not involved in constructing the elevator shaft.

It may be up to you to:

  • Hire an architect to draw the plans.
  • Hire a structural engineer to design the construction of the shaft to withstand the forces of tension and compression.
  • Hire a permit processor to get the plans through the permit office.
  • Hire one or more construction companies to build the shaft.

Signature Elevators & Accessible Design is not opposed to simply being the elevator company that supplies and installs the elevator, if that’s what you or your remodeling company or builder wants. But for you, the homeowner, we think one cook in the kitchen supplying a turnkey outcome is simply the better and safer way to go.

Discuss your home elevator project with our team today by calling (301) 251-1658.

Moving a Standard Residential Elevator

How does the elevator cab move up and down the hoistway or shaft? Drum drive and hydraulic elevators are the vast majority of the residential elevator market and are named for their means of moving the cabin up and down the hoistway. There is also the Machine Room Less (MRL) elevator configuration.

Drum Drive Home Elevator

The drum drive residential elevator has been around for a long time. It’s simply a drum driven by a motor that winds a cable onto and around a drum or barrel to pull the superstructure surrounding the elevator cabin, which is called the sling, up the hoistway. Various pulley wheels are often involved to account for the juxtaposition of the motor and drum to the vertical aspects of the hoistway.

To lower the elevator, the motor turns the drum in the opposite direction, unwinding the cable from the drum. The cable, called a rope, is typically galvanized aircraft cable rated at 3,000 to 5,000 pounds.

Signature Elevator & Accessible Design’s preferred elevator brand for drum drive and drum drive MRLs is Fox Valley Elevators. We have a beautiful Fox Valley Elevator MRL drum drive elevator with four finishes on display at the showroom.

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Roped Hydraulic Home Elevator

Hydraulic residential elevators became popular about 30 years ago and are still a major part of the market today. A pump motor called a control valve pushes hydraulic fluid from a small tank through a tube or hose into a hydraulic jack or piston.

A hydraulic jack is in two parts: an outer tube called the cylinder and an inner tube called a piston. The piston is pushed out of the cylinder by the hydraulic fluid pumped into the cylinder. On top of the piston is a pulley wheel called a sheave. There is a galvanized aircraft cable, rated at 3000 to 5000 pounds; one side is attached to the bottom of the elevator shaft, and the other is attached to the superstructure around the elevator cabin, called the sling.

The cable rope goes up and over the pulley or wheel on top of the piston. When the piston rises, pushed up by the hydraulic fluid pumped into the cylinder, the cabin rises 2 inches for every inch the piston rises. This 2:1 dynamic, called mechanical advantage, is because the cable is on both sides of the pulley. It’s related to the mechanical advantage of a block and tackle that can allow a person to lift many multiples of their weight, caused by the mechanical advantage of pulley systems.

Signature Elevators’ preferred hydraulic elevator brand is Cambridge Elevating. We have an extremely contemporary glass MRL hydraulic Cambridge Elevator on display in our showroom. Including glass collapsing doors and their proprietary remote monitoring system, all in a windowed glass shaft.

MRL Machine Room Less

To some degree, the MRL Machine Room Less elevator is more a marketing term than an actual new means of moving an elevator. Traditionally, the motor and controller (computer) operating a drum drive or the motor pump, controller, and hydraulic tank operating a roped hydraulic elevator were placed in an equipment room or closet attached to or nearby the elevator shaft.

A decade or so ago, the motors for drum drive elevators had gotten small enough and light enough that they could be moved inside the elevator hoistway at either the bottom or top of the shaft.

A manufacturer’s marketing department then renames their drum drive with the motor inside the shaft an MRL Machine Room Less elevator. The controller must still be outside the shaft for numerous safety reasons. Recently, the hydraulic elevator’s tank and pump have gotten small enough and light enough that it to can also be configured as an MRL by moving the tank and pump into the shaft.

Signature Elevators offers MRL Machine Room Less versions of its two preferred standard elevator brands: Fox Valley Elevators and Cambridge Elevating.

Other means of moving a residential elevator exist, such as traction, counterweight chain drive, sprocket, and screw drives; however, these other means in the residential market are a small single-digit percentage of the marketplace.

Schedule a home elevator installation with our team today. Call (301) 251-1658.

Counterweight Chain Drive

We display a third type of standard elevator called a counterweight chain drive. Our unit is made by Cambridge Elevating and is called the E50. The small footprint fits into a 50″ by 50″ shaft and does not require particularly robust framing.

It’s a great alternative for the homeowner who thinks they have an elevator shaft only to discover it was simply stacked closets not framed for an elevator. In other words, it was never more than space dedicated to a future elevator.

The motor is smaller because the cab’s weight and capacity are counterweighted in a track between the rails. A small motor is simply shifting the height of the two competing weights. The leads to the motor, which is at the top, actually fitting above the cab in an eight-foot space.

Learn more about our home elevators today or contact us with any questions.


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