According to the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, “It's been estimated that 275 million people travel 95,000 miles everyday by elevator.” The Department goes on to say that despite their heavy use, elevators are one of “the safest modes of transportation that exist today.” Here’s how you can keep your cars safe and reliable.
Pass the Inspection
Debra Jackson, director of the Elevators & Amusements branch of the Fire and Safety Division in the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, advises to “always have a reputable elevator contractor, one certified in the state.” In Indiana, electric or traction elevators are subject to an annual test but also a more comprehensive five-year test. Monthly service providers should be checking oil usage, looking for leaks, checking belts, drive units and door operators on hydraulic elevators as well as checking the brakes and cables on traction elevators.
When Jackson enters a building, the first thing she looks for is the operating permit to ensure that it’s current and that it’s posted in a conspicuous location. Two areas that are often overlooked are the pit and the top of the car, which are rarely cleaned. The machine rooms are also not to be used for storage. “There’s so much safety built in,” Jackson says. “I was surprised when I first started inspecting elevators at how much back-up there is.”
Americans with Disabilities Act compliance requires certain heights for the call buttons in the hallway, and local and state code will dictate annual inspections, including performing a test of the fireman’s return, a switch used to return the elevator to the lobby so firemen can run it manually. Jerry Allen, director of Engineering for Houston for Transwestern, says his staff performs tests of the fireman’s return monthly and performs a visual inspection of the fire panel as well. Be sure that your phone contract includes service to the emergency call buttons. Often, a building manager will change phone service providers and overlook this important phone line, leaving the elevator car with an emergency call button that rings to nobody. In a Class A building, this call button should alert the security desk, who will in turn call management and the fire department but at a minimum, you should have an answering service prepared to accept these calls with a current call list of key personnel to notify if the elevator goes off-line.
Know Thy Contract
Mark Anderson, account manager for United Elevator Company in Philadelphia, says that larger companies have moved away from the standard service contract with regularly scheduled visits in favor of installing recorders on the elevator that act similarly to a car’s odometer, recording the number of trips and measuring the time that the elevator runs in order to estimate when a service call is needed. Anderson and his company prefer the more old-fashioned approach. “Each elevator has its own use and abuse it takes from a particular tenant,” Anderson says. “You can’t measure that and equipment will suffer in the long run without an old-fashioned preventive maintenance plan. You pay a little more for it, but it works.”
If your building has limited resources or an elevator that doesn’t see as much use, you may consider what Anderson calls an “oil and grease” contract that involves limited monthly visits to inspect and lubricate the elevator with more extensive repairs handled on a bid basis.
When negotiating your contract, ask that certain repairs are included. For example, for a traction elevator, ensure that your contractor will re-seal machine seal leaks, replace leaky seals and repair or replace rusty hoist cables. Perform regular visual checks, inspecting the cleanliness of your machine rooms. Keep a log of entrapments and other malfunctions and share this information with your service provider at quarterly meetings. With hydraulic elevators, the fluid could be an environmental or HAZMAT issue, and so all spillage or leakage should also be recorded.
Meeting with a contractor regularly can help an owner reduce visits by training on-site maintenance staff to recognize common problems, such as a screw caught in the sill or even something as mundane as a fireman’s stop switch that’s been tripped.
Allen says components for older elevators often are hard to come by. The upgrade from a mechanical relay-style elevator to a solid-state or computerized system can cost between $80,000 and $110,000 per call. Owners also should upgrade the ancillary systems, such as the HVAC in the elevator mechanical rooms. Old relay-style elevators could withstand elevated temperatures but a computerized system could fail if not kept in a cooled environment.
With computers replacing much of the work on relays, coils, carbons and contacts, 50 percent of the work today centers around the doors. “The doors open and close four times for each trip,” Anderson says. Rollers, hangers and tracks all must be lubricated with frequent replacement of parts.
Every three to five years, bring in an elevator consultant to perform a more detailed survey including car travel times, the quickness with which the doors operate and the overall efficiency of each run.