Elevator Potential: Is an Elevator the Right Option for a Two-Story Home?

Mark C. Ode

A two-story home can be a dream come true when a family is young but could become a nightmare as family members age and the owners reach their 70s and 80s. Two-story homes are usually built with the bedrooms on the second floor and a family room, kitchen, dining room, laundry room, half-bathroom and living room on the first floor. Aging homeowners may have trouble with the steep walk down and the long climb up. However, those homeowners may not be able to afford a new single-story home or may want to remain in their multilevel home. What are the best options, and can a reasonable solution be found that will accommodate aging in place? Is a stair lift a reasonable and acceptable alternative to an elevator?

According to TV ads, the stair lift is the answer to elderly people going up and down the stairs. However, some owners don’t like the look and think it may affect the future sale price of the home. Can an elevator be installed in an existing home at a reasonable cost, and what are the electrical issues that accompany the installation?

Remember, the cost of moving, fees to real estate brokers and the disruption of lifestyle, as well as the emotional toll of leaving a dream home, may influence a decision on aging in place.

Since my wife, our two four-legged children (toy schnauzers) and I are getting older and we own a two-story home, we decided an elevator may be the answer to the dilemma of the ever-daunting stairs. I did some research on the most feasible types of elevators and determined there are five common types of elevators, each with pluses and minuses. There are cable-driven elevators where the elevator is powered by a cable wound around a drum at the top of the elevator. There are chain-driven models that are more durable and have fewer maintenance requirements since the chain does not need to be replaced as often as the cable. A hydraulic elevator is the style more often found in commercial use and is powered by a piston that travels inside a cylinder. The drawback of the hydraulic elevator for an existing home is a pit is required on the base floor for the elevator, and that can be difficult, as well as costly, to install in an existing home.

The fourth type of elevator is the pneumatic elevator that uses a vacuum system within a tube to power the elevator cab movement up and down. Since the pneumatic elevator is totally vacuum powered, the elevator does not require a pit or a machine room as do the first two elevator types.

The last elevator model is the battery-powered, electric motor-driven elevator. I determined that the most reasonable elevator system for our two-story home is either the pneumatic elevator or the electric motor-driven elevator. The cost for either type is between $15,000 and $35,000 for installation in an existing home, so it is often a major selling feature and can increase the sale price of the home.

The next step toward determining if an elevator is right for a home is to find a location on each floor where the elevator cab can fully rise and where it can also fully reside on the main floor.

Homeowners should meet with the elevator manufacturer’s representative at their home to determine the best possible place to install an elevator. After determining the electrical specifications of the elevator, they should contact their electrical contractor to ensure their service is large enough and the elevator power can be supplied to the location. Home elevators are required to meet the design safety criteria established by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and any elevator that is installed should comply with ASME A17.1. The elevator must be installed by a licensed general contractor and electrical contractor. The project must be permitted and inspected by the authority having jurisdiction for the homeowner’s community.

About the Author

Mark C. Ode

Fire/Life Safety, Residential and Code Contributor

Mark C. Ode is a lead engineering associate for Energy & Power Technologies at Underwriters Laboratories Inc. and can be reached at 919.949.2576 and Mark.C.Ode@ul.com.

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