Things About Elevators You Probably Never Knew

Did you know elevators have been around since the days of the early Roman Republic making it one of the oldest technologies? But did you also know that without the elevator there would not be any of the modern city skylines that are recognized today?

Elevators: The Untold Secrets

“An elevator by definition is a platform or an enclosure raised and lowered in a vertical shaft to transport people and freight. The shaft contains the operating equipment, motor, cables, and accessories.”

Source: Mary Bellis, Inventors Expert

Sounds pretty boring right? However, sometimes the simplest of inventions have the greatest impact on our societies. Some of the other simpler inventions that come to mind include the wheel, indoor plumbing and the pulley.

Yet elevators despite being technologically mundane are so interwoven into urban life that society would have a major meltdown if they all stopped working. Just try to imagine life in a skyscraper without an elevator.

Think of it this way… the elevator is to vertical movement as the automobile is to horizontal movement. The auto has enabled us to increase out horizontal boundaries and the elevator our vertical ones.

Unlike the automobile which now number over 1 Billion, elevators operate in relative obscurity. Most people do not think about them unless even when they are in one. Much of this is due to the fact they have an outstanding safety record and that you really don’t see anything but the inside.

To help increase your knowledge of this urban innovation legend, the list below is designed for two purposes. The first is for basic trivia knowledge and the second is that you become aware of what might happen if elevator maintenance is forgotten.

10 Things About Elevators You Probably Never Knew or Cared About

  1. Without the elevator, buildings would be no more that 6-7 stories simply because no one wanted to walk that high up. As a result, before elevators, the top floors of buildings were for maids and low rent tenants. Now they are for penthouses, wealthy views and rooftop amenities/businesses.
  2. In 1853 the first elevator brakes were invented by Elisha Otis. His demonstration of a falling elevator stopped in its tracks at New York’s Crystal Palace gave the public confidence it needed to start building taller buildings. 160 years later his company, The Otis Elevator Company is the largest maker of elevators in the world.
  3. For over 100 years, the maximum elevator height was 500 meters or about 150 stories. This was because the weight of the steel cables which make up 75% of the moving mass are no longer cost effective higher than 500 meters. In 2013, a new carbon fiber cable was announced. This is the reason for the recent explosion and race to build the world’s tallest buildings.
  4. Chances are you won’t have the option to press the 13th floor button. In fact, according to the Otis Elevator Company as many as 85 percent of the high rises in the world don’t have a labeled 13th floor. This is mostly due to superstition that has worked its way into the mainstream. The 13th floor is either labeled another number, letter or goes by another name.
  5. No one keeps track of the actual number of elevators around the world but the top industrial countries have over 10 million elevators in operation. China leads the world with over 1.45 million elevators.
  6. The first elevators were button less as early elevators had an operator in each car and a licensed attendant in the lobby who would tell people where to go. Getting the elevator to stop at the right point took considerable skill.
  7. Automatic systems emerged after 1930 and are still found in the majority of buildings. The newest technology has gone back to button less operation as destination dispatch systems integrated with security systems tell you which elevator to go on and automatically take you to that floor.
  8. Elevators are designed with personal space in mind. There is a complex set of calculations by John J. Fruin in his book Pedestrian Planning and Design, that determines elevator layout including personal space requirements and how close you must be to smell another person under normal circumstances.
  9. Elevator etiquette was once a big issue that included debates over hat removal in the presence of a lady and appropriate methods of communication such as smiling, nodding or talking to other passengers.
  10. Hollywood misconceptions: In name of entertainment, Hollywood has perpetuated some urban myths. These include:
    • Accessing the roof of an elevator from the inside. In actuality, the ceiling panels are locked from the outside and are only used to get in by maintenance and emergency personnel (not out).
    • Elevator shafts have exciting lights and passageways. Elevators do not have lights in them like many of the action movies suggest. The shafts are very dark.
    • You can save yourself in a freefall by jumping at the last moment. It is impossible to know from the inside the precise moment to jump and the effect of jumping would be minimal at best.
    • You will run out of air if an elevator stops. Elevators are not airtight and suffocation in a stuck elevator is not going to happen.

Behind the Scenes of Elevators and Elevator Maintenance

Some of the statistics for elevators are staggering. For example: In the USA alone, elevators make over 18 billion trips per year (based on 900,000 elevators).

The safety record of elevators for the public is also astounding. As of 1998, riders had only a 1 in 12 million chance of a ride with a problem and most of these were minor such as doors failing to open.

More serious injuries are also extremely few and far between. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics there are about 27 fatalities a year associated with elevators. Of these fatalities, 53% occur during installation or repair and 17% occur during work in the shaft. Clearly working on elevators is more dangerous than riding them.

But this brings us to a good point about elevator maintenance. The elevator industry is one of those industries where the sale of the actual elevator and components is not nearly as important or as profitable as the maintenance contract.

There are several reasons for this that include:

  • Elevators are built to last about 20 years with proper maintenance and inspections. The older the equipment gets, the harder it will be to find parts and/or keep the elevator code compliant. In essence this means that a building‚Äôs elevators will need to be refurbished, modernized or replaced several times during the life of a building.
  • Modern elevators have electronic control panels, an array of sensors, switching systems, destination control systems, peak management systems, safety systems, emergency access systems and security systems. These systems require a level of specific knowledge that very few facilities management staff have the engineering expertise with.
  • New elevators use proprietary software and require specialized tools that the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) claims will provide proper maintenance.¬†OEM maintenance contracts¬†are very profitable. They are so profitable that other manufacturers go after each other‚Äôs business.

Other factors for deciding whether or not to use independent contractors or in-house maintenance include knowing how much down time you will accept and your liability risk level if you maintain an elevator without properly certified technicians.

Elevator Maintenance Contract

The details of an elevator maintenance contract are way beyond the scope of this article. However it should be noted that everything is negotiable ranging from POG (parts, oil and grease) costs to inspection schedules.

Most importantly for any facility manager is that the elevator contract be kept accessible so that its maintenance schedule is synchronized with regular facilities maintenance. This is accomplished using the document management features of an Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) system.

By using an EAM system, facilities managers can have all parts of the contract including photos, schematics and contact information available and viewable on any mobile device.

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