by HomesRenewed Policy Strategist Kristin Amerling
When my parents started exploring their interest in installing a home elevator, my husband and I started taking notes. My parents are active 70-somethings living in a free-standing home in Florida and my husband and I are raising teenagers in a multi-story townhome in DC. Although we are separated by a generation and geography, and the mobility challenges my parents are anticipating in the near future seem remote for my husband and me, all of us share a priority on having safe and hassle-free homes. We also, as well, seek quality and attractive products at a good price.
We investigated home elevator options with my parents and discovered helpful resources for getting answers. Below is a download on our research on the purchase process so you can get a head start on yours. For additional information on how tax breaks or incentives can reduce costs, look to the rest of the HomesRenewed site and blog.
Are there legal requirements for private home elevator installation and inspection?
Before you begin looking at specific options, start by learning your state and local requirements for elevator installation, inspection, and ongoing maintenance, as they vary widely — there may be cases, depending on the configuration of your home, where you may find you cannot use a home elevator. With my parents, for example, the State of Florida exempts private residences from the installation and inspection requirements it imposes with respect to commercial elevators, while the State of Massachusetts prohibits operation of a home residential elevator without an inspection certificate. Even though Florida exempts private residences, however, my parents will need to meet county codes for installation and inspection.
How do I find the best brand and style for my home?
Manufacturers generally do not sell directly to consumers but distribute through local dealers, who can provide information through their sales representatives, showroom demonstrations, and ideally, they will refer you to a consumer or two willing to show you how an installed model is working in their own home. We identified dealers close to my parents by calling manufacturers identified by a basic google search for “home elevator” and telling them my parents’ zip code.
Major options include models with and without an enclosed shaft, and systems that operate through inline gear in the shaft or through hydraulic lifts or winding drums that require a separate machine room. The level of noise and amount of space consumed by these options can vary widely.
Before talking to sales reps, be sure to know: (1) how much you are willing to spend; (2) the measurements of the space where the elevator would sit;* (3) the number of people and total weight capacity you are seeking to accommodate; and (4) whether you want a fully enclosed model. You may also want to ask:
- Does the company provide assurances about product safety and if so, how?
- Does the company use its own installation contractor or do you need to find your own?
- Does the company guarantee an installation deadline?
- What ongoing maintenance does the company offer?
What will a home elevator cost to purchase and install?
For private residence elevators, recent articles estimate that the cost of an elevator unit can range anywhere from $7,000 to $50,000. The specific quotes we received for a two-person capacity elevator, surveying four dealers we found through a google search, fell within this range ($23,000 to $40,000), depending on the type of elevator. Remember that prices for the equipment are often a fraction of the total cost once installation is taken into account, which can add costs in the order of tens of thousands of dollars. And expenditures do not stop at installation, as dealers recommend – and some states require – periodic inspection.
What is involved with ongoing maintenance and how much will that cost?
Some dealers take a soup-to-nuts approach to service, providing contractors for installation who will be available for future maintenance and inspections. In our three-dealer survey we got upkeep estimates ranging from $225-600 for annual inspections, plus whatever costs result from any needed repairs.
How do I learn about safety risks of home elevators?
Home elevators are not without accident risks, and there have been a number of reported incidents involving serious harm to individuals using the equipment, including young children. In December 2014, the non-profit organization the Safety Institute filed a petition with the Consumer Product Safety Commission requesting mandatory standards for home elevators and asserting there were 1600 injuries in a 2-year period involving home elevators. In evaluating the safety record of different manufacturers, one helpful resource is CPSC’s searchable online “recall” list. As with many other consumer products, you also can search the Better Business Bureau by company name for reports on company performance.
How do I find a contractor that specializes in elevator installation?
Several on-line resources provide localized listings of specialists: Home Advisor has a search function for “elevator or chairlift install or replace” and Angie’s List has a similar page on its website where consumers answer questions and then receive a personalized list of contractors.
The National Association of Home Builders has a listing by state of individuals who have obtained “aging in place” certification (known as “CAPS” specialists) to specialize in evaluating home modifications that make space accessible and navigable for individuals facing potential or current loss of mobility or ability to executive daily living tasks. I found 231 such specialists in Florida. Some CAPS specialists are contractors; others have expertise in areas such as occupational therapy and home design (and note the author of this blog has CAPS certification in DC).
I live in a region subject to severe weather. Does that make a difference in how I would install or maintain an elevator?
Special procedures for securing and protecting home elevators are recommended for storm conditions. For example, in areas of Florida frequently subject to hurricanes, experts recommend that when a storm is approaching, counterweight elevator owners should place the equipment at the center of the hoistway, not the bottom floor, to avoid flooding of the cab, while hydraulic elevators should be placed at the top floor. Turning off power prevents damage due to wet circuitry or voltage surges, and closing the doors prevents debris from entering the car. (See, e.g., tips posted on the Miami/Dade county government website on hurricane preparedness.)
Are there other solutions more appropriate for my circumstances?
In light of the health, safety, and cost issues associated with a home elevator purchase, every individual needs to weigh specific needs and priorities when making the decision to install a home elevator. For example, some may determine it is more cost-effective or practical to install a stairlift along the bannister of the stairway, while others may prefer the aesthetics and comfortable ride associated with an enclosed elevator. In all cases, it makes sense to seek input from your healthcare professionals, experienced contractors, and any consumers in your region who may have working models operating in their own homes – and don’t stop asking your questions until you get good answers!
*Editors note: Design services may be needed to determine a location that works well providing entry/exit that works on all floors and other factors. (See this example of a design process description.)