The independence that a small residential elevator brings to a homeowner, as well as the value it adds to the price of the house, makes it a worthwhile investment. However, it does come with many requirements, upkeep and expenses. Here are a few.

“Aging in place” is a term that’s often used to describe homeowners who wish to continue living in their longtime family home.

Alterations and renovations to an existing home can make it easier for a senior to avoid moving to a new location. These renovations often include some additions to the house, like adding a bathroom with a roll-in shower or replacing the exterior stairs with a ramp. 

It could also include making a first-floor living space, so the homeowner can avoid using one of the most challenging areas of a residence: the stairs. 

Adding an elevator or “vertical transportation” may seem like a simple, inexpensive solution that’ll help senior homeowners avoid using the stairs in an older or existing home. 

In its most simple form, an elevator requires a cab or box, an electronic mechanism and a hole in the house’s floor, allowing it to move between levels. What could possibly be complicated about adding an elevator, making movement between floors easy, and adding to the overall value of the home?

Well, there are quite a few things to think about.

Elevators require permits, maintenance contracts, safety features (including an alarm bell, a phone and lighting inside the cab, locking doors), and in most cases, a machine room, where the mechanicals are located.

A backup power system is always a good idea, should the house lose power and should the elevator stop between floors with someone, perhaps in a wheelchair or otherwise incapacitated, inside the cab.

The guiding thought behind adding an elevator is to offer independence to someone who may be unsteady or unable to navigate the stairs. In reality, the upkeep and maintenance of a home elevator as well as the daily operation requires monitoring, scheduling and supervision.

Using an elevator alone when no one is at home is inadvisable, as malfunctions, even in a two-story house, are always a consideration. Doors to the cab can become stuck, or the cab may not level with the floor when it stops, preventing the doors from easily opening. 

Should a fire occur in the home, the resident who has become reliant on the elevator would be unable to exit the house using stairs. (The general rule is that you should never use an elevator in case of a fire.)

What’s more, housing codes — which vary from location to location — also dictate the type of elevator that can be used.

Locating the elevator in the footprint of the house and deciding where to cut the hole in the floor is the first decision. In most cases, placing the elevator in an entry, near existing stairs, is the most common placement.

If you’ll need a mechanical room, you must allocate space for it. Small, residential elevators can incorporate self-contained electric motors and utilize vertical guides, attached to a wall, high-powered motors or cables found in larger elevators.

The drive system behind used with a small elevator will determine the power and strength of the lift system. Another requirement is an electromechanical interlock (EMI), a safety locking system for the door.

Another type of small elevator mechanism is a hydraulic lift, in which a pump transmits hydraulic fluid to a jack to raise and lower the cab. In addition to regular elevator equipment inspections, cables for small units should be replaced every five years.

A vacuum self-support system, moving air pressure through pumps and turbines, is yet another way to drive an elevator cab without the use of an elevator pic or hoist.

Doors to the elevator cab can open on both sides or one side only, depending on the amount of space outside the landing pad. Another consideration is the speed at which the small residential elevator will ascend and descend. In most cases, smaller units (unlike commercial units) move slowly.

Adding an elevator to an existing home comes with many requirements, upkeep and expenses. However, the independence that a small residential elevator brings to a resident, as well as the value added to the price of the home, may make this undertaking a worthwhile consideration. 

Look online, and you’ll find a slew of companies that offer many elevator options. They’ll often ship and install components as well as maintain them. All to say, homeowners looking to tackle such a major project should give it careful consideration. They should determine its validity, and whether the residents who will be using the elevator are capable of using it, and more importantly, if they will be comfortable in its operation.

Gerard Splendore is a licensed associate real estate broker with Warburg Realty in New York. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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