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Need elevators? Keep your head out of the clouds.

Hey, we love tall buildings! But if you don’t need to scrape the sky, here’s a quick review of some low-rise options. That way you can made an educated choice that saves you and building owners time and money.

Manufacturers offer two basic types of elevators - traction and hydraulic - for low-rise applications. But the type you choose impacts cost, space, performance, building design and sustainability. So, it’s important keep your head out of the clouds and to know the facts.


Hydraulic elevators cost less. They also cost less to maintain – in some cases up to $100K less - over the 25 year life of an elevator. But most hydraulic elevators require a mechanical room to store the components that operate the equipment. So, there will be added construction costs. Plus, the rooms use up leasable space and building owners have to heat and cool them which leads to higher operational costs.

Traction elevators are more expensive and cost more to maintain. But they do not always require a machine room. The major components fit in the elevator hoistway and the controller is installed in a cabinet or closet that must be adjacent to the elevator hoist way within 150 feet from the elevator motor. So even if you don’t have to build a machine room, you do have to leave access to the controller so service technicians can access the controls.

Sustainability (and operational costs)

Elevators use energy, but not that much. For example, a 2,500 lb. traction elevator traveling a single floor (12 feet) at 100 fpm (feet per minute), that operates 100 runs a day, uses $600 worth of energy in an entire year. A similar hydraulic elevator carrying the same load and traveling the same distance and speed would cost just $150 more to operate.

Hydraulic elevators operate by forcing pressurized fluid - which is often petroleum-based - through a valve into a steel cylinder located above or below ground. The fluid is stored in tightly-sealed pump units that reside at the bottom of the hoistway or underground. It is rare that fluid leaks, but if it does, the clean-up costs are high. There are, however, vegetable –based hydraulic fluids which offer a biodegradable option. These 100 percent recyclable fluids also perform better in extreme climates and can eliminate the need for energy-wasting heaters or coolers needed to stop lubricants from breaking down.

Regenerative drives can be used with traction elevators. They capture the power generated by the elevator braking system and feed it back into the buildings electrical grid. All elevators can be fitted with with LED lights and automatic fan and light shut-off features to further cut down on energy waste.


Traction elevators are faster and the technologically advanced controllers used to operate the elevator will improve the ride quality and overall performance. Although performance relies on many factors like where the equipment is installed and the quality of maintenance performed on the unit.

Air quality needs to be free of dust, soot and corrosives. Ambient temperature and humidity can affect performance in a hydraulic elevator and steps need to be taken to insulate and ventilate spaces properly. If elevators are installed outdoors, ice scrapers, heaters, moisture proof wiring and travel cabling protection may need to be installed.

Also ask your salesperson about leveling accuracy. Leveling means the elevator stops evenly with the floor and prevents tripping hazards. In hydraulic elevators, investigate options that automatically adjust the valves that level the car. In traction elevators, magnets and switches or encoders or a combination of all three verify the position of the car in the shaft. Once set, these rarely need to be re-positioned.

So even if the elevator you need only has to travel a few feet, now you know what your options are.

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