A home elevator showing the inside and open door of the elevator.

Home elevators can be customized to fit the look of your home.

When we go into town and visit multi-story buildings such as offices, banks, hotels, or department stores, we take for granted that there will be an elevator to carry us between floors. All those buildings have stairs as well, but unless we are just looking for some exercise we will take advantage of the convenience, or sometimes necessity, of simply pressing a button to get us where we need to go.  When we get back home, however, we also take for granted that movement between floors will be done by the stairs that are a part of every house with more than one level.  That assumption is now being challenged in new and exciting ways.

With more affordable and smaller-scale options, many people are beginning to consider installing an elevator in their home. They can certainly be an aid to convenience; after all, with lots of guests it’s easy to put their luggage onto the elevator rather than haul it up and down the stairs! More often than not, though, the primary reason for adding home elevators is to accommodate aging in place considerations.

Aging homeowners can find stairs increasingly more of a physical challenge; adults who plan on having their parents move in with them must take those same issues into account. Older couples often want to stay in their home, not just for sentimental reasons but because in today’s housing market inventory and affordability can be significant obstacles to moving. To continue their quality of life, and to stay in their home, more and more folks are turning to renovations that include installing home elevators.

From a remodeling standpoint, there are a few important considerations. For example, how will the elevator fit within the preexisting aesthetic of the home? While large stainless steel doors are neither desirable nor necessary, the elevator shaft, as well as elevator doors, need to be designed and built in such a way that matches the architecture of the house. Even the inside of the elevator can be customized to fit with the rest of the interior décor. Along with a neutral impact on aesthetics, there are several other positive factors to installing a home elevator: it can assure that any of you or your family’s future needs are met in terms of aging in place, progressive physical challenges, or ongoing illness.  Home elevators can also be a major selling point, increasing the resale value of your house well beyond the initial investment of installment.

Perhaps the most practical consideration is the footprint and location of the elevator. It needs to work structurally and functionally with the walls and support structure of the home. Should the shaft be added onto the exterior and tie in, or will it fit within the existing home’s footprint? Not only will it need to span multiple floors, but the space requirements for the associated machinery must also be considered. The space and structural parameters of your existing home may determine what type of elevator works best. Once the look, type, and location of the elevator has been determined it will be time to plan for the timing of ordering, preparing for and installing the elevator into your house.

There are generally three options that are common in the home elevator market, each with different aspects of size, affordability, capability, and customization.

  • Hydraulic drive – utilizes a ram or piston to raise and lower the car by filling or releasing fluid into an airtight cylinder. Hydraulic drives are quiet, smooth, and have significant lifting capacity. However, they tend to be more expensive and require a separate machine room at the lowest level the shaft will service.
  • Winding drum drive – uses heavy duty cables attached to a rotating drum, operated by a variable speed motor. While the size can be customized, there are minimum size requirements for the shaft.
  • Inline gear drive – does not require a machine room (saving space and money) but is not as customizable.

All these options require specialized electrical needs that may require new lines and junction boxes to be installed along with the elevator.

With so many options, and with the housing market being what it is, the time may be perfect to consider a home elevator. While installing an elevator in your home can be both an opportunity and a challenge, finding the right company to inform your decision and carry it forward to completion makes all the difference.

Photo: courtesy Tracy Tesmer Design/Remodeling