Modernizing your Elevators

New technology is not just for skyscrapers. Advanced new elevator systems are available for new construction and existing low-rise and mid-rise buildings as well. One new advancement in elevator technology, Machine Room-Less (MRL) hoisting machinery, is becoming standard in new construction in midrise buildings. The MRL elevator eliminates the need for the mechanical rooms in basements or on rooftops that house the hoisting machinery used in conventional elevators, saving usable building space.

MRL's also save a significant amount of energy, requiring considerably less electricity to run. With the motors built directly into the hoistway, there is no need to build and supply energy to a machine room. They also generate less heat than conventional elevators.

MRL elevators cost more than conventional elevators, but they save money on the construction end. According to elevator consultant Joseph Caracappa, partner with Sierra Consulting Group, "They are a little bit more expensive than the traditional elevator, but they allow architects to provide their clients with a cheaper construction project; they don't have to build an overhead structure. And not having to build a bulkhead maximizes the health of the building."

Go Gearless

Elevators in older low and midrise apartment buildings in New York City run their elevators using a geared traction machine. But when buildings modernize their elevators, says Caracappa, "the gearless elevator has become the go-to machine on almost all applications because of their enegery efficiency and ease of serviceability."

Geared traction elevators have a gearbox attached to the motor, which drives the wheel that moves the ropes. In gearless systems, the wheel is attached directly to the motor. More compact than geared machines, using fewer materials, gearless systems take up less space in the machine room and run faster and more smoothly and quietly, while using less energy.

Make Your Own Energy

You can't get greener than this. Regenerative drives recapture energy dissipated as heat when the elevator brakes on the way down, allowing the motor to act as a generator, sending energy back into the power grid.

"If you modernize your elevator you can purchase that as an option," says Caracappa. "The system is so efficient that if there is any excess power, it goes back into the building." While they cost around twice the price of traditional drives, regenerative drives can save anywhere from 20 percent to 40 percent of the building's electrical consumption.

When to Modernize

Before they became computer operated, elevators had a useful life of from 20 to 25 years. "Now we see systems being changed out every 18 to 20 years," says Carcappa. "because of the constant flow of electricity running through the computer system," and variations in the flow of current coming from Con Edison. It is often impossible to fifnd replacement parts. Product lines get discontinued and manufacturers are acquired by larger companies.

Operators can review the number of service calls to the maintenance company to get a picture of the elevator's state of health. Frequent service interruptions could mean it's time to replace the major systems.

When it's clear that something is wrong with the elevators, an independent consultation company should be called in to access the extent of the work that needs to be done—which parts can be slvaged and which need replacement.

"There are several hundred parts in an elevator," says Caracappa. "We go in there and look at each link in the chain, make a judgment on what it's going to cost to replace or repair."

It Could Get Complicated

"Modernizing elevators in buildings less than 20 years old is relatively simple because their systems were designed to comply with ADA and other building cods. On older buildings, says Caracappa, "when you file an application—to change the elevator control panel, for example—it triggers the requirements of compliance." It's a far more complicated affair, especially after the extensive revision of the elevator provisions of the NYC Building Code in 2009.

A comprehensive modernization in a six-story building costs from $125,000 to $150,000 for each elevator. Taller buildings need faster elevators, bringing costs up to the $150,000-$250,000 range.

An independent study might show that some, but not all, major components need replacing. But it might be worth doing a complete modernization in any case. "You are still spending a significant amount of money and you're taking the car out of service for a significant amount of time," says Caracappa.

"If you're talking about a lifefspan of 20 years for an elevator and some of the equipment is already 10 to 15 years old, you may be faced with a replacement of other components in the next couple of years."

ABO Developments, Fall 2015