Installing an elevator is one of the most common ways the owners of commercial buildings make their spaces accessible for the public. But, not every building needs an elevator. To help clarify, here’s a handy way to tell if your commercial space needs a lift system and the types of elevators you can install in your space. Just remember the Rule of 3.

Garaventa LULA Commercial Elevator

The Rule of 3: 3 Stories, 3,000 Square Feet, 3 Elevator Types

How To Determine If An Elevator Is Required In A Commercial Building?

In 1990, the ADA required that all public buildings in the United States should be accessible to people with limited mobility. Initially, it applied to new construction only but now requires existing buildings to be retrofitted for greater accessibility.

Generally, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) law calls for an elevator to be installed if your building has three or more stories, or if each floor of the building exceeds 3,000 square feet.  Commercial buildings smaller than this are generally exempt, unless the space is one of the following:

  • Medical office or doctor’s clinic
  • Bus station, rail station or other public transportation facility
  • Terminal building in an airport (including smaller private airports)
  • Large retail space, such as a shopping mall

These public spaces are typically required to install elevators regardless of size.

Apart from the obvious cases, such as single-story structures, some buildings with upper floors that are not intended to be accessible to the public are also sometimes exempt, provided the public areas of the structure meet the exemptions to the ADA for floor space and number of stories. Certain historic buildings and churches are also exempt, or they may be in compliance provided they have some alternative form of conveyance, such as a wheelchair lift or ramp.

Requirements for Your Elevator

There are a lot of laws that go over your elevators’ specifications and accessibility features. State and local governments are generally free to legislate beyond the basic federal requirements, so it’s always a good idea to consult with an ADA compliance specialist who knows your local laws before installing an elevator. As a rule, most areas recognize three basic types of passenger elevators that can be installed in a commercial building: standard, destination, and limited-use.

1)    Standard Elevators

Standard elevators should be familiar to anyone. These are enclosed cabs with cable-and-winch lift systems that carry passengers to any floor they choose.  This is the kind of elevator your commercial building needs if it is of standard size. Buildings that are much larger (or much smaller) often use standard elevators as well, though they are typically supplemented by specialty models that perform specific jobs.

While, the federal rulebook for standard elevators requirements is very extensive, here is a high-level overview of key things to consider:

  • Elevators must be easily found and reached from public areas of the building, such as lobby
  • Doors must fully open and stay open for at least 3 seconds before closing
  • Doors must be equipped with an obstruction sensor that reopens them if something blocks total closure
  • Open doors must be at least 36 inches apart
  • Cabin must be at least 51 inches deep and 68 inches wide, though larger cabins are allowed
  • Buttons must be at least 0.75 inches in diameter and centered 42 inches above the floor
  • The control panel must have Braille indicators below or next to the floor numbers
  • Some kind of audible signal must indicate that a floor has been reached, such as a ping or recorded voice
  • A two-way intercom for both visually and hearing-impaired riders must be installed
  • Emergency controls must be installed at least 35 inches above the floor
  • Elevator travel can have selective operation for more efficient floor-sequencing

2)    Destination Elevators

Destination elevators are one type of specialty elevator that give up flexibility for speed and simplicity. A destination elevator doesn’t stop at every floor, but instead goes to a specific destination only. These are common in two-story buildings, since there is only one floor they can go to per trip, in buildings with restricted access floors, and in high-rise buildings. For example, in many high-rise buildings, Express elevators are installed for maximum efficiency traveling from the ground floor directly to “sky lobbies,” where passengers can catch a second elevator to their desired floor.

Destination elevators are held to the same requirements as standard elevators, but with a few extra rules to help passengers with disabilities:

  • Each elevator must have visible and audible signals or signs to differentiate it from other elevators in the bank, so passengers know where it goes
  • Some kind of visual display of each floor the elevator serves must be provided
  • Automated verbal announcements must be made of each stop, along with a display of floor numbers for riders with impaired hearing

3)    LULA Elevators – Limited Use, Limited Application

Savaria Orion LULA Commercial Elevator with custom glass hoistway

Limited-use elevators are generally used for specific applications in special circumstances, specifically to satisfy ADA requirements. These elevators are most commonly found in churches, schools, public libraries, municipal buildings and other specialty locations where it’s rare for passengers to need access to multiple floors. You can usually get by with a limited use elevator in small office buildings and or low-demand environments, where only one or two floors need to be accessible or expected passenger loads are minimal.

Because of their specialization, limited-use elevators are strictly regulated for size, capacity and standards. This can make a limited-use elevator an excellent choice for installing in historic buildings or other spaces where a traditional elevator might be difficult to manage. The potentially lesser standards can also make limited-use elevators an economical choice for low-traffic applications. It is still a good idea to hire a professional consultant for a self-inspection, however, since one of the factors that determines your potential liability under the ADA is whether or not you showed good faith when installing an elevator for the public to use.

Installing an Elevator in Your Commercial Property

No matter what type of elevator you eventually settle on for your commercial building, it is vitally important to have the lift professionally designed and installed.  Day Elevator & Lift has a variety of different elevators available that can work in almost any space, commercial and residential alike. Our professional installers have years of experience with ADA requirements and the needs of visitors to public buildings.

When you call Day Elevator & Lift at (800) 758-5438 for a free consultation, we can help you decide what kind of elevator works best for the space you’re building or upgrading. We have experienced inspectors who will visit your site and give you an estimate of likely costs and the work involved in installing a new elevator. Many of our models come with manufacturer warranties, and we stand by all of the work our installers do.

Call us today to start the process or reach out through our convenient online contact form, and get started installing a new elevator in your commercial building right away.