Have you considered a home elevator? When illness, injury, or age has made it difficult to manage the stairs in your home, you might think that the only solution is to make plans to move. Many seniors and adults with limited mobility choose to move into either a single-story house or some form of assisted living when getting up and down stairs becomes too hard to do. Remaining in a home with stairs can reduce your independence and require reliance on in-home caregiver assistance for even minor chores, but this doesn’t have to be the case. 

Benefits of a Home Elevator

Installing a residential elevator can change those options. Adults with limited mobility can remain safe and independent in their own homes with a simple, affordable elevator that takes them between floors, either while standing or in a wheelchair. In addition to making a home more accessible for people with disabilities, elevators can improve the look of a room, reduce your dependence on caregiver assistance, and even increase your home’s resale value. 

You have a lot of options to choose from when you’re shopping for a new home elevator. Modern home elevators use no fewer than six different mechanisms to carry passengers, and each type has multiple different models available. Each type has its advantages, as well as some drawbacks, and the ideal elevator for your home is one that fits your space, mobility needs, and budget.

What follows is an overview of the major types of residential elevators to help you decide which one is best for your home and budget.

Hydraulic Lifts

Hydraulic lifts are a fairly standard type of home elevator and make up most of the entry-level residential lifts homeowners invest in. These elevators use a hydraulic piston that can raise and lower the cab in a single smooth action with minimal jitter or wear on machine parts. Because hydraulic fluid can’t be compressed, these elevators tend to be very safe — even a sudden loss of power only causes the fluid to slowly drain back into the fluid reservoir, allowing the lift to gently descend to its stops.

Hydraulic elevators have a standard lift capacity of 750 to 1,000 pounds, which is more than enough for most people. Adults of average weight, even those with heavy powered wheelchairs, usually don’t come close to a hydraulic elevator’s weight limit. This is extra helpful if you need to use the lift for cargo in addition to passengers, or if more than two people need to ride it at once. Extra heavy-duty models are available if needed though, with lift capacities reaching 1,000 pounds.

If you’re thinking about installing a hydraulic lift, you have a lot of options to choose from. This has been, by far, the most popular design for home elevators since at least the 1960s. Hydraulic systems also feature smooth, silent operation, which is something to factor in when you’re shopping for a residential elevator.

There are some drawbacks, however — most models call for significant home modifications before they can be installed. Typical hydraulic elevator installations have a pit underneath the shaft, where the safety stops are installed, and a machine room at the top of the shaft where the motor is located. If you have limited space, this might be more than your home can easily accommodate.

Winding Drum Elevators

Winding drum elevators are about as simple as it gets. A small- or medium-sized cab is enclosed in a shaft, with a winch-and-pulley system above it to hoist the cab up to the second floor. The same system works in reverse to let the cab down. The entire system is driven by a strong, but usually quiet, electric motor.

Installing a winding drum elevator takes about as much work as the installation of a hydraulic lift, though you do have some leeway with respect to where the motor goes. As with a hydraulic unit, these elevators need a hoistway and a pit; and it’s sometimes advised that you install the motor and winch assembly in a machine room at the top of the shaft. You don’t have to do this, however, since some models use pulleys to redirect force from a lateral machine installation. This can save space, but it does make maintenance somewhat harder to perform.

Winding drum elevators use the torsion of steel cables to hold up the cab, and they are almost always overbuilt for safety. Even if a cable fails, there are still several other lines keeping the cab and its occupants safe. Even so, these models often have a lower listed weight capacity than hydraulic elevators, with 500 to 750 pounds being fairly standard, and some even going as high as 1,000 pounds.

Machine-Roomless (MRL) Elevators

If you have limited space, a machine-roomless (MRL) elevator might be your best choice. As their name implies, these residential elevators don’t require a separate machine room to house the drive system. Instead, the motor and drive system is stored at the top of the hoistway.

MRL elevators are a decent compromise between capacity and overall space. With this layout, you can generally have a large cab that holds up to five adults, but still, keep the elevator’s footprint small enough to fit in most houses. Weight limits are equivalent to winding drum elevators, though the mechanism most often used is either a counterweight pulley system or a cable drive system.

Glass or Panoramic Elevators

No homeowner can choose a residential elevator system on function alone. Because this is your home, and the elevator is likely to be located in a prominent place where visitors can see it, aesthetic considerations come into play. Glass elevators are built for this, and many homeowners with limited needs choose these elegant lifts simply for their visual appeal.

Glass elevators are available in many shapes and sizes, depending on the make and model, with clear sides to both the shaft and the cab. The glass used is durable and easy to keep clean, and the system offers panoramic views to occupants as they move between floors. These models are almost always installed as freestanding units, which keeps the needed home modifications to a minimum, and are ideally suited for retrofit applications. They are also usually chosen to fit within an existing home’s architecture, which makes them an ideal choice for retrofitting a house with its first elevator. As a modular structure, the typical glass elevator can be installed as a bare-bones lift to be built out with additional features later, such as interior lighting or an extra cable for higher capacity.

Shaftless Elevators

Shaftless elevators are among the simplest designs on the market. These models use a cab or lift platform to move between floors without a shaft or enclosed hoistway. Instead, a simple hole is cut through the floor of the second story, which can be done just about anywhere. This keeps installation costs to a minimum and gives maximum flexibility with the placement of the elevator. Many homeowners opt for this kind of setup if they want a lift to run directly from the downstairs to their bedroom, rather than installing a full elevator next to the stairway.

Because a shaftless elevator prioritizes space, simplicity, and lower cost, some sacrifices have to be made. They are generally not able to serve more than two floors, for instance, so reaching a third floor, basement, or attic is probably beyond the ability of most through-floor units. Shaftless elevators are a specialty of many different manufacturers, and they come in a variety of cab styles, lifting mechanisms, and installation requirements.

Vacuum Tube Elevators

Vacuum elevators are some of the most popular elevator models on the market. These elevators use sealed tubes to create a pressure differential between the top and bottom of the cab, which completely fills the space inside the tube. By lowering pressure above the cab, the system creates an upward force that gently and silently pulls the cab upward, for up to 50 feet and five landings. Reversing the effect allows the cab to gently descend without noisy winches or hydraulic systems.

Vacuum tube elevators are available in three basic models: PVE30, PVE37, and PVE52. The number represents the diameter of the shaft in inches. A 30-inch model has a tiny footprint and holds a single adult-sized occupant, whereas the 52-inch elevator can carry up to three riders or a passenger in a wheelchair. Weight capacities on these models range from 400 to 525 pounds.

Because vacuum elevators eliminate the need for a machine room and other extensions, they save a lot of space and have nearly the smallest footprint possible in a residential home elevator. They also don’t require a pit, and the freestanding design of most models keeps installation costs relatively low.

You have a lot to think about when you’re choosing an elevator for your home. Space, noise, weight capacity, installation, and cost are all things to consider. Whichever model of a home elevator you settle on, Day Elevator & Lift has models that fit your needs, your home, and your budget. Have a look at our selection online, or call us at (800) 758-5438 for a free initial consultation by telephone. Our consultants can also be reached via email at sales@dayelevator.com