Mary Beth Klatt is a freelance writer with a passion for architecture and home design.
A Rising Trend: Home Elevators
Adding a platform that raises people and things from one level to another in a home is more than a desirable amenity for buyers. For many, it’s a necessity.
April 2, 2015
An elevator in a personal home has been viewed as a luxury for years. However, more buyers — ranging from families with young children to those with temporary or permanent disabilities — now want a platform that can move people and things from one level of a home to another.
Historically, only the rich could afford elevators. While commercial versions date back to the 1850s to 1860s, private residential elevators only came into vogue with high-ceilinged three-story homes, according to Stuart Cohen, architect and coauthor of Great Houses of Chicago, 1871–1921 (Acanthus Press, 2008).
“First-floor ceiling heights were frequently between 12 and 20 feet, making ascent by stair to the second floor daunting,” says Cohen. “For urban houses such as the Frick Mansion in New York City or the Biltmore estate in Asheville, N.C., the largest house in the United States at the time, elevators were a must.”
The popularity of personal home elevators and three-story homes declined after the stock market crash of 1929 and the advent of ground-floor master bedrooms. Home elevators have become popular again with universal design, which is a method of constructing living spaces that are safer, easier, and more convenient for everyone.
Generally speaking, there are three different elevator types.
- Hydraulic: This system takes up a lot of space and requires a machine room to hold the mechanics of the lift. This elevator is easier to install in a new home, where it can be part of a plan, rather than in a retrofit.
- Traction: Also called an MRL (machine room-less) elevator. As the name implies, it does not require a separate machine room. This elevator slides up and down a track with a counterweight. However, it does require space on top of the shaft to house the machinery.
- Pneumatic: A polycarbonate tube with a separate internal tube uses air pressure to move the car up and down; it’s similar to tubes used for check deposits at banks. Outer tube diameters range from 30 inches to 52 inches. The tube can be installed without a shaft or a machinery room, making it ideal for a retrofit. At the very least, the home will require an opening that’s slightly wider than the tubes to get them inside, though home owners can gain some maneuvering room by temporarily removing the tube door.
Standard hydraulic and traction lifts are substantially more expensive than their pneumatic counterparts, which cost $23,000 to $57,000 including installation. But these conventional lifts remain popular because the pneumatic variety is newer and remains less well-known.
Setting aside labor costs, the actual elevator can run $17,500 to $35,000 or more, which includes the expenses of moving electrical wires, outlets, HVAC, plumbing, as well as building the steel framework, installing wall panels and applying finishes. For buyers looking at an existing home with an elevator, an inspector from the company that manufactured the elevator may be available to service the device.
Elevators can be an asset for your listings, if shown in the right light. And while adding an elevator to an existing home or incorporating it in new construction isn’t cheap, it will add value and allow buyers to maximize the use of their home for years to come.