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Benefits of Elevator Consultants

Why should building owners retain the services of an elevator consultant for maintenance, service, repair, replacement, upgrade and/or elevator modernization?

In 1970, there were approximately 10,000 elevators operating in Florida.  By 1975, the number of elevators in Florida increased to 24,000.  By 1985, the number of elevators in Florida increased to 40,000.  Today, the number of elevators operating in Florida is over 90,000.   Elevator modernization is quickly becoming a reality for many building owner/managers.  Prior to 1950, most elevators were designed for an estimated reliable use period of approximately 50 years.  Today, many elevator contractors are reporting obsolescence of existing elevators in as little as 15 years.  Since 1970, most of the elevators were reportedly designed for reliable use for 20 to 25 years.  Building managers are reporting on a regular basis that their elevators are termed “obsolete” by their service contractor even though the elevator was installed less than 15 years ago.  There are many factors involved with the issue of obsolescence.  If we accept 1990 as a date of possible obsolete equipment, approximately half of the elevators in Florida were installed prior to 1990.  Other conditions which could impact the life of an elevator are elevator maintenance, environment and the use of the elevator.  Previous to the current industry “standards”, building owners relied on, at a minimum, monthly maintenance by the same service route mechanic maintaining the specific equipment for many years.  Today, elevator maintenance contracts use terms such as “systematic, periodic, routine” to describe how often the elevator will be maintained.  The elevator contractor typically determines the meaning of these terms, which can change due to economic or other factors that may be used to contribute to the contractor’s description of regular intervals for maintenance.

Less than 5 years ago, most elevator maintenance service routes consisted of less than 120 elevators.  Today, a service technician commonly has between 150 and 300 elevators on a service route.   By decreasing the frequency of the elevator maintenance intervals along with decreasing the allocation of time to properly perform the maintenance, equipment breakdowns and entrapments have increased.  New ideas for service routes have entered the market labeled as “super routes” consisting of numbers between 300 and 500 elevators per mechanic.  Some elevator maintenance contractors have now completely eliminated elevator maintenance routes.  Repairs or maintenance are only performed when the building owner reports a problem and requests a service call.  This service has created a new term for the elevator industry known as “call back” maintenance. 

Many contracts include clauses and statements that allow the elevator contractor to determine when elevator parts are considered obsolete.  Most building owners are not familiar with elevator and associated equipment; therefore, the building owners trust and depend on the elevator contractor for guidance to maintain the equipment.  Unfortunately, some contractors have abused this trust in their relationships with building owners.  This is the critical time for an independent elevator consultant to review the problems and all solutions.  Consistently, the building manager is lost in the search for an objective elevator consultant.  Understandably, the building manger will ask their elevator maintenance contractor for the name of an elevator consultant.  At this point, the building owners must determine if there is an allegiance between the elevator contractor and the consultant.

Typically, the quickest break down of equipment lies in the hoist ropes for traction elevators and underground pipe and cylinders for hydraulic elevators.   Additionally, the travel cable (wiring found on all elevators which carries all of the electronic signaling and circuits to the traveling elevator) deteriorates after about 15 years of moderate to heavy use.  The travel cables and wire ropes both flex and wear with the movement of the elevator car during up and down travel in the elevator hoistway. 

By reviewing the number the elevators and approximate installation years of the elevators in Florida, the demand for modernizing thousands of elevators built during the 70’s and 80’s is quickly becoming a significant sector of the market.  Most of the elevator contractors currently have separate sales and field teams specializing in the modernization of elevators.  Most of the elevator contractors have adapted well to this segment of the market; however, the building owner or manager has not been properly trained to evaluate the scope of the work involved in an elevator modernization.  The elevator contractors are quick to quote on work to be completed within the elevator trade.  However, the modernization of an elevator usually requires upgrades to building in other disciplines or trades which are affected by revisions to building and safety codes.  The costs to modernize an elevator along with the required upgrades of the building are expensive.  Without these required building upgrades, the elevator contractor may not be able to even start the installation of the new components.  On the other hand, delays in the contracting and completing of associated building upgrades may delay the completion of the project.  Even though the elevator modernization may be complete, delays to the required upgrades to the building will hinder the inspection process and delay the acceptance of the elevator for a certificate of operation.  A building owner can not simply wait to pay off the expenses of an elevator modernization before contracting and completing the necessary required building upgrades.  An elevator modernization is a major building upgrade and will impact most of the unit owners.  Only with the proper planning and oversight will a building owner be assured of a chance for a successful elevator modernization.  The additional concerns with alterations or modernization of the elevator are the coordination and correct definition of work by other trades.  The building upgrades can include the fire alarm system, air conditioning, stairways and doors, signage, fire command centers, electrical upgrades as well as other building issues.

With the recent adoption of Elevator Safety Codes in Florida, new requirements are placed on the building owner for record keeping and monthly verification of compliance with elevator Emergency Operations.  Building owners are now responsible to keep wiring diagrams for the elevator control systems, Fire Emergency Operation monthly logs and elevator emergency evacuation procedures onsite.  Most elevator contractors have refused to get involved in these issues; therefore, leaving the building owner on their own to determine and implement the correct requirements.

The Bureau of Elevator Safety has modified the annual inspection report to now include a written notice to correct safety code violations within 30 days.  The Bureau has additionally determined that the elevator must also be inspected within that same 30 day time frame for validation of correction of the violations.  Typically, correction of violations may require a quote from the elevator contractor for the repairs.  Consequently, the approval of the repairs requires authorization by the building owner or manager.  Then, the elevator contractor needs time to order parts and schedule repairs.  After the repairs are complete, the elevator inspector must then be scheduled to perform a follow up inspection.  If the violations are not corrected and inspected within the 30 day period, the inspector is required to complete another full inspection not a callback inspection.  Typically, the inspector will charge the building owner accordingly. 

Unless the violations are simple to correct, the time frame established by the Bureau of Elevator Safety is unrealistic for the industry and places the burden on the building owner.  If the violation as written is significant to correct, then the building owner can submit a temporary variance request due to economic or other hardship as allowed by Florida Statute to the Bureau of Elevator Safety.  Due to the expense of correcting such violations, the building owner should request quotes from several elevator contractors for the repair or replacement to receive competitive proposals to perform the work required.  The variance will allow the building owner time to receive competitive bids and accumulate the funds necessary to comply with elevator and building codes compliance.  

Building owners and managers need to consider the services of a professional elevator consultant for elevator modernizations.  The building owners or managers need to verify all credentials, associations and references.  A professional elevator consultant will independently work in the best interest of the building owner with the different trade contractors included in the complete scope of the project.  The savings realized by the building owners by contracting a professional consultant will be evident in the quality of the specifications, contract negotiations and the coordination of all trades for a proper, safe and reliable operating elevator.  The benefits received by the contracting a professional consultant will be well above the actual cost of the professional consultant’s fees.

Elevator CSI can review the building’s elevators and provide consulting services for the modernization along with the preparation, submission and tracking of the progress of the permanent or temporary variances required for compliance of any violations of elevator and/or building codes.

Parts of this document have been utilized in articles published by community association periodicals.

The above information is general information and is not intended to be all inclusive or directed at all elevator contractors or all building owners.  Every project is different and requires specific direction and contract language to best serve the building requirements.  Elevator CSI encourages all building owners to seek professional elevator consulting and legal counsel prior to signing any maintenance contract or equipment upgrades.



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