On the last day of her life, Suzanne Hart was entering a lobby elevator in a Madison Avenue office building when it suddenly shot up, wedging her body between the elevator and the wall, killing her. As a result of Hart’s death and later fatal accidents, New York City has passed two new elevator-safety regulations. They mandate that all building owners and co-op and condo boards make certain upgrades to certain types of elevators – which could cost $30,000 and up for more complicated jobs.
“Nothing with elevators is cheap,” says Edward Voll, president of Vertical Systems Analysis, an elevator consulting company. “I have yet to see any proposal for less than $10,000.”
When complying with the new regulations – which address elevator door locks and emergency brakes (see box, page 27) – boards need to know enough about their elevators to make a key choice: repair or replace? Beware: putting off an elevator replacement can be costly. “If you have an elevator more than 20, 25 years old, you should consider replacing it and not just doing compliance work,” says Joe Caracappa, vice president and a partner at Sierra Consulting Group, an elevator consulting company. “Because if you do the compliance and then a couple of years down the road decide to upgrade, those expenses for the compliance are not recaptured.”
Georgia Lombardo-Barton, president of Barton Management, agrees. She manages two properties that had balky elevators. Both boards were spending a great deal of money replacing parts and doing repairs every year. Lombardo-Barton brought in an elevator consultant to meet with the two boards. After that, one decided it was time to replace; the other decided to wait and see. She kept warning the latter board to act, to no avail. “If we wait,” she told the board, “all the elevator companies will most likely charge you more than what they would be charging you today.”
The first thing boards need to determine – in conjunction with an architect/engineer or an elevator consultant – is what type of elevator the building has and what must be done to bring it up to code. Boards need to cost out the compliance, and then, taking into account the age and condition of the elevator, decide whether to refurbish or replace. And they need to do this sooner rather than later. As Lombardo-Barton notes, with compliance deadlines looming – the first comes in 2020 – the demand (and cost) for mechanics and inspectors will inevitably go up.
“One of my clients has 600 [elevator] cars in different buildings,” says Voll. “They’re engaging us now. If that client waited until 2019, they’re not going to get it done.”
So what do boards need to know to make a smart decision?
A Field Guide to Elevators
There are two types of elevators: a manual model, in which a building employee operates a handle on a device called a control switch; and an automatic model, with pushbuttons. The next important difference is traction vs. hydraulic. Traction elevators rise and descend using a cable attached to the cab on one end and to a counterweight on the other, and this threads around a big wheel attached to an engine. Hydraulic elevators are mounted on a piston (called a jack) that pushes the cab up when fluid is injected and eases it down when fluid is released. These elevators are usually found in low-rise buildings. They typically cost less and are easier to maintain than a traction model, but they can’t go higher than six or seven stories.
If an elevator was installed or overhauled within roughly the last decade, it may already be in compliance. Depending on the type of elevator the building has, the board may need to fulfill only one of the two new requirements. But older traction elevators might be required to comply with both.
Lock and Load
The first of the new regulations requires “door-lock monitoring,” which must be installed by January 1, 2020. The second requires that a secondary emergency brake be in place by January 1, 2027. A door-lock monitor is an electronic device that prevents an elevator from moving if the doors are not closed properly. The most common emergency brake is the Rope Gripper, a trademark of the Hollister-Whitney Elevator Corporation. (Note: manual elevators are exempt from the door-lock monitoring regulation, and hydraulic elevators are exempt from the new brake regulation.)
The Department of Buildings (DOB) wants every automatic elevator to have a means of monitoring the operations of the hallway door, says Caracappa. In fact, he notes, it may already be part of the elevator. “Elevators installed since the 2009 [building] code most likely have this type of system in place,” he says. “It already might be in the elevator control system but just not activated, or it may just need some software or some type of hardware. Most of those elevators are not a major expense to upgrade – something in the range of five to six thousand dollars worth of work.”
Part of that expense involves dealing with DOB requirements. Even if the component is already in place, the elevator servicing company has to file a permit. “Then they have to get a set of electrical prints showing the DOB that it exists electrically within the control-board circuit, then have that stamped by a professional engineer,” says Voll of Vertical Systems Analysis. “And then the DOB comes out and tests the elevator.”
Elevators – generally older ones – without such a door-monitoring system are a more expensive proposition, since new equipment must be integrated with the existing elevator control system. That’s still relatively simple if the schematics are available. But sometimes, previous upgrades haven’t been noted, and if the schematics aren’t available, options are limited. The board can try to get data from the elevator manufacturer, if it still exists, or hire a company to design how to wire the upgrade into the control system. “I would say that would cost $15,000 to $20,000 per cab,” says Caracappa of Sierra Consulting. “The part itself is not that expensive, but [the job] will require most likely one week of labor – one week of shutdown.” There are also assorted fees for filing, consultants, expediters, engineers, and architects.
An even more complicated upgrade involves elevators that have what are called “single-plunger” brakes. Under the new regulations, the board will need to add an emergency brakes such as the Hollister-Whitney Rope Gripper, a component that provides hydraulic padded clamps that automatically clutch the cable if the elevator moves suddenly. Installing a rope-gripper can take weeks and cost from $25,000 to $30,000, which includes labor, parts, permits, inspection, and professional fees. It might be smart to replace such an elevator.
The time to start tackling these new regulations is now. Linda Gelman, board vice president and secretary at an 11-unit Upper West Side co-op, says her board is already taking steps to comply. “[The property manager] is working with elevator companies and vendors to get proposals,” Gelman says. “He expects it may be pretty costly – which always tells me, yes, it will be costly. For a small building like ours, it’s always a huge deal. But of course, it has to be done.”
The New Regs at a glance
Two new regulations are coming for New York City elevators. The first gives boards until January 1, 2020, to install door-lock monitoring on certain elevator doors, an electronic device that prevents an elevator from moving if the doors are not properly closed. The second regulation gives boards until January 1, 2027, to install an emergency brake such as a Rope Gripper on certain elevators. Some points to consider:
• Virtually all properties have either a hydraulic elevator or a traction elevator. Hydraulic elevators don’t have single-plunger brakes – so are exempt from the brake-upgrade requirement.
• Elevators with single-plunger brakes must be upgraded to include an emergency brake such as a Rope Gripper by January 1, 2027.
• If the elevator has double-plunger brakes, it’s exempt from the brake-upgrade requirement.
• Manually operated elevators are exempt from the door-lock monitoring requirement.