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New Elevator Regs Are Looming

Frank Lovece in Building Operations on January 28, 2019

New York City

Elevator Economics II

To keep their elevator from turning into a money pit, boards need to start crunching numbers now.

Jan. 28, 2019

With two major new elevator regulations looming, every co-op and condo board’s first job is to determine what type of elevator their building has. Virtually all buildings have either hydraulic elevators, which rise and descend on a piston, or traction elevators (used in buildings higher than six or seven stories), which are attached to motorized cables. Both need door-lock monitoring, the upgrade that must be installed by the end of this year. While newer models might have the controller mechanism built in, they still require a permit and a set of electrical schematics to be filed with the Department of Buildings (DOB). A professional engineer must customize and upload the software and get the DOB inspection and sign-off.

This is where the board’s first business decision occurs. The useful life of an elevator is 20 to 25 years. Depending on the elevator’s age and type, boards need to decide whether to spend a smaller sum now for the software upgrade and a larger sum for the emergency brake that must be installed by the end of 2026 – or bite the bullet and spend a large sum now for modernization, the industry term for replacement or extensive overhaul. 

“If your elevator is over 20, 25 years old, then it’s probably breaking down on a regular basis anyway, so it’s beyond being a matter of the new code,” says Thomas Thibodeaux, chief financial officer of New Bedford Management. Compliance with just the door-lock regulation, he adds, “is not going to stop the maintenance issues and repairs that you’re probably having on your older elevator.” When you inevitably modernize for the second upgrade, Thibodeaux notes, you’ve already invested in years of increasing expense for repairs.

“Every situation is unique, and you have to do what’s right for your building,” adds Josh Greenberg, the treasurer on the seven-member board of the Lenox Manor at 176 East 77th Street. His co-op refinances its underlying mortgage every 10 years as a matter of course, most recently in February 2018. “And with the refinance, we came up with a list of capital projects that we could allocate funds toward,” he says. “The elevators were on our list, and then the discussion came about with regards to the regulations. So for us, it was a relatively easy decision to modernize the building’s two passenger elevators and one freight elevator, both because of compliance and necessity.” 

If your building has an older traction elevator and no undue complications, you could divide the elevator project into two expenditures: $15,000 to $25,000 on door-lock monitoring now, and $30,000 on an emergency brake in the next five years. That’s a lot less expensive than the $175,000 to $350,000 per elevator for modernization, but it ignores the question of elevator age. “You could add these as two separate items,” says Stirling Collins, senior vice president of Champion Elevator, an elevator maintenance and consulting company. “But it gets to the point where it doesn’t make financial sense.” If your elevator will be reaching the end of its life by 2027, the money you invested in a software upgrade this year will feel like money down the drain when you prepare to pay for a revamped elevator five years from now. The time to start doing the math is now.

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