By Jenn Danko
As high-rise buildings and condominium towers age, so do their elevator systems. So how do property managers know when it’s time to modernize?
Cindy Hauser, a condominium manager in Calgary, Alta., and member of the National Association of Condominium Managers (NACM), is quite familiar with this issue. Her company manages more than 52 properties across Calgary, including two high-rise buildings that recently underwent elevator upgrades. And while the cabs still slugged and chugged their way up the channel each day, her decision to modernize came down to one factor.
"The modernization was necessary because the parts for the elevator circuit boards were becoming obsolete," Hauser says. "We were reaching a point where we could no longer get the parts required for the repairs. So all the mechanical systems were replaced with the newest technology."
Elevator replacements require careful planning and budgeting. Follow these steps to get your high-rise elevators functioning at peak performance and safety levels without inconveniencing your tenants.
Upgrading a building’s elevator system results in shorter wait times for tenants, less frequent repairs, improved leveling of elevator cabs and smoother breaking at each floor.
"Replacing older elevator equipment not only helps reduce operational and maintenance costs, but also improves safety, reliability, tenant satisfaction and efficiency, contributing to more eco-friendly building operations," says Jack Elias, member of Professional Engineers Ontario and president of Schindler Elevator Corporation Canada in Scarborough, Ont.
But such far-reaching goals require a finite starting point.
"When considering an elevator modernization project, managers should talk to an independent elevator consultant as there are many implications to consider when replacing elevator electronics," Hauser says.
At the start of all upgrades, property managers must also consider future maintenance. Some elevator companies have proprietary equipment only they can service, which could force property managers into an exclusive relationship with one supplier.
To minimize disruption, it’s important to give tenants sufficient notice of the upcoming repairs. In Hauser’s case, she warned tenants six months in advance and had a plan to accommodate residents expecting moves, renovations or furniture deliveries.
"We had the staff assist with moves and the transport of renovation materials after midnight," she says.
You also need to make arrangements for tenants with special needs who cannot use the stairs.
One obvious upgrade property managers can make is improving the speed at which an elevator system can transport users. Hauser’s upgrades resulted in speeds that were twice as fast as those of the previous system.
"Another consideration is incorporating what is called a ‘top hat’ in your elevators," she says. "[This will] allow you to remove the ceiling in the elevator cab to accommodate larger or longer items for transporting to suites during moves or renovations."
Elias says new destination dispatch technology, which his company makes, can add more efficiencies and greater access control.
"[It] functions as a two-way communication interface between the occupants and a building's environment," he says. "The system uses card readers or other media to identify passengers and automatically call elevators to take them most efficiently to their desired floors, customizing and personalizing each trip to the specific needs of the individuals."
Property managers can also install an automatic voice annunciator system inside the elevator that informs occupants of which floor they are on. This addition is ideal for the sight impaired.
While upgrades can enhance elevator systems technologically and aesthetically, some are also necessary to comply with safety laws. With all upgrades, repairs must tie into fire alarms and emergency generator systems.
"Most likely, the modernization will take place in an older building; therefore, you must meet current building codes," Hauser says.
Telephones must also be installed and monitored 24 hours a day to ensure residents can call and report elevator problems and get a quick response.
A good way for property managers to determine if their systems are out of date is by tracking the number of trouble calls they receive on an elevator, Hauser says. If the calls are frequent or out of the norm, property managers can hire a consultant to complete an inspection. This will help determine if contractors are maintaining the elevators properly and if the system needs to be modernized.
"While the type of system doesn't traditionally change," Elias says, "a modernization provides the opportunity to integrate newer technology into the building's current system and can be implemented in phases or all at once, depending on the goals of building management."