Current guidelines offered by the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) suggest a typical operating life of around 20 years for an electric traction lift and 15 years for a hydraulic lift. While these are only guidelines, many lifts remain in service long after their expected lifespan. It is perhaps not surprising therefore that many people do not even consider the future of the lift within their building until it starts to become unreliable. Unfortunately on many occasions, by the time this occurs the lift itself has reached a point where the effects of age and wear are irreversible and reliability becomes a continuous issue. Subsequent costs associated with ongoing repairs can become high, while the risk of a terminal failure of a critical component is increased.
Older generation lifts often include components that are less energy efficient, and offer a poorer quality of travel. Many controllers will lack the type of user interface or diagnostic features that are taken as standard on more current systems. Replacing or modernising your lift can dramatically improve both the performance and the energy efficiency, saving you money in the long run. Modern drive controls allow smoother, more controlled acceleration and travel along with more accurate floor levelling, improving safety as well as performance and energy efficiency.
Hydraulic lifts were considered a cheap lift solution for low rise buildings such as apartment blocks during the 80s and 90s. But modernisation of these lifts has often been shunned because of their relatively poor energy efficiency. New developments in hydraulic pump and valve technology have improved the energy efficiency of hydraulics, with modern systems offering increases of up to 60% in efficiency over their predecessors, making the retention of these designs far more attractive.
Along with being more efficient during operation, modern equipment will often feature hibernate modes, which switch off components after a period of non-use. Even lighting can be improved to include more efficient LED type fittings where these were once fluorescent or tungsten types.
Choosing the right time to modernise or replace a lift is not an exact science but it pays to at least put in place the means to address the long term future of your lift at an early stage. Lifts wear and age differently depending upon the quality of the original equipment, intensity of use and the quality of maintenance regime in place. Notwithstanding this, the cost of any modernisation or replacement project may come as a shock to some. A typical four floor installation, inclusive of all associated works, can cost over £100,000 once VAT has been factored into the equation. This can have a significant impact upon the reserve funds of a building if not planned for in advance.
Of equal surprise can be the length of time required to design, manufacture and install the lift once a decision has been made to undertake the work, with total project times often taking over six months. Generally, if correctly planned, the actual time during which the lift is out of service is limited to the site works, which can nonetheless be up to 12 weeks for a four floor lift project. However, in the event of having to react to the terminal failure of an existing lift, the manufacturing times alone can often take up to 16 weeks, meaning the possibility of over six months without a lift. This can cause huge disruption to the day to day operation of a building, especially if there is only a single lift installed.
Planning for the long term future of the lift within a building can save time and cost in the long run. But there are other benefits to being proactive with lift planning. Having the opportunity to consider the design, condition and requirements of the existing lift will allow all possible future options to be explored and the most appropriate solution selected. While a complete replacement might often be seen as the ultimate solution to an ageing lift, modern technology is increasingly providing new opportunities to retain and modernise existing lifts, when before this may have been considered uneconomical. Modernising your lift can be a more cost effective method of increasing the life of your lift, bringing it up to current standards of performance and safety.
Undertaking a survey of the existing lift can help establish the exact condition of your lift and enable determination of the most appropriate solution for its future serviceability. Perhaps more importantly however, a survey can advise you on the remaining life of your lift to allow you the opportunity to plan for the cost. This is best undertaken by someone other than your maintenance provider in order to avoid any conflict of interest and ensure that an unbiased assessment is given. Employing an independent consultant will ensure that you get the best advice when it comes to planning for the future of your lift. They can develop a programme of works that suits the lift and your available budget. They can also save you money by ensuring that the works are tendered competitively and the best product is obtained for the best price.
David Pickering MSc MCIBSE, Associate Director at ilecs Limited