Take Elevator Efficiency to the Next Level

A full modernization can cost upwards of $120,000-130,000 and essentially replaces everything but the shaft, Nemeth says. This investment brings the entire elevator up to the latest code requirements, replaces the cab interior, and generally results in what looks like a brand new elevator.

Though energy efficiency isn’t the sole focus of a full modernization, you can still make it a priority by specifying any of the many energy-cutting features possible with a larger investment:

Standby mode, a controller option that’s most useful in facilities where the elevator periodically sits idle, powers down lighting, signaling, and other non-essential operations after the elevator hasn’t been used for a preset period of time. The elevator then powers back up and responds whenever someone pushes a button to request a ride.

Destination dispatch is another smart control technology available with a full modernization and allows the elevator bank to group passengers in the most efficient way, reducing the number of stops for all riders, Nemeth says.

Regenerative drives reclaim the energy created while braking or slowing down and fuel it back into the building.

Got an older geared elevator? A geared to gearless modernization eliminates the motor generator, reducing noise levels and power consumption.

Why Upgrade?
Elevator improvements offer precious few LEED points and require high investment costs, so why spend the money? For one thing, an inefficient elevator isn’t just an energy hog – its wasteful operation is a red flag for bigger, more expensive problems waiting to happen, from pollution to annoyed tenants and customers.

“There are always ripple effects with older equipment. Carbon dust goes through not only your machine room, but can also go through your whole building and get carried out into the hallways,” Kohl says. “If the motor generators or controllers aren’t maintained properly, they can start on fire.”

The oil required to operate a hydraulic elevator also presents a potential environmental hazard, adds Lindquist.

“Right now, there are over 1 million elevators in operation. Around half of those are over 20 years old and ready to hit the end of their lifecycle. About half of those are hydraulic, so there’s an opportunity to make some changes,” Lindquist says. “Many hydraulic elevators were installed with in-ground pistons and jacks – if you need to replace the jacks, it could cost $30,000 to $40,000. The hydraulic fluid also creates the potential for contamination if the oil leaks and gets into the ground and local rivers.”

Absent a catastrophic health or environmental hazard of this type, a poorly functioning elevator can still cause headaches in both the short and long term by inconveniencing building occupants. Tenant satisfaction – or the lack of it – is at risk if elevator maintenance and periodic upgrades are ignored, Nemeth adds.

“The problem that strikes fear into most people is entrapments, where the elevator gets stuck and that person can’t get out of the cab,” Nemeth says. “Most of the time they can be solved very quickly, but it depends on where the building is located. Is it in downtown LA in the middle of rush hour? It may be two hours before someone can get there and help the person out, rather than 20 minutes. It starts becoming a trust issue.”


Grand Avenue Courtyard
El Segundo, CA

Building: 12-floor office building

Elevators: Five, 23 years old

Problem: Inefficient operation and energy use

Solution: Energy audit followed by modernization. Changes included a 23.3 HP AC motor to replace the old 30 HP AC motor, as well as new microprocessor controllers.

Energy Reduction: 61.9% (an average of 227.03 kW, compared to the old machine’s average of 595.9 kW)



Hyatt Place Waikiki Beach
Honolulu, HI

Building: 20-story hotel

Elevators: Two, over 30 years old

Problem: Outdated and inefficient elevators coupled with high utility rates resulted in steep operating costs. Additionally, the hotel had to continue running throughout the renovation, requiring care to avoid inconvenience.

Solution: Modernization with aesthetic improvements. Changes included a permanent magnet AC motor replacing a 20 HP DC one, the elimination of the generator, TAC50 controllers to replace relay logic models and the elimination of group controllers, and LED lighting to replace incandescent lamps.

Energy Reduction: 56% overall (from an annual demand of 52,418 kW pre-renovation), including 86% less energy for lighting



Janelle Penny janelle.penny@buildings.com is associate editor of BUILDINGS.


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