Russ Ward

Elevator Speeds – Buyer Beware

Elevator Speeds – Everyone wants faster. Many especially are obsessed with a faster car, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. Faster cars. Faster computers. Faster internet. But it really doesn’t work that way with elevators. For most low to mid-rise applications only 100 (for low) to 200 (for mid-rise) feet per minute (fpm) is desirable and for good reason. Any speed above 200 fpm would most likely never be hit in most applications due to stops and starts. So wanting more speed would be just a waste.

Speed You Jerk

To explain further, higher elevator speeds in most hydraulic elevators are never obtained because elevators do not launch like rockets and have to stop in relatively short distances. The rate the elevator takes off at is called the jerk rate (please insert joke here) and how fast it reaches top speed is called acceleration. Acceleration and Jerk (rate of change of acceleration) are human comfort considerations that must be taken into account when looking at elevator speed. The practical limits (for math geeks) are 4 ft/sec^2 acceleration and 8 ft/sec^3 for jerk. If you are a math nerd, or you’re wanting to test out your math skills, this is a good place to start. But take it from me, fastest speeds in most elevators are never reached.

Even at the regular rate of travel between 100 to 200 fpm if the elevator took off too fast the occupants would be thrown to the floor like a character in a Loonie Tunes cartoon. Well…maybe the cartoon is a bit of an exaggeration.

So then if this is pretty common knowledge in the elevator world, why are elevator companies like MEM (Modular Elevator Manufacturing) asked to quote unbelievable rates of travel for even two-story buildings, sometimes five-times the proper speed? Two reasons. One is an honest oversight and the other seemingly more insidious.

Honest Reasons for Bad Specs

Let’s look at honest reasons first. Completed project specifications or spec sheets are filled with tons of information. Like the Dictionary of Architecture & Construction says a specification sheet is, “a written document describing in detail the scope of work, materials to be used, methods of installation, and quality of workmanship for a parcel of work to be placed under contract; usually utilized in conjunction with working (contract) drawings in building construction.” That is a lot of information that has to be captured, updated and controlled.

So when it comes to any building project it is a mammoth effort and elevators are often held separately with elevator providers pulling the info together to be inserted. That means that there is sometimes a lack of direct oversight early in the process regarding the elevator. Also, the desired specs out of need and convenience have been largely copied and pasted from another source.

The other honest mistake is when a company has had several projects of similar height or elevator travel. They feel the specifications can simply be copied and reused. Changes and updates are always meant to be completed, but sometimes the elevator speeds are missed and one or two floors of travel can mean significant changes. These kinds of “whoops” can happen, but the mistake is usually caught somewhere in the process. Countless times we have had to get clarification when the overall speed does not align with the project. We call and the correction is made.

Not So Honest Reasons

Now for the more insidious reason aspects of specifications are way out of whack regarding elevator speeds. Sometimes when asked for information on pricing, big elevator companies use the opportunity to push certain products and features; right now they are currently promoting traction rather than hydraulic elevators.

A more cynical perspective is that over the long-haul the maintenance of a traction unit is twice to three times more costly and therefore more profitable for them. This can lead to big elevator companies suggesting products that absolutely make no sense. I have personally had conversations with multiple building owners and project managers of two and three-story building projects that were sold on the idea they needed a traction unit for more speed. In reality they needed no more than a simple hydraulic elevator with 200 fpm travel speed. The initial investment of going hydraulic is less and so are the legacy costs of maintenance.

Keep in mind at MEM we produce all types of elevators, so we are not pushing one over another, we just want to make sure that the elevator matches the project. So I guess my old Latin teacher was right “Caveat emptor” ~ Buyer beware. It is as true today as when it was first uttered.

If speed is still a concern, but you are thinking more about the speed of the overall construction process there is only one real choice in elevator that can move your along faster and that is a modular elevator from MEM. Contact Hugo Beltran at hbeltran@tlshield.com or call him at 800-755-9359. He would be glad to talk to you about the speed of elevators. For more research on modular elevators click here for our website.

5 thoughts on “Elevator Speeds – Buyer Beware

  1. Eamon Kelly

    I’ve been in high-rise buildings with express elevators, which only service a certain range of floors (plus the lobby). You can tell they’re screaming while going up 40 floors at a time with no chance of stopping in between.

    • Russ Ward

      The fastest elevator out there is one such elevator. The Shanghai Tower express elevator can go over 40MPH.

  2. Jay

    Every elevator I’ve installed will reach its top speed withing 3 floors comfortably. You have no clue what you’re talking about.

    • Russ Ward

      Jay I appreciate the comment. However, as it says in the Vertical Transportation Handbook by George Strakosch, “floor to floor speed seldom exceeds 350 to 400 fpm regardless of the speed of the elevator.” This is due to the acceleration and deceleration, especially true in low-rise applications. A geared-traction unit in those cases would be overkill for sure. If presented with an increase of 150 fpm for ten feet or a one second time-savings versus the mammoth cost, most building owners would be going with a hydraulic option instead of a traction unit. In my attempt to be creative I must have clouded the point.

  3. Pingback: Ups and Downs of Hydraulic Elevators - Modular Elevator Manufacturing

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