Given the growing number of high rise residential towers, elevators are more important today than ever before. How has technology advanced to accommodate this heightened demand? What new regulations should property managers be aware of? Cliff Ayling, principal at Ayling Consulting Services Inc., discusses design, safety and maintenance issues in light of today’s increasingly vertical landscape.
Elevator changes and challenges
The extended rise and the reduced floor plate of many new residential towers have heightened the performance expectations of elevators. Today, we are seeing the use of faster-speed elevators to service the additional storeys and cut down on wait times. The expanded rise results in elevators having to make more frequent stops or starts per hour over a longer period of time—something that can cause problems with “light duty” designs. Building owners must ensure that their elevator system is able to meet the performance demands associated with it—especially given the rise of new “machine-room-less” equipment designs. Traditionally, elevator installations had their drive motors and machines placed over top their hoistways. This permitted the use of large and robust equipment designs. The current industry trend using machine-room-less (or MRL) designs, now places the main drive motor and machine inside the elevator hoistway, mounted at the very top of the shaft. As such, some have been designed to a smaller scale, resulting in the compromised ability to accommodate heavy and protracted use. Where traditional designs would ensure equipment was capable of providing up to 240 motor starts per hour, many new MRL designs are stretched to achieve 150 starts per hour. Bottom line: it is now more important than ever to ensure the equipment is capable of satisfying the service demands of the building.
New regulatory measures
In mid-2014, the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA) mandated the implementation of what is known as a Maintenance Control Program (or MCP). This program has been in place in many U.S. jurisdictions for years, and Ontario became the first province in Canada to implement the requirements. The MCP sets out a number of specific tests and inspection routines that must be conducted on each elevator installation. Property managers need to ensure that the various tasks have been completed and signed off in accordance with their stated frequency. Failing to do so could result in the TSSA shutting down an elevator and keeping it off-line until the maintenance contractor and property manager have shown, to the satisfaction of the inspector, that all outstanding tests have been completed.
As part of the new MCP regulations, there are newly required five-year tests for elevators intended to operate at full-load and full-speed. Previously, these checks were only carried out at the time of the car’s initial installation, or following the completion of a major renovation. The need for full-speed and full-load testing has resulted in many elevator service companies requiring that the owner or property manager sign a release, absolving them of any repairs to the equipment if building changes resulted in such testing. Be aware, this requirement is often abused by elevator service companies, and where they are the equipment’s original manufacturer and servicing company, they should not be permitted to absolve themselves of all responsibilities.
What to watch for in aging apartment buildings
Elevators are an extremely safe form of transport. But, in many older applications, equipment control technology was limited. As such, it is not uncommon to see an older elevator having issues relating to leveling accuracy—a problem that can lead to trip and fall incidents. For a modern elevator, it is expected that the elevator will stop level with the hall landing sill within a +/- 6 mm tolerance, up to full car load and regardless of direction of travel. Older elevator systems—particularly single speed designs—are challenged to achieve a leveling performance of +/- 20 mm. In fact, many of these systems can see off-level landings of >30 mm. Recently, the TSSA implemented the mandatory upgrading of single speed elevator controls to be undertaken over the next five years. Building owners and property managers need to be aware of this impending upgrade as it can be an expensive undertaking. For more information, refer to the TSSA’s website, and their Director’s Order 267/14.
Common concerns and safety violations
First and foremost, property owners and managers should be aware of the requirements and conditions of their existing equipment maintenance agreement. Understand what services are covered and what is not. Too often, companies charge for work deemed to be outside of the agreement scope when in fact the work is actually included. Secondly, know when the annual and five-year maintenance tests and inspection checks are due. Verify the schedules and ensure these tests are completed on time. Should the TSSA come into the building on a periodic inspection and find overdue tests, they will shut down a car until all tests are complete. Finally, I recommend that all property managers familiarize themselves with the TSSA requirements for reporting elevator incidents (published under their Director’s Guidelines 230/09). Even though these guidelines have been around for more than five years, many property managers, and even some elevator company representatives, are not familiar with the mandated reporting or what to do following an incident.