Lifts for buildings
Lifts can be essential for providing vertical circulation, particularly in tall buildings, for wheelchair and other non-ambulant building users and for the vertical transportation of goods. Some lifts may also be used for firefighting and evacuation purposes.
Mechanically-driven lifts were first developed in the 19th century:
- In 1823 architects Burton and Hormer’s ‘ascending room’ gave tourists a panoramic view of London.
- In 1835 a belt-driven, counter-weighted, steam-driven lift was developed in England.
- In 1853 Elisha Graves Otis sold his first lifts incorporating an automatic safety brake.
- In 1857 the first steam-driven public lift was installed in New York.
- In 1870 the first hydraulic lift was installed in New York.
- In 1903 the first traction sheave counterweight lift was developed.
Today, lift manufacturer Otis employs more than 60,000 people.
|Traditional lift||Home insurance building||Vandalised lift|
The Lifts Regulations 1997 define a ‘lift’ as:
...a lifting appliance serving specific levels, having a car moving along rigid guides or a fixed course and inclined at an angle of more than 15 degrees to the horizontal, intended for the transport of:
- People and goods.
- Goods alone, if a person may enter without difficulty and fitted with controls inside the car or within reach of a person inside.
Lifts can have several different types of operating mechanism, including:
- Hydraulic: An above ground or in-ground piston is used to raise or lower the lift under hydraulic pressure. Hydraulic lifts are generally only suitable in buildings of up to 8 storeys.
- Traction: Electrically-powered cable-operated lifts driven by steel ropes rolled over a pulley and balanced by a counterweight (sometimes a second lift moving in the opposite direction).
- Roped hydraulics, or hybrid lifts: Using both ropes and hydraulic power.
- Climbing lifts, which include their own means of propulsion, rather than being pulled or pushed from elsewhere.
Where a lift is within a glass enclosure, this might be described as a 'capsule lift'.
In very tall buildings, sky lobbies may be provided, which are are intermediate floors allowing passengers to transfer from an express lift that only stops at the sky lobby, to another lift that serves storeys above the lobby.
‘In general it is not appropriate to use lifts when there is a fire in the building because there is always the danger of people being trapped in a lift that has become immobilised as a result of the fire. However, in some circumstances a lift may be provided as part of a management plan for evacuating people. In such cases the lift installation may need to be appropriately sited and protected and may need to contain a number of safety features that are intended to ensure that the lift remains usable for evacuation purposes during the fire. Guidance on the design and use of evacuation lifts is given in BS 5588-8:1999.
Where a firefighting lift has been provided to satisfy requirement B5, this can be utilised as part of a management plan for evacuating disabled people. Any such plan should include a contingency for when the Fire and Rescue Service arrive.’
According to approved document B2, a firefighting lift is, ‘A lift designed to have additional protection, with controls that enable it to be used under the direct control of the fire and rescue service in fighting a fire... A firefighting lift is required if the building has a floor more than 18m above, or more than 10m below fire service vehicle access level.'
Lift installation and manufacture must comply with the Lifts Regulations 1997, as amended by the UK Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 2008. Lifts that travel faster than 0.15 metres per second, and their safety components which permanently serve buildings and constructions, must be safe for use and meet health and safety requirements. ‘Safety components’ include:
- Landing doors locking device.
- Devices to prevent the lift falling or rising unchecked.
- Devices to limit overspeed.
- Energy-accumulating buffers.
- Energy-dissipating buffers.
- Safety devices fitted to jacks of hydraulic power circuits used to prevent falls.
- Safety switches containing electronic components.
The Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER) provide guidance on lifts used by workers in workplaces. It requires lifts to be thoroughly examined by a competent person at least every six months or, in the case of goods-only lifts, every 12 months. Guidance for lift owners and other duty-holders is available in the HSE’s ‘Thorough examination and testing of lifts’.
LOLER may not apply where a lift is not used by people at work (e.g. in a shop used by customers). However, Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act imposes general responsibilities for the safety of users.
BS EN 81-80 relates to the upgrading of existing lifts, to ensure they are safe for use. The aim is to meet the level of safety provided by a newly-installed lift.
The Equality Act 2010, requires that buildings must be accessible to people with disabilities. BS 8300 recommends that multi-storey buildings provide at least one accessible lift for wheelchair users.
General guidelines on the provision of lifts within buildings are outlined in Approved Document M – Access to and Use of Buildings. Section 3 within covers horizontal and vertical circulation in buildings other than dwellings.
It suggests that ‘A passenger lift is the most suitable means of vertical access and should be provided wherever possible.’ Design requirements for lifts include; minimum space requirements, placement of controls, access to the lift car, a control panel that contrasts with decorations, visually distinctive landings and car doors, and the use of mirrors to provide a visual aid for reversing wheelchairs. Further regulations require the inclusion of audiovisual warnings and announcements, tactile control buttons and other means of enabling access to users with certain disabilities.
- BS EN 81, Safety rules for construction and installation of lifts.
- BS 5588, Fire precautions in the design, construction and use of buildings.
- BS 7594, Code of practice for audio-frequency induction-loop systems (AFILS).
- BS 8300, Design of buildings and their approaches to meet the needs of disabled people – code of practice.
 Research and development
A revolutionary rope-less 1:3 scale prototype is being tested in Spain using magnetic levitation by means of linear motors. This allows horizontal movement and multiple cars in a shaft working on a loop system. The potential is to provide a vertical people mover shuttle service (not unlike the horizontal equivalent of Circle line underground transport service in London).
It has the attraction of increasing shaft capacity by 50% leading to increased usable area in high rise buildings by some 25%. Waiting time is reduced however there is no available information at this time on travel times during peak hours.
In May 2016, the Mitsubishi Electric Corporation announced that it would be installing its new elevator technology to the Shanghai Tower. Their elevators had achieved a speed of 1,230 m/min, or 20.5 m/sec, the fastest ever recorded.
For more information, see Shanghai Tower.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Access and inclusion in the built environment: policy and guidance.
- Access consultant.
- Approved document M.
- Changing lifestyles.
- Considerations When Installing a Commercial Lift.
- Considerations When Installing a Residential Lift.
- Firefighting lift.
- Inclusive design.
- Lifting device.
- Lifting platform.
- Lifts and Their Special Operating Modes.
- Lifts for office buildings.
- Smart elevators.
- The importance of service lifts.
- The science of lifts.
- Wheelchair platform stairlifts.
 External references
- CIBSE Lifts Group. Promotes technical standards, training and education for vertical transportation and includes a lifts microsite.
- Dept. for Business, Innovation & Skills – Lift manufacture and installation: responsibilities and regulations,
- Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER),
- Lifts Regulations 1997
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