Going Up: Elevators in New Homes are on the Rise

Here's Why You'll Want an Elevator in Your New Home

A residential elevator in this home at Bridgewater Golf Club in Carmel, Indiana, by Sigma Builders, LLC.

A residential elevator with white wall paneling sits near the entrance of this home at Bridgewater Golf Club in Carmel, Indiana, by Sigma Builders, LLC. Photo via Sigma Builders, LLC.

In urban areas nationwide, space is at a premium. Lot sizes tend to be smaller, but that doesn’t limit the size of a home: we’re seeing a lot of “building up” rather than building out.

Homes with three or more floors are easy to navigate for the healthy and fit, but climbing several sets of stairs can be difficult for those with disabilities or physical limitations.

The solution? Elevators!

Today, residential elevators are found from coast-to-coast in new home construction at every price point. The award-winning architects at Phil Kean Design Group have used elevators in many of their award-winning custom home designs with beautiful results.

“I’ve used elevators in my residential home designs since the beginning of my career. When I first began designing custom homes for the higher-end market, there was already a need for residential elevators,” explains Phil Kean.

In Carmel, Indiana, Sigma Builders, LLC, has made the elevator an option in all five of the floor plans available in the Bridgewater Cottages at the Lakes development.

So, don’t be surprised if your builder offers a residential elevator as an option in your new home; elevators are increasingly in demand.

Much of this surge in interest can be attributed to baby boomers who are getting older and finding it more challenging to climb stairs. Since architects and homebuilders always have their eyes on the changing demographics of homebuyers, it makes sense that the residential elevator has become a more popular option.

Home Elevators Have a Long History

Private home elevators came on the scene after commercial elevators. In the late 1880s, high-ceiling home designs made for a daunting stair climb, so builders and homeowners looked to elevators and platform lifts to ascend to the upper levels of the home.

After the 1929 crash of the stock market, elevators also took a dive. Part of this can be attributed to fewer large, tall or three-story homes being built due to declining fortunes. This is also when we first saw the placement of master bedrooms on the ground level. With bedrooms available on the first level of the home and smaller homes becoming popular, there was less need for elevators to transport people within a house.

But once again, elevators make sense for homebuyers, as the concept of universal design (making homes more accessible to people of all ages, sizes and physical abilities) takes hold.

Residential Elevator Types

There are three basic types of home elevators: hydraulic elevators, traction elevators and pneumatic elevators. Some work better in new construction, while others are ideal for a retrofit situation.

Hydraulic: Hydraulic elevators require a lot of space, primarily because they need a machine room to house the mechanics of the lift.
Traction: Traction elevators are also known as MRL (machine room-less) elevators. No surprise — these elevators do not require a separate machine room. Instead, they slide up and down a track that has a counterweight. These elevators may require a little extra space at the top because that’s where the machinery is housed. As Kean notes, “I use traction elevators in my designs because they are quieter, lower maintenance and they don’t require a separate mechanical room.”
Pneumatic: Pneumatic elevators rely on air pressure to move up and down. Polycarbonate tubes regulate air pressure and power the elevator. Pneumatic elevators don’t require a separate machinery room or even an elevator shaft.

Cost Considerations

In general, hydraulic and traction lifts are more expensive than pneumatic elevators, but costs vary based on many things, such as the number of floors the elevator will service and the level of elevator luxury you’re after.

Adding an elevator to an existing home is a major (and expensive) undertaking, so if you’re building and aren’t quite sure you want an elevator now, you could construct a shaft to be used as closet space or a small work area until the elevator is wanted. This is a great way to save time, money and remodeling frustrations later.

Builders like Kean aren’t put off by the addition of elevators in home designs.

“I see including an elevator into a design as problem solving. There are a lot of little details to consider to maximize function. Just like including a garage, you have to think about where it is going to be located, accessibility and plan around it. I like locating the elevator near an entry point of the home for easy access,” Kean says.

“In planning each floor, you have to think about where the elevator will open,” he says. “I like designing the elevator to open to common areas rather than private areas like a bedroom. When incorporating an elevator, hallways should be designed wider than normal width.”

Like any fully outfitted and optimized area of the home, an elevator adds to the cost of your new home. The reward is in the functionality it offers, as well as the resale value.

Elevators allow homeowners to maximize their use of the home and stay in place longer as they age. They make it possible for multiple generations to live together in greater comfort and they help new homebuyers maximize square footage by enabling them to build up instead of out.

What are your thoughts on home elevators? Is that something you would consider in new construction? Would it be a selling point if you were to buy an existing home?

Sarah Ristorcelli is a freelance writer and editor for leading print and online publications. Formerly editor in chief of Garden Design, she has also written and edited for Cottage Living, Modern magazine and Orlando Arts. You can find her on Google+.

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