By Katy Tomasulo. For aging baby boomers, moving out of their current homes isn't always the best, or favorite, option. In multi-level houses, installing a residential elevator or stair lift can allow many homeowners to stay put longer, while adding a touch of convenience and boosting the resale value.
"We've seen a 10% growth in our market share over the past nine months," says Stephanie Miracle, marketing manager for Access Industries. "It's really amazing what's happening in the marketplace. People are looking for convenience, flexibility, and added value to their home, and a home elevator really addresses those needs."
The styles of residential lifts vary greatly and there are a number of ways to retrofit lifts into almost any existing floor plan. Basic stairway lifts are a space-efficient, though visible, option. The lifts feature a built-in chair and mount on the side of a straight, curved, or spiral staircase.
A more intensive approach is the residential elevator. Most units look similar to traditional commercial elevators, though usually on a smaller scale. Some structural changes to the home may be required, but there are often ways to retrofit units without being too intrusive, such as attaching a shaft to the side of the house, similar to a chimney. Existing closets are another potential location, especially if two closets are stacked on top of each other. Installers also need to account for space for a pit in the floor and, in most cases, a machine room.
A variety of models are available to fit most homeowner and space requirements. Most residential elevators use a winding-drum (cable) system, a counter-balance weight system, or a hydraulic system. The machine room for some hydraulic systems can be located remotely, so they work well in retrofit. Cable system engines must be nearby, but often can be installed in attic space. And many manufacturers are adapting traditional machine systems for the space constraints of a house.
Access Industries offers a few units that can be installed without a pit. The Minivator through-the-floor lift requires no hoistway, so it will blend in with the ceiling (when the unit is upstairs) and the floor (when the unit is downstairs). The Windsor model, larger but still requiring only a small footprint, is housed within traditional interior doors so it blends into the home like a closet.
The Infinity model from Concord Elevator features a one to two cable-hydraulic drive, a hybrid system that softens the ride and doesn't require burying the hydraulics.
Waupaca offers both cable and hydraulic systems and Cemcolift offers a number of hydraulic elevators.
While packaged for the home, the interiors of most units look and feel much like a commercial elevator. Lighting, wood paneling, hardware, and fixtures come standard or can be customized. And on top of code-required safety features, many units come with telephones or telephone hookups.
With space at a premium and as the population ages, residential elevators are becoming a logical choice for many middle- to high-income homeowners. "It's very easy to recapture that investment," says John Wack, vice president of commercial sales at Concord. "It makes a lot of sense for people who are looking ahead ... as a way of ensuring that they can continue to gain access to the second story."