Installing a home elevator can increase both accessibility and convenience in a home. Home elevators can provide much-needed help for people with mobility issues as they ascend and descend stairs throughout the day. At the same time, however, home elevators can pose risks, especially when homeowners don’t take steps to educate themselves and their household members on ways to avoid home elevator accidents.
Let’s take a look at a few of these preventative methods, mention some incidents that have occurred in recent years, and equip homeowners with ways to prevent home elevator accidents.
Risks Posed by Home Elevators
Home elevators can introduce a host of potential elevator-related incidents and injuries, particularly for children. Think of home elevators like a swimming pool – kids shouldn’t be left alone in them, they shouldn’t be used during a storm, and they can be dangerous for people who aren’t being careful when they use them.
In recent years, there have been a number of high-profile accidents involving home elevators, some of which have been fatal, and one of which left a child dead in North Carolina.
One major danger of home elevators is the space between the elevator car and the hoistway door. Some home elevator fatalities have been caused by children getting crushed in this space, which can be as large as four inches. While safety code requirements brought this down from the five-inch limit that was required before 2016, four inches can still be more than enough space to entrap a child. There are continued, widespread calls to limit this spacing even further in the hopes of preventing more tragedies moving forward.
Another factor to consider is the fact that home elevators are usually designed to mimic the finishings of a home. If home elevator doors are designed to look like closet doors, there is potential for the locking mechanism to be manipulated by someone who may be looking for something else, or for the door to be opened by someone who doesn’t know what they’re getting themselves into. Children could also interact with this mechanism, allowing the elevator to run with the door open – and leading to potentially serious consequences. Doors are an integral safety feature of elevators, and improving regulations will result in safer home elevators.
Another danger of home elevators is that they lack some of the safety features required for commercial elevators. Many home elevators do not have key-access buttons, which essentially means that anyone can operate the elevator. As you can imagine, this causes major concern. Understanding the associated dangers of home elevators and ensuring regular inspection are vital components to home elevator safety.
Home elevators also need to be held to a higher standard when it comes to inspection, as the requirements for home elevator inspection are not subject to the same national safety standards as public elevators.
There have been strong efforts in recent years to improve the safety of home elevators. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) has developed safety standards for home elevators, and some states and local Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJs) require home elevators to meet these standards. The International Union of Elevator Constructors (IUEC) is working to promote additional safety standards and inspections to protect people who use these conveyance systems.
How to Prevent Home Elevator Accidents
While home elevators do pose risks, there are measures that homeowners can take to prevent such accidents. Being aware of the potential risks mentioned above is paramount, but there are additional steps that homeowners may follow to maximize safety:
- Never allow children to operate the elevator unsupervised. Look to install a keyed access system on the outside and inside of your home elevator as soon as possible. This will prevent children from being able to access or operate the elevator by themselves.
- Ensure a two-way communication system is available inside your home elevator so that if someone becomes trapped, they can quickly call for help.
- Make sure the elevator is inspected by an elevator company regularly, ensuring it’s in good working order and that there are no safety hazards.
- Consider contacting your local or state representative, commissioner, or AHJ and speaking to them about supporting legislation that would require home elevators to meet the same national safety standards as public elevators. When enough people bring these issues to the attention of their representatives, changes are often made.
Most AHJs do not require home elevators to be periodically tested and inspected as recommended by ASME – an American national standard – so homeowners with residential elevators installed on their property must be extra vigilant regarding potential hazards.