If you are searching for an elevator or lift for your home, you’re likely coming across varying terminology that can make the process more confusing than it needs to be. Terms like home lift and elevator lift are often used interchangeably, but you may have noticed that they can have different meanings depending on who you’re speaking with.
So, is there really a difference between an elevator and a lift? What is a home lift or elevator lift, anyway? These are all common questions, and we are glad to help with the answers!
What Is a Home Lift?
A home lift is any lift or elevator installed in a residential home. Why the vague answer? Because “home lift” is not a technical term in the United States. Instead, it is a general term used differently by different people and organizations. Given this broad definition, several different types of lifts and elevators for home use are known as “home lifts” in the U.S.
The most common residential lift device referred to as a home lift is a home elevator, also called a residential elevator. If you’d like to get technical, these home lifts are referred to as “Private Residence Elevators” in the engineering safety code, ASME A17.1 Section 5.3 — but in our experience, only the engineers and inspectors refer to them so formally.
Home elevators belong to a distinct class of elevators with a few things in common with larger, full-size passenger elevators. Still, they are different in some critical ways.
Similarities with Commercial Elevators
The things that home elevators have in common with larger commercial elevators include:
- Fully enclosed car: Unlike other lifts described below, home elevators must have a fully enclosed cabin, or car, according to ASME A17.1 safety code.
- Automatic operation: Like an elevator in any hotel or tall building, home elevators have what’s known as “momentary pressure” controls, meaning you push a button and let go, and the elevator goes where the button tells it to — provided that all safety circuits and power circuits are properly activated.
- Redundant safety devices: Home elevators must have similar safety devices that prevent freefall in the extremely unlikely event that the drive system or “means of suspension” (which are also redundant) fail — this consists of spring-loaded safety brakes that dig into the metal support structure to halt any downward movement. In our experience, this only happens when intentionally activated during inspections performed by trained elevator and lift Technicians as required by code and local elevator jurisdictions.
How Home Lifts Differ from Other Elevators
There are several important differences between home elevators and larger passenger elevators:
- Size: The interior car space within home elevators is generally 12 to 15 square feet. This is approximately half the size of an average hotel elevator car.
- Speed: ASME A17.1 home elevator safety code limits the pace of home elevators to 40 feet per minute. Typically, you’ll ride the home lift for less than a minute inside your home. In contrast, commercial high-rise elevators can travel as fast as hundreds of feet per minute, depending on the application.
- Doors: While residential-style elevators with commercial-style sliding elevator doors have become more commonplace, many home elevators are still installed behind swing doors and a different style of car gate, such as a retro-inspired scissors elevator gate.
- Maintenance requirements: Frequently used commercial elevators typically require monthly maintenance. However, LULA lifts only need service every three months. In further contrast, home elevators must only be maintained every six months on average. This maintenance timetable translates to cost savings by homeowners when compared to public building owners.
- Cost: Large passenger elevators usually cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, whereas home elevator pricing usually starts in the tens of thousands, though it varies based on what you choose. The cost of custom, high-end luxury home elevators can exceed $100,000 in some cases. These prices include installation and warranty. The construction of the surrounding building (carpentry, electrical hook-up, etc.) is typically priced out separately.
Other Types of Home Lifts
Aside from the home elevators described above (and below in the next section), there are other types of lifts for homes that can also be called “home lifts.”
Some people and companies may refer to the following types of residential lifting devices as home lifts:
- In-home stair lifts: Stair lifts, also known as stairway chairlifts, consist of a seat attached to a rail that runs along a set of stair treads to move a person up and down stairs.
- Residential wheelchair lifts: These mobility solutions, also called vertical platform lifts, allow a wheelchair user to be transported vertically between levels.
- Residential dumbwaiters: Dumbwaiters for the home, which are also referred to as dummy waiters, are only used to transport items between floors — never people or animals.
- Ceiling lifts installed in homes: These lifts, sometimes called ceiling track lifts, attach to the ceiling and are used to transport people from one room to another via a lift bar and a sling that attaches to the track.
Since “home lift” is a general term rather than a technical term, it is not uncommon for it to be used when referring to these other types of residential lifts.
Elevator vs. Lift
If you’re looking for a construction-free path to accessibility, stair lifts are a safe, cost-effective, and simple way to gain independence throughout your home. Have a narrow stair case? In some cases, a stair chair can fit stairs as narrow as 28″ to 30″ wide.
Stair lifts attach directly to stair treads, requiring no additional construction. The seat folds out of the way when not in use for further convenience.
Here are five ways the terms elevator and lift differ:
- How the controls work: The first difference between elevators and lifts in the U.S. is the control style. As mentioned above, elevators have the familiar “momentary pressure” style of control. This means that when you push a button, you only need to push it briefly, and the elevator receives and “remembers” the instruction.
This contrasts with “lifts” in the U.S., which have “constant pressure” controls. For a lift, be it a stairway chairlift, material lift, or wheelchair lift, the user must press and hold down the button until the lift completes the desired action. If you let go of the button, the lift stops. It is a significant part of what makes a “lift” a lift, according to U.S. engineering safety code (ASME A18.1 for anyone wondering).
- Type of enclosure: One main reason lifts must have constant pressure controls is the second difference between lifts and elevators: Elevators have fully enclosed cars (usually within enclosed shafts). In contrast, lifts have open-air platforms or chairs (often in open areas such as a staircase or next to a stage).
Think about this from a safety perspective: If a stair chair lift had the momentary pressure that a hotel elevator has, what would happen if someone else started walking down the stairs after the user of the stair lift pressed the “up” button and the lift took off without the user maintaining constant control?
While stair lifts have many safety features, including pressure sensors on the footrest and carriage, it would not be safe if they were zipping around on momentary pressure.
Conversely, because elevators have enclosed cars that intentionally prevent exit while the elevator is in motion, they do not need the added safety of a constant pressure control.
- Safety code: Different safety codes apply to the manufacture, installation, and inspection of elevators and lifts. For elevators, the safety code is ASME A17.1. For most lifts, the safety code is ASME A18.1. There are many differences between these two codes, but this article summarizes the most notable differences.
- Speed: Another notable difference is how fast elevators travel compared to lifts. While the fastest elevators in the world travel over 1,000 feet per minute, even low-rise elevators, such as LULA and residential elevators, travel at 30-40 feet per minute. This contrasts with lifts, which typically travel 10-20 feet per minute. Lifts must travel at lower speeds due to the lack of an enclosed car and shaft.
- Travel distance: Lastly, while it’s possible for a commercial full-sized elevator to only travel a few feet or one single story (which is usually 10-15 feet vertically), they are most often used for multiple-story commercial buildings and can travel over 1,000 feet vertically in skyscrapers. Even home elevators can travel up to 50 feet in many cases. Lifts such as vertical wheelchair lifts, on the other hand, are limited to 14 feet of vertical travel in the U.S.
So, while the terms “elevator” and “lift” are often used interchangeably in other countries and within the U.S. informally, when considering the technical meanings of these terms, there are important differences to understand.
After reading the information above, you should now have a better idea of what a “home lift” is and be able to tell the difference between an “elevator” and a “lift.” But what about an “elevator lift”?
There are two answers to the question, what is an elevator lift?
First, “elevator lift” is not an actual technical term describing a specific type of vertical (or other) conveyance. But that doesn’t stop people from using it! Like “home lift,” elevator lift can be used to describe any elevator or lift that one is having a hard time naming (such as “that chair stair lift thing”). Sometimes, people call home lifts “elevator lifts,” while other times, the term describes a wheelchair lift. It’s up to you!
Second, two different “elevator lift” types fall between an elevator and a lift (as described above). In our opinion, these are the two vertical conveyance devices most accurately described as “elevator lifts.”
- Shaftless home elevators, or “through the floor” lifts: A shaftless home elevator (yes, often called a “home lift”) has an enclosed car like an elevator but also has some characteristic features of lifts. The enclosed car is because this type of elevator travels directly through a hole cut in the floor without the protective barrier of an elevator shaft.
When the elevator car is downstairs, all you see at the upper level are the elevator rails because a trapdoor-like piece of flooring nests inside the hole cut in the floor. When the elevator car is upstairs, all you see on the lower floor is the rail system, although some models also have an electrical disconnect and/or elevator drive system visible on one floor or the other.
The similarities with lifts are that it has constant pressure controls, travels more slowly than other elevators, and is almost always limited to two stops, meaning it travels from just one floor to another, and not to a third or fourth floor.
- Hybrid platform lifts: Most wheelchair platform lifts (sometimes called “wheelchair elevators”) have open platforms with 36” or 42” high side walls on the non-entry/exit sides of the platform. However, there is one special type of platform lift called a “hybrid lift” with the appearance and feel of an enclosed car, making it feel more like an elevator.
The hybrid lift must meet the ASME A18.1 safety code for vertical platform lifts. It only travels up to 14 feet vertically, is limited in its travel speed, and has constant pressure controls — even though it is typically installed inside an elevator-style shaft.
This hybrid-style of accessibility lift is a good option for churches, performing arts venues, and other buildings that need to achieve ADA compliance between two floors and have more space (and budget) than that required for a basic wheelchair lift, but not quite enough space (or budget) for a larger commercial elevator.
Let Our Experience Be Your Guide
Home lifts, home elevators, elevator lifts — we understand this can be a lot to take in! However, our best and happiest clients are informed clients. We hope to earn your trust so that you can rely on our over 35 years of experience in the accessibility lift and home elevator industry.
As a family-owned and operated business, we aim to put our expertise and caring attitude to work for you. Please let us know how we can help you so that you can have a professionally installed home lift or elevator lift to use and enjoy for years to come!