How to refurbish or replace your lift

An established Lift Consultant, Gareth has been involved within the lift industry for over 18 years and has worked in both the installation and maintenance of lifts. He is qualified to NVQ Level 4, which enables him to undertake testing of lifts. 

Gareth has worked for all of the major lift manufactures in varying roles and has also been involved in lift consultancy for over 7 years.

How to refurbish or replace your lift

As with all electro/mechanical equipment, lifts reach a point when parts begin to fail and the reliability of service is compromised. The balancing act is to pre-empt this before major component failure, resulting in a lift being out of service for a prolonged period. For example, a controller failure can leave a lift out of service from 8-12 weeks on average.

Some modern lift equipment has a design life of 15-18 years, provided the maintenance and technical support is to a good standard. Equipment from the 1970s generally had a life span of 25-30 years and lifts from the 1960s even longer.

Lift replacement/refurbishment works can be costly, with the average lift replacement costing around £80,000 and a full refurbishment costing an average of £65,000 (based on a four-floor traction lift) with costs rising for higher floors due to additional labour and materials required.
In many cases refurbishment is a better option than replacement: not only is it the cheaper option in most cases, but it also gives the lift a longer life expectancy. The refurbishment of a robust lift may even give you 25-30 years’ service with the additional advantage of the potential to refurbish again after that time; whilst some modern equipment may not lend itself to future refurbishment, forcing another replacement scheme in years’ to come.

With any capital expenditure in shared accommodation (flat roof repair, boiler renewal, etc.), the correct level of planning is critical to ensuring the works will be completed to the required standard, while enabling funds to be collected over a prolonged period – particularly if there are not many flats to share the cost. There is no doubt that a lift replacement or refurbishment is a potentially complex and disruptive project, so here are some pointers on how best to plan for and carry out major works to any lift(s) you may have in your property.

Step 1 - Know your lift

It pays for property managers and anyone else who is responsible for the maintenance of your block to get to know the lift. In most instances, the lift is generally of the same age as the property. There are exceptions when lifts have been added to the building, but these are rare. With 20 years a good rule of thumb for the life span of many components, check whether the lift has undergone major refurbishment works. Review comments from the service provider and insurance inspector (LOLER reports) to ensure the lift is in good condition.

Some simple things for property managers and RMCs to look out for, which often indicate other underlying issues, are as follows:

  • Increased number of breakdowns/lift failures
  • Poor levelling of the lift or erratic movement in starting/stopping
  • Unusual noises emanating from the lift shaft, motor room or lift car
  • Increasing repair costs from the maintenance company
  • Doors reopening or not closing correctly first time
  • Problems highlighted in insurance inspector’s report

Remember, it is better to plan for major works to the lift, rather than fire fight as components fail. Lift equipment cannot be bought off the shelf in many cases, as most manufacturers only make to order. For example, if a machine seizes, the manufacture of a new machine may take four to five weeks; factor in delivery and installation and a lift can be out of service for eight weeks. Works of this nature will cost between £6-10,000, yet the lift will be in the same general condition in all the other areas, which could lead to further failures and expense!

Step 2 - Commission a survey

If in doubt, have the lift surveyed. An independent survey report is the most cost effective way to check on the current condition, future life span and potential expenditure over the short, medium or long term. With constant changes in both technology and regulations, it is difficult to keep abreast of both and to ensure that the best value is always being obtained from the lift industry. This is where an independent lift consultancy can provide measured, professional advice on the “must haves” along with the specific performance of equipment and contractors alike. A qualified lift consultant will:

  • Assess the condition of a single lift or of a whole portfolio
  • Analyse the lift requirements of a building
  • Specify a replacement or refurbishment to give the maximum value allowed within the budgetary constraints of the client

While consultants can sometimes be viewed as an added expense, an expert in a certain field will often obtain the best value from the parameters they’ve been given, which will frequently outweigh the fees they would charge for their services.

Independent survey reports by a lift consultant will offer guidance on which course of action to take, possibly recommending refurbishment over replacement, but always highlighting key areas to address to ensure the lift does not fail through neglect. A survey report will look at the current condition of lift equipment and highlight operational issues, typical energy consumption values, predicted life span and recommendations with associated budget costing.

Step 3 - Consulting with residents

Due to the costs associated with major works to lifts, if it becomes clear that a lift refurbishment/replacement is needed, the project will require the Section 20 Notice (as amended by the Commonhold & Leasehold Reform Act 2002) to be implemented. This is when the plans for the lift works need to be clearly identified and explained to the leaseholders, explaining why the works are to be undertaken and what they are planning to achieve, outlining the budget costs and timescales for the works.

The correct level of information to leaseholders is critical at this stage to ensure the project is well received and can be accepted by all. Often major works cost substantial sums of money, which can be an emotive subject, but well-produced evidence and plans can ensure the reason for the works is clearly demonstrated. Property managers and RMCs should ensure that meetings are held at the earliest possible stage to get buy-in from residents. Anyone who is not able to attend meetings should be informed of progress via email or leafleting to ensure the consultation process is clear, effective and carried out to meet statutory requirements. It is important to respond fully to leaseholders’ written comments.

Step 4 - Getting the specification right

A correctly specified level of works has two distinct benefits. First it ensures the requirements of the client are clearly listed to provide a lift that meets and often exceeds the level of expectation. Second, it ensures that only those areas that need attention are addressed. It is easy to throw the baby out with the bath water here and replace too much, which the flat owners will need to pay for. Provided a specification is clear in intent, the correct pricing from the lift contractors can be achieved, which results in savings for the residents in the long run. Your lift consultant will draw up a full specification for your project, to ensure contractually and technically the requirements of the building, client and passengers are adhered to.

Step 5 - Find the right contractor

It is always recommended that contractors are hand-picked. The UK lift industry has many companies from multinational powerhouses to sole traders. You may get a good job from both ends of the spectrum, but it is vital they are used for projects that match their skill set so don’t just choose a name from the Yellow Pages. A spread of four to five companies will ensure a competitive price is achieved. Your chosen independent consultant should be present at all stages to advise and guide you through the process, leading to simple decision-making based on value for money. They will work closely with the lift contractor, commentating on all the paperwork and technical documentation, by ensuring regular site visits to ensure workmanship and program are in accordance to expectation. They will also communicate with the client and contractor throughout this process to ensure all parties are aware of timescales and progress.

Step 6 - Replacement/refurbishment

A well planned lift replacement/ refurbishment scheme is not quick, but if it is timed correctly you can ensure downtime is planned for and kept to a minimum. Typical timescales for a lift replacement scheme are as follows:

  • Survey lift and produce report – two weeks
  • Review survey report and plan works – four weeks
  • Write site specific specification – four weeks
  • Tender works to five companies – four weeks
  • Tender analysis and post tender meetings – four weeks
  • Place order and procure materials – 14 weeks
  • Undertake lift replacement – eight weeks

From the survey stage to the start of a replacement can take 32 weeks or more, which will enable residents who rely on the lift to make alternative plans while the works are undertaken, minimising disruption. The lift service will be unavailable while the lift is replaced or refurbished, so knowing when this will take place always makes residents’ lives much easier. The average refurbishment period for a lift would be approximately eight weeks, whereas replacement of a lift would be circa 12 weeks, with a greater degree of disruption associated with these works due to percussion drilling and scaffold installation.

Upon successful completion of the project, a full witness test of the installation should be undertaken by your lift consultant to ensure the lift is safe, reliable and in accordance to both the specification and to all regulatory requirements. This service should also include monitoring of the lift during the defects liability period and beyond (see below).

Step 7 - Check your warranty

Following on from the lift installation, the lift will be covered under a warranty period by both the manufacturer and installer. This is where lift performance should be monitored to rectify general teething troubles, while ensuring any more significant issues can be dealt with as part of the contract.
The lift industry standard warranty period is 12 months, but increasingly lift contractors are prepared to negotiate longer periods of cover. After all, with the expense of a lift replacement, it is important to ensure peace of mind that the lift will operate safely and reliably for many years to come.

ARDENT Lift Consultancy

Gareth Lomax of ARDENT Lift Consultancy is always happy to field questions on lifts and ARDENT covers the entire UK to assist clients with their portfolios, wherever they may be. 

You can find out more about ARDENT Lift Consultancy at www.ardentlc.co.uk or call them on  01394 200328.