A tale of two lift shafts...a case study

Gareth Lomax is Founder and Director of Ardent Lift Consultancy, independent lift consultants who recognise the importance of offering unbiased and accurate advice to our clients.

At Ardent we are keen advocates of retaining lift equipment where it is economically prudent, but also technically sound to do so. How we achieve the lift refurbishment is generally our starting point when surveying a lift, but sometimes we are left to conclude replacement as the better/only option available.

Over the past year, we have had two very similar lift installations within existing properties to survey and (as these things tend to happen), both were positioned close to the Thames, with one property north of the river and the other south of the river, virtually opposite one another.

The mirror image continues, as both lifts were products of the late 1990’s early 2000’s building boom and from the same range of equipment from one of the major manufacturers. The lift design (since discontinued) was identical between the two properties, with both lifts being of MRL (machine room less) design, with all the lift equipment bolted to a single supporting wall in an arrangement known as “rucksack”.

Rucksack lift systems are common within the market, as they enable a larger lift to be installed within a specific shaft size, rather than utilise the more conventional arrangement of guides on each side of the lift car. The problems encountered with rucksack lift systems are generally based on the offset nature of the lift car to the guides, which results in greater forces being exerted on many lift components (but in particular the guide rail fixings).

Subsequently, it is always advisable in rucksack installations to ensure construction of the fixing wall is of high-density materials, suitable for the forces being exerted upon them. Failure to provide this results in structural strain on the lift system and, in some extreme cases, can see lifts working loose from their mountings and causing prolonged periods of lift outages whilst these issues are repaired.

The first property (south of the river) encountered a breakdown and we were invited to attend to ascertain the root cause and recommend remedial repairs. To our surprise, the lift had broken clear of its fixings and the lift car was not secured in travel and represented a danger to users. The survey inspection we undertook revealed that this was not the first time this building had suffered from this issue and previous repairs to the property had proven unsuccessful.

The client, who was desperate to reinstate lift service at this eight floor property, decided to appoint the incumbent service provider (and the services of a structural surveyor) to comprise a plan to affix the guiderails to the lift shaft at a point where the building’s steel structure was accessible.

We subsequently became involved again when the lift (due to the age of the retained components) failed and required further input to provide long term service at the property, again. We advised that the best course of action would be to replace the lift, utilising a fixing method to complement the style of the property and layout of the lift shaft. However, due to the client spending a large sum on the repairs to the guide rails, we were asked to provide a plan for modernisation.

We duly obliged and in late 2018, the lift was returned to operational service, following the replacement of the controller (utilising a UK based open protocol system), hoisting machine (utilising a gearless alternative with low energy consumption), new lift car and landing door systems and addressing all H&S and code compliance matters wherever possible to do so. However, due to the issue of the guide rail alignment and subsequent repairs, the problem of ride quality remained and undermined an otherwise well conducted modernisation, despite efforts to align these during the works.

The client was happy with the outcome of the project, but we felt they would have been even happier with the result if the lift had been replaced.

During early 2019 we were contacted by another managing agent we work for and when the property manager started describing the issues they had on site, we were already expecting to find a very familiar problem when we visited the site north of the river.

The property manager was under massive pressure from the residents of this six floor property to reinstate lift service by any means possible (i.e. repairs similar to those conducted south of the river). However, we advised that the costs of these works could be astronomical and without discernible results. We advised installation of a new lift within a self-supporting structure; such was the poor quality of the existing lift shaft.

We met with the residents and advised them that whilst they may be able to return the lift to service quickly, they would still need to undertake a modernisation scheme of the unit in the next couple of years and they would end up paying twice on this basis.

We gave the client a budget sum for the replacement of the lift and installation of the free-standing structure and our professional recommendations were acceptable to the client, so we were appointed to specify and tender the works.

The winning bid was within the original budget allowance, enabling a contractor to be appointed swiftly, as the reinstatement of the lift installation was critically important to a building without lift service.

The programme of works took this into account; we worked closely with the lift contractor to ensure the removal of the original lift and the installation of the shaft structure were undertaken to coincide with the manufacture of the new lift system, ensuring there was no wasted time in the procurement period, with the view of returning lift service to the residents as quickly as possible.

Find out the team at Ardent Lift Consultancy can help you at ardentlc.co.uk