The final part of this series on the lifespan costs of engineering services takes a look at the ups and downs of passenger lifts by Tony Cassidy of Cyril Sweett
How to choose passenger lifts for low-rise buildings Lifts are the most common way of moving people between floors in multistorey buildings. The final article in this series on services whole-life costs examines the passenger lift alternatives available for modern low-rise commercial office buildings.

The building used for the whole-life cost model is a three-storey office block with a gross floor area of 5900 m2 and a net lettable area of 4480 m2, with office accommodation on the ground, first, second and third floors. The occupational density on which the lift calculation is based is one person per 14 m2 of net office area, and the lift installation is designed to comply with the latest British Council for Offices guidelines for passenger lift installations. The design criteria used for the lift installation is shown in the table below right.

Recent changes in lift design means that there are now a range of lift options available. Three of the more common types have been used for the article:

  • Option 1
    Side-acting hydraulic passenger lift with oil cooler and electronic valve control
  • Option 2
    Traditional electric-traction passenger lift with roof-mounted machine room
  • Option 3
    In-shaft-driven traction passenger lift. These lifts have all the motors and running gear within the shaft, which means that no machine room is required.
Historically, hydraulic machines have been the choice for standard speed low-rise installations, mainly because of their lower capital cost. Unfortunately, the ride quality and levelling accuracy of hydraulic machines is not generally considered to be as good as their electric traction counterparts, which has left clients with lower cost hydraulic machines often feeling they have had to compromise on quality.

The in-shaft drive machines have gone a long way to providing a cost-effective alternative to hydraulic machines. With ride quality similar to standard traction installations, and capital costs comparable to hydraulic lifts, they are fast becoming the first choice for low- to medium-rise applications.

The main drawback of the in-shaft machines is that they are not currently available in capacities bigger than 13 persons. That said, if the building shape and form means they can be used, there are considerable savings to be made – not only on the capital costs, but also on the costs of running, operating and maintaining it over 25 years. As the cost model will confirm, the in-shaft drive model is 15% cheaper over the life cycle than the hydraulic option, and 30% less than the traditional traction machine.

Readers must note that these results are applicable only to this specific example. If any of the parameters on which the calculations are based change, the results may well be different to those obtained within the cost model. For instance, hydraulic machines become progressively more expensive to maintain over more than five floors, while additional floors and increases in speed and car size will also affect available options and capital costs.

For option three, it is assumed that the omission of the lift motor room (while saving on construction costs) will not necessarily increase the net lettable area of the building.

At a glance

  • For low- to medium-rise buildings, in-shaft-driven traction lifts offer the most cost-effective solution over the life-cycle.
  • For low-rise and low-use buildings, hydraulic lifts offer lower whole-life costs than traditional top-driven traction machines.

    Capital costs The capital costs are based on three alternative installations, designed to exactly the same criteria. Capital costs are shown in the table right and comprise:

    • The cost of the new lifts
    • Major and minor building works, which include the lift motor room (if applicable), the lift shaft, inserts, steelwork, division screens and shaft scaffolding
    • Mechanical and electrical works in connection, including electrical supplies to the lift installation and machine room ventilation (with cooling for the hydraulic option)
    • Main contractor's preliminaries, overheads, profit and attendance, and an apportionment of professional fees. The cost of any works to lift lobbies and so on is excluded.
    The cost model also assumes that the works would be eligible for capital allowances relief.

    Which lift performs better over 25 years? The whole-life cost for each option has been calculated over a 25-year period and is expressed in terms of its net present value. The life-cycle calculation for each system consists of four primary elements:

    • Major asset replacement The replacement of major components (drives and controllers) and the refurbishment of the lift installation after 15 years
    • Maintenance Annual comprehensive maintenance, which covers all routine maintenance and replacements, although accidental or other damage is excluded (see graphic)
    • Emergency call-outs An allowance for emergency call-outs not covered by the annual comprehensive maintenance policy. There is very little historical data on the actual rate of occurrence for call-outs, so for the purposes of the cost model we have assumed an average of two call-outs per year for each option
    • Energy costs The annual cost for electricity consumption, based on the lifts operating at an average of 60 starts per hour to achieve traffic flow.
    The annual comprehensive maintenance cover means that financial risk associated with individual component failure is negligible.

    The discount rate used to calculate the net present value for each element of the life-cycle is once again based on approximately 4%.

    Cost analysis
    In summary, the in-shaft-driven option offers considerably lower whole-life costs than the other two options. Option 3 offers a 31% lower total whole-life cost than the top-drive traction (option 2), and a 20% saving over the hydraulic option (option 1).

    The in-shaft-driven lifts fare particularly well on capital cost. As well as being the cheapest to buy, the omission of a machine room results in considerable savings on building and M&E works in connection with the machine room construction.

    Of the two options that require machine rooms, Option 2 is more expensive because it requires a larger machine room than the hydraulic machine. M&E works are more expensive for the hydraulic option because of the need for cooling and ventilation in the hydraulic machine room.

    As well as offering the lowest capital cost, the in-shaft lift is also the cheapest to operate over the life-cycle. Lower maintenance costs and smaller energy bills are the main reasons for the in-shaft machine's better performance over 25 years. Of the remaining two options, the hydraulic lift provides the lowest cost over the life-cycle. This is primarily because it has lower maintenance costs than the top-driven traction model, and slightly lower major replacement costs at year 15.