Finding the Right Residential Elevator

Elevators have come along way just in the last five years, due to rising consumer demand for them.  As we grow older, climbing up and down stairs becomes a wearisome and even a hazardous task.

Installing an elevator can make the difference between if you can continue living in your home as you get older, or have to move out to assisted living.  You may have considered installing a residential elevator, which can ease the tediousness of such daily activities.   With increase in the demand for residential elevators, manufacturers all levels of physical challenges.

Typical costs range from $25,000.00 for an elevator installed inside your home, to $60,000.00 for an addition to your home that houses the elevator shaft on the outside.   If this seems expensive, consider the cost of assisted living – $40,000 to $60,000 per year.   While installing an elevator is costly, remember: it is a one-time expense that can give you the freedom to keep living in the treasured familiarity of your home sweet home.

Look for a Houston contractor with the “CAPS” designation (“Certified Aging in Place Specialist”).   These contractors have training to help you evaluate the solution available for your particular home and your budget needs.  A local list of CAPS-trained contractors can be found on the Greater Houston Builders Association website at, and on the AARP website at

Back to the elevators.  If you are considering installing one, look first for a space inside your home where the elevator might work.  A trained contractor can help you do this.  Look on both the first and second floors and note what rooms are over and under each other.  If there isn’t a good place to install one inside, the shaft can be built on the outside of your home. These typically have an entrance from the living or family room downstairs, and carry you to the master bedroom or hallway outside the bedrooms upstairs.   If you feel you might be a wheelchair user someday, look for an elevator with enough room for both you and another family member to accompany you.

Concerned about the effect on your home’s market value?  Don’t be.  Your realtor will tell you that installing an elevator adds real value to your home when it is eventually sold.

All elevators are designed with extra safety features.  For example, all residential elevators have a battery backup, and a telephone inside so you can contact the elevator company if you ever got stuck, though this rarely occurs.  If the power and the battery were to fail, the elevators even have a hand crank in the attic to manually lower the elevator to safety.

Your contractor can help you compare features such as cab size, cab furnishings, speed, safety systems, door configuration, external and internal controls, weight capacity, travel, fixtures/accessories and a convenient entrance.  To transport passengers or freight, choices range from a vacuum drive elevator, a hydraulic drive elevator, winding drum elevator or a counter-weighted chain drive elevator.

From the technical point of view, have your contractor help you evaluate the type and specification of the motor, controls, brake, pit depth, and guide rails in a system. Behind the design, look for the reliability of the manufacturer  and the safety record.  Search the internet for complaint and safety records.

Before buying a residential elevator, gain as much knowledge as you can about residential elevators.  Look at brochures with photos of the elevators.  List the features that you want in your elevator.  By partnering with a “CAPS” trained contractor and his or her elevator manufacturer, you can get the best information and make an informed decision.  Don’t forget to compare warranty, duration of the project, service and maintenance after the sale.

Choosing the right residential elevator can dramatically enhance your quality of life and help you keep your independence, and its just plain handy for everyone in the family.

Dan Bawden is a contractor specializing in independent living strategies.  He helped create the national “CAPS” certification for contractors and builders, and is a nationally acclaimed instructor on the subject of Aging in Place and accessible construction.