The Great Debate Solved: Electric Tops Hydraulic

The in-home elevator has become quite a popular accessory thanks to its numerous benefits. Baby boomers looking to “age in place” are installing them to ease the burden of bad knees and bad backs. So are families juggling children, pets, and groceries—both groups can greatly benefit. Builders say lifts are increasingly showing up in home renovations, custom-build homes, and high-end speculative properties.

When it comes to home elevators there are two broad categories: Electric and hydraulic. Both have advantages and disadvantages and a homeowner should be well aware of these before deciding which type to put in the home. Which is best? Which needs more maintenance? Which is most cost effective? Let’s take a look.

Up First: Hydraulic Home Elevators

Hydraulic elevators have a basic design of a car attached to a lifting system. The car, inside the hoistway, is attached to guide rails or a rope. Motion for the car comes from the hydraulic ram, a fluid-driven piston mounted inside a cylinder underneath.

The cylinder is connected to a system of a tank, pump, and valve that pumps hydraulic oil. The pump moves hydraulic oil from a tank to a pipe connected to the cylinder, where the valve is. When the valve opens, the fluid goes back into the tank. When the valve is closed, the fluid goes into the cylinder, where it builds up and pushes the piston, and the elevator car, up. Once the car is approaching a floor, the elevator system sends a signal to the pump. When the car goes down, this process reverses.

Hydraulic elevators need more than hoistways and cars, however. A full system will need to be built into your home—including a pit and machine room. Before the elevator is installed, contractors must survey your home and put together drawings for each of these features. Installation may take a few days, as the hoistway and entrances need to be constructed and power wired to the controller.

A hydraulic elevator is reliable, but a big drawback of this design is that it requires a large “machine room.” You’ll need a 20-gallon reservoir filled with petroleum-based hydraulic oil in a separate room in your home, which takes up valuable floor space. And, in case you weren’t aware, hydraulic oil does not have a pleasant smell. A rubber hose connected to the hydraulic cylinder must be changed every six years. Unfortunately, this hose can leak fluid (leaks may also appear in fittings, seals, or even the oil reservoir) and these leaks are usually not discovered until you smell the pool of fluid that’s collected in your home.

A few more drawbacks should be noted:

• Hydraulic elevators bounce and relevel upon entry.
• The elevator also relevels when pressure is lost which can cause the motor to run at all hours.
• Features more complex components which can lead to maintenance issues.
• Hydraulic elevators use outdated technology.

According to an article written by Henry Gifford for Home Energy Magazine, a hydraulic model uses 30 times more electricity than a traction elevator. As you can see, these units are less energy efficient which means you’ll spend more on electricity—maybe several times more.

Up Next: Electric Home Elevators

Electric or cable-driven elevators use a pulley, counterweight, electric motor, and track to move the car up and down the shaft. The electric motor turns the pulley and moves the cables to raise and lower the elevator car. The counterweight helps the elevator use less energy, and the track ensures the counterweight and car don’t sway.

These types of elevators are more popular than hydraulic elevator systems because they don’t use hydraulic fluid (no leaking oil!), making them more environmentally friendly and the required maintenance needed less frequently. They also don’t demand a pit and “machine room” which cuts down labor costs during installation. Instead, all drive equipment is mounted at the top of the elevator shaft where it’s out of the way and safe from any possible flooding.

An electric elevator installs quickly and seamlessly and provides a smooth, stable ride by incorporating a variable speed drive: It starts out slow and gradually increases speed until the desired floor is reached. The system also features a programable controller with on-board diagnostics. And, if you add another floor to your home in the future, the elevator’s rail length can be extended.
The Eclipse residential elevator offered by Liftavator is a smooth-riding elevator that takes up less square footage and usually takes less time to install than hydraulic elevators. It’s the perfect choice for homes with limited space. Construction requirements for the Eclipse are simpler than most other home elevators—making it easier to install into an existing home.

Safety is the top priority with the Eclipse elevator. Its features include:

• Battery-operated emergency lowering and lighting;
• Hand crank manual lowering;
• Motorized braking;
• Lockable control panel;
• Elevator door interlocks;
• Emergency stop switch in car;
• In-use indicator lights on hall stations; and
• Slack chain brake system.

Liftavator can also show you the many ways you can make the Eclipse the perfect complement to your home with a variety of finishes and fixtures to suit virtually any décor. You can even add Savaria automatic slim doors for superior convenience and a modern appearance.

It’s pretty clear which option we think is best for in-home use. Give us a call and let us help you make your home more accessible.

About Liftavator

Liftavator, the number-one source for residential, limited use/limited application (LU/LA) in North Carolina, designs, builds, and installs only the highest quality elevators and platform lifts. In addition to the company’s revolutionary designs and ideas, it offers a 90-day guarantee on all labor and materials. Liftavator doesn’t consider a job complete until the customer is 100% satisfied.

For more information on residential and commercial elevators, stairlifts, vertilifts, ramps, and more, visit or call (252) 634-1717 today.


(Sources: Savaria; Seniors and Boomers Services Alliance; HomeAdvisor, Inc.; InfoSpace Holdings LLC; Contractor Culture; House Design Coffee; How Stuff Works; Household Decoration; and WegoWise, Inc.)


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