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Elevator modernisation decreases energy consumption, increases property values and improves overall passenger safety. But is it the right move for your elevators? Here’s everything you need to know.

There comes a time in every elevator’s life when it no longer makes financial or logistical sense to continue repairing the same components year after year. Service calls get expensive, replacement parts become harder to find and the time the elevator spends out of service ends up exceeding its time in operation.

In most cases, the best solution is elevator modernisation. But is it the right move for your elevators?

When to consider elevator modernisation

How old is the elevator? Hydraulic elevators typically have 20 to 25-year lifespans while overhead traction elevators have lifespans of about 30 years. Machine roomless (MRL) traction elevators have the shortest lifespans (10 to 15 years) due to their reliance on computerised controllers and lighter duty materials.

Once an elevator approaches or exceeds its lifespan, components begin to wear, and repairs become more expensive. Replacement parts become obsolete, expensive or difficult (if not impossible) to find, and the harder it is to find parts, the longer the elevator will be out of service. These disruptions can be a nightmare for both building owners and elevator passengers, especially in high-traffic buildings like hospitals, hotels and business centres.

Qualified elevator contractors will be able to identify when a system is approaching the end of its usable lifecycle in order to develop a modernisation strategy.

Modernisation isn’t a process that can be rushed; there is a significant amount of planning involved but the sooner a building owner/manager prepares for modernisation, the easier the process will be.

When to continue with repairs

Although age is a main reason to upgrade and modernise an elevator, the overall usage of the equipment should be taken into consideration. A 20-year-old elevator that is used only a few times per week may have a longer lifespan than one that is used dozens of times per day.

Whatever the case, property managers should have a comprehensive elevator maintenance plan. This is a monthly agreement that includes routine, top-to-bottom inspections and service for the elevators. A plan like this is essential in that it keeps the equipment and all passengers safe, while also helping to avoid excessively high repair costs.

The biggest advantage of an elevator maintenance plan is that it’s intended to minimise risk for the elevator owner. Bear in mind however, that not all maintenance plans are created equal.

Managers will need to verify the terms to see if parts, repairs and unscheduled service calls are included. This is typically covered by most full maintenance agreements, but the parts could be billable in lower plan tiers.

The elevator modernisation process

Every elevator modernisation is unique, so the process will look different for each system. Generally, the following components are targeted in the modernisation process: 

  • Control systems
  • Wiring 
  • Fixtures 
  • Power units 
  • Door operators 
  • Valve assemblies 
  • Hoisting machines 
  • Motor generator sets 
  • Counterweight frame and fillers

Planning and logistics

Modernisation is a significant undertaking for any building so here are a few logistical considerations to keep in mind: 

  • You will need a licensed elevator contractor to complete the work.
  • You will need to secure local and state permits before modernisation work can begin. 
  • You should have an understanding of the project schedule and the elevator downtime. 
  • Work may be required by other trades for fire alarm systems, electrical panel upgrades, HVAC systems, etc.

Energy efficiency

Modernisation can also increase the energy efficiency of your elevators, which typically account for two to five per cent of a building’s total energy consumption. Today’s elevator technology is lightyears ahead of what it was 30 years ago – everything from lighting to the electrical system can be upgraded to help cut energy costs. For example, converting a DC motor to an AC motor will require less energy and produce less heat, leading to lower electricity bills and a reduction in BTU loading.

Code compliance

There’s a good chance that if an older elevator is in need of significant upgrades, it is probably not up to date with the latest codes. Regulations around safety standards, fire codes and disability guidelines change every few years. The modernisation plan should include bringing the system up to the most recent codes for the state.

There is also the Australian Standard AS 1735 Lifts, Escalators, and Moving Walks (the SAA Lift Code) that sets the standards for the design, construction, installation, operation, inspection, testing, maintenance, alteration (modernisation) and repair of elevators. If you are unsure if the elevators are up to date on any codes, contact your local elevator service provider.


The scope of a modernisation will determine how long the process takes. A standard two to three-stop hydraulic elevator may have downtime of four weeks. A high-rise traction elevator would take longer, typically 10 to 12 weeks.

Types of elevator modernisation

Cab renovations

If an elevator is mechanically sound but could use a design refresh, renovation is recommended. Managers may consider this option if the building is going through aesthetic upgrades and you want the elevator cab to match.

Cab renovations are purely for aesthetic purposes; no mechanical upgrades will be made. Some of the most common cab renovations include: 

  • Doors
  • Lighting 
  • Call buttons 
  • Elevator cab flooring 
  • Ceiling panels 
  • Wall panels

There are also quick renovations building owners can make to improve passenger safety. In the age of COVID19, more and more buildings have incorporated room, door and elevator graphics to clearly communicate new wayfinding and social distancing guidelines.

There is also continuous disinfecting technology designed for elevators that can be installed to kill airborne and surface-level pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, mould, odours and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Stand-alone component upgrades

Stand-alone mechanical upgrades are a quick way to make small, but necessary, improvements. The technicians will repair or replace one part at a time, which can also make this process a bit more cost effective in the short-term.

If bodies corporates choose stand-alone upgrades, expect certain enhancements to trigger other needs. For example, replacing controllers may affect the signal fixtures.

Full elevator modernisation

Full elevator modernisation is a complete system upgrade. All non-structural components are replaced to improve the system’s operation, energy consumption, safety and ride quality. Many full modernisation projects also include cab renovations.

When an elevator should be replaced

There are certain situations where the best (or only) option is to replace the entire elevator. One example of this situation would be if the purpose of the elevator needs to change, such as converting a freight elevator into a passenger elevator.

Elevator replacement involves gutting the entire system and replacing it with a brand-new one, and it requires more money, time and permitting than modernisation.

If the entire system does not have to be replaced, modernisation is the best way to improve an elevator.

Modernisation is certainly an investment, but it’s one that pays off. The process can increase the value of your building, improve tenant satisfaction, increase safety and improve energy efficiency. It’s also a smart way to ensure that the systems are operationally prepared to handle another 20-plus years.