Three shiny metallic elevators in a row along a wall. One elevator door is open, one is partially open, and one is closed.

Applying the ASME A17.1 Elevator Code to Elevator Modernization

Applying the ASME A17.1 Elevator Code to Elevator Modernization

January 20, 2023
Tony DeFrancesco, CEI
Three shiny metallic elevators in a row along a wall. One elevator door is open, one is partially open, and one is closed.

With cost, safety, and energy efficiency on their minds, building owners often ask me if it’s better to repair or modernize their aging elevators. Should they continue to pay for multiple service calls for existing equipment, or is it time to upgrade to new equipment?

To determine the best options to meet the building’s needs, I consult the 2019 American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) A17.1 Elevator Safety Code.

What’s the difference between elevator repair and modernization?

The first step in understanding how to apply the code is to recognize the difference between a repair and a modernization or alteration as defined by ASME Section 1.3:

Elevator Repair: Reconditioning or renewal of parts, components, and/or subsystems necessary to keep equipment in compliance with applicable code requirements.

Elevator Modernization: Any change to equipment, including its parts, components, and/or subsystems, other than maintenance, repair, or replacement. For this article, “modernization” shall be used in lieu of “alteration”.

Examples of both conditions are presented in the following table:

As you can see from this concise list, elevator modernization projects can quickly become complicated.

Careful coordination of your building outside the elevator equipment itself is required. Therefore, before any elevator modernization, you must consider the following questions:

  1. Why are you thinking about modernizing your elevator?
  2. Do you only need partial upgrades and repairs?
  3. Is this all you need to update/repair?

Unlike a new construction project, elevator modernizations aren’t typically designed by an architect or engineer. Elevator modernization often causes problems for owners during the project and occasionally after the elevator portion of the project is completed because the elevator code requires more work than a typical elevator contractor is trained to do. Therefore, it’s critical to consult a vertical transportation subject matter expert. Continue reading to discover the common code issues likely to be encountered.

Elevator buttons for floors one to six. The button for the first floor lights up as a finger presses it.

Thinking about modernizing your elevator?

It is important to examine why a modernization is being considered and determine your goals in an elevator modernization. Do not simply trust an elevator contractor who claims that your equipment is obsolete. Most of the time, replacement parts can be purchased from many reputable sources, including the original equipment manufacturer (OEM).

A careful review of your maintenance agreement should verify what is and is not included. It’s common for our experts who review elevator modernization agreements to find that up to half the value of their proposal includes work already covered in the existing maintenance agreement.

While it’s impossible to address all conditions related to elevator modernizations in one blog, I will provide a few points for consideration:

  1. Improved reliability: Covered repairs may get you what you need if you can enforce your current maintenance agreement.
  2. Faster elevators: You may not need faster elevators; you may need smarter elevators, using smarter dispatching technology. However, if you don’t have enough elevators, modernization may not solve this problem.
  3. Obsolete elevators: There are certainly obsolete, unreliable elevators that should be modernized.
  4. Modernization cost: Elevator modernization costs vary greatly, depending on the type of elevator you have and any additional building work needed for Americans with Disabilities Act compliance.

Do you only need partial upgrades and repairs to your elevator?

Now that you have carefully reviewed your elevator situation, you may determine that you only need to enforce the terms of the maintenance agreement you have with your elevator contractor. You may also determine that you just need to replace individual components to achieve your elevator improvement goals.

A worker makes repairs inside an elevator shaft. The worker’s open tool box sits on the floor beside the elevator.

Common elevator code issues

Assuming that you have resolved the scope of work and the goal of your elevator modernization, the following list includes the most common code issues that require careful coordination and concern:

  1. Is this elevator on emergency power now? How will it operate after the modernization?
  2. Does the machine room now require air conditioning?
  3. Is the present electrical system adequate for the new elevator drive system?
  4. Is there any non-elevator equipment in the elevator machine rooms that must be removed?
  5. Are there any changes to the hoistway, pit, or machine room construction?
  6. How is the elevator connected to the fire alarm system?

After the modernization, performing an acceptance test helps to ensure that your project complies with the building safety codes for elevators and is ready to improve your facility operations.

A final note on elevator modernizations: be wary of pre-engineered elevator systems. Those systems are not designed for the 24/7/365 environment of a hospital or airport. They are sound elevator systems for department stores, apartments, and office buildings.

We at VTX deal with code issues on a regular basis. It is very likely that your question is not new to us, and we can help quickly. It is not uncommon for us to bring a request for interpretation for our clients before A17.1. Just remember that ASME wants the requirements to be clearly understood, so get clarification; it could dramatically affect your project or operation!

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