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Elevator myths and false safety warnings abound. Not all that you see in movies is true. In the real world, installation and maintenance of elevators and escalators are governed by building codes to ensure safety. Plus, an elevator company would not be in business long if its products were dangerous.

Elevators are safer than cars. The Otis Elevator Company carries the equivalent of the world’s population in their elevators every five days. Yet an average of only 26 people die in elevators each year in the U.S. And most of those are elevator technicians. In contrast, there are 26 car deaths every five hours.

Residential and commercial elevators alike are extremely safe and convenient vertical transportation. So here we explain away some of the myths that exist about elevators.

Myth #1: Elevator cars are operated using one rope.

Absolutely not. While probably the first elevators and maybe a few homemade elevators up to barn’s hay loft operate on one rope, no professionally installed elevator in a commercial building or a home has only one rope or chain. In fact, traditional elevators are supported by multiple steel cables with each cable capable of supporting a fully loaded car on its own. It is quite rare for a single cable to break, but if something did compromise all of the cables on an elevators, other safety features will kick in and will not allow a free-fall.

The only known occurrence of a free-falling elevator car due to a snapped cable during normal operation (no fire or structural collapse) was in 1945.

During dense fog, pilot error caused a B25 Mitchell Bomber to crash into the Empire State Building. 3 crewmembers and 11 civilians in the building were killed. Elevator operator, Betty Lou Oliver, was thrown from her elevator car on the 80th floor and suffered severe burns.

First aid workers transferred her to another elevator to transport her out of the building. But that elevator’s cables had been damaged in the crash and the car fell 75 stories to the basement. Betty Lou survived mostly likely due to the cushion of cables that had fallen in advance of the car and coiled beneath it to cushion the impact. But she suffered a broken pelvis, back, and neck. This is longest survived elevator fall in the history of elevators.

b52 crash into empire state building in 1945 that led to only know free-falling elevator in modern times

And we must mention that our air-driven vacuum elevators have no cable or rope at all. The car lifts and lowers on air pressure. Here is how a vacuum elevator works.

So next time you watch an action-packed movie and sparks fly from the guide rails as an elevator races uncontrollably down the shaft, keep in mind that it is pure imagination.

Myth #2: Elevators have escape hatches.

Another movie plot twist used frequently is crawling through an opening in the ceiling of the elevator car into the shaft. While many commercial elevators do have safety hatches, most elevator trap doors are bolted shut and can only be opened from the outside by trained rescue personnel. Never attempt to use them yourself as an escape route. Never pry the doors open. You are safe inside the elevator car and should use the alarm button, the phone in the car, or your own mobile phone to reach out for help. Even if your natural inclination is to feel panicked or claustrophobic, breathe deeply to calm yourself and take action to call for help. In most cases, you will be freed quickly as often the alarm or in-car phone directly alerts a rescue service.

Myth #3: An overloaded elevator will fall.

In general, an overcrowded elevator car won’t move at all.

Its doors remain open and most often an alarm rings until the weight in the elevator car is reduced.

Image source:

overcrowded elevator

Myth #4: You can jump just before impact to counteract a free-fall.

First of all, we have already debunked the possibility of free fall. But even if that somehow did happen, you cannot jump at a speed fast enough to counteract the falling speed. And how would you know when to jump?

Myth #5: An elevator can fall several floors then "catch itself".

Over time people have reported believing that the elevator they were in fell several floors and then “caught itself”. This is not true but motion can be a tricky thing especially when you have no visual cues as you often are inside an opaque elevator car. Elevator experts have suggested that the fall and stop sensation may occur in these situations:

  • They elevator they got on was traveling in the opposite direction they thought it was going.
  • The elevator floor indicator lights flashed by quickly giving a visual impression of falling.

But no matter why people may have these odd feelings, you cannot free-fall any distance in a modern elevator.

Myth #6: An elevator car stuck between floors can run out of oxygen.

International standards assure that all elevator cars are adequately ventilated. Air moves freely in and out of the car. Especially in the US, most commercial elevators are equipped with air conditioning.

Myth #7: Elevator doors can open between floors.

If the car is not at a floor landing, there is no signal to trigger the doors to open. Never pry doors open to get out on your own. Stay in the elevator car and wait for help if you are stuck between floors.

Myth #8: Landing doors may open when an elevator is not there.

The elevator car controls the opening of the landing door. When the car arrives, the car door engages the landing door then opens both sets of doors. Without a car at the landing, the landing doors are not triggered to open.

Myth #9: The elevator will arrive sooner if you push the call button repeatedly.

It may be a temptation you just can’t resist, but multiple pushes of the button does nothing except maybe release some of your nervous energy.

When you press the call button, its software adds you to the queue as it re-calculates the elevator’s route. Subsequent pushes on the same landing do nothing.

But, interestingly enough, you can speed up your trip continuation and arrival for others by pressing the “door close” button once inside the elevator. That button will trigger the doors to close sooner than if left to follow the pre-programmed pattern.

Myth #10: My home is too small for an elevator.

We encourage homeowners that need an elevator to stay in their home invite us to visit to show them the possible home elevator installation locations in their home’s architecture. It is often surprising.

Did you know you can turn a closet into an elevator?  See video.

Plus residential elevator technology has condensed the sizes of elevators while keeping the functionality such that there is a small elevator solution for almost every home.

Myth #11: Home elevators are expensive and unsafe.

Neither is true. Home elevators are affordable for many whether you need a residential elevator for seniors or wish to add safety and convenience as well as value to your home. Elevators dramatically increase safety in your home.

We look forward to an invitation to your home to provide you with a free, no-obligation quote as well as answer all your questions about how a home elevator will fit in your home and serve your mobility needs today and in the future. Call (713) 360 7353.

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