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Elevator Terminology Defined

Elevator terminology can be confusing. So we compiled a list of commonly used words so you can familiarize yourself with information you may find in your quote, contract, or other documentation when working with your elevator installation company. If you have a question about a term you don’t see here, please call us at (713) 360-7353 or use this form to send us your inquiry.

Home elevator: A home (or residential) elevator is, by building codes, designed for the needs of private residences such as single homes, townhomes, and condominiums serving one family.

Drive system: The mechanism that powers the direction and speed of the elevator car and its passengers. Types of drive systems used in home elevators include:

  • Pneumatic Vacuum Elevator (PVE): Turbines operating as exhaust fans extract air from the top of the cylinder creating a vacuum that makes the sealed elevator car to rise. For descent, the intake of air is controlled causing the elevator car to smoothly move downwards due to gravity. No cables, chains, or hydraulic jacks are utilized to raise or lower the car. PVE is the greenest, most energy efficient elevator on the market. It’s also the most reliable requiring minimal maintenance.
  • Chain drive: a geared chain-driven machine which uses weights to counter balance the weight of the elevator car making it very efficient
  • Hydraulic: Also called hydro, utilizes a hydraulic jack or plunger beneath the platform and wire cables to raise and lower the car.
  • Winding drum: Also called cable drum, a geared-drive machine on which suspension cables are fastened and wind on a rotating drum.

Hoistway: Also called a shaft, is the conduit that passes through the floors and holds the car. Note: Traditional chain-driven traction elevators, hydraulic elevators, and winding drum elevators require shafts and most often pits, but pneumatic vacuum elevators do not require a shaft or pit.

Landing door: also called hoistway door, door opening from the room to the hoistway at a landing.

Landing: the point at each floor where the elevator will open.

Car: Also called cab, is the portion of the elevator in which people ride.

Car gate: Gate is basically the door of the elevator car and travels with the elevator. Some elevators can have gates or door openings on 1, 2 or 3 sides.

Car gate lock: a safety device that electrically prevents the operation of the elevator unless the car door is locked in the closed position and mechanically prevents mechanically the opening of an elevator car door from the car side unless the elevator car is in the door zone and is stopped.

Automatic gate opener: also called automatic gate operator, is the electromechanical device that automatically opens and closes the car gate.

Nudging: when an elevator system has automatic door operation, if the elevator door remains open longer than a pre-set time, it will give an audible and/or visual signal and reduce the speed and torque of the closing elevator doors.

Running clearance: The space between entrance sill and elevator car sill (usually 1 ¼”).

Sill: a flat metal fitting with grooves in which the door guide rides at the landing floor in the entrance or elevator car door.

Call station: Also called remote station or hall station, the button on each landing that people push to “call” the elevator to a landing.

Controller: The controller houses the electrical control circuits for the elevator.

Car operating panel (COP): is the control panel inside the elevator that includes the buttons and switches for giving passengers a way to issue calls and commands to the elevator.

Automatic car light: also called emergency car lighting, battery-powered light(s), most often LED, inside the elevator car that turn on automatically when the elevator is in use and turns off using a delayed time set in a timer.

Interlock: A vital safety mechanism that reduces the risk of someone falling into the shaft.

Emergency battery lowering (EBL): An emergency power source for use during power outages that lowers the elevator to a landing and energizes the interlock allowing the occupant(s) to exit the car.

Homing device: a mechanism that sends the elevator to a predetermined landing when not in use.

Alarm button: a button inside the elevator car that activates the alarm bell that can be heard outside the elevator hoistway. If remotely monitored, the button also activates connection so the car occupant can speak with the monitoring service.

Alarm delay time: the amount of time that a home elevator’s alarm button must be pressed before activating the alarm. Useful in case of accidental pressing of the button.

Machine room (MR): A small room usually constructed near the elevator hoistway (located at any level) to accommodate the drive system and electrical control box. Note: Not all traditional elevators require a machine room and PVE does not require one.

Machine room-less (MRL): the drive system of MRL elevators is completely inside the hoistway thus eliminating the machine room.

Overhead: Clearance needed to accommodate the components on top of the elevator car. It is measured from the top landing’s finished floor to the lowest obstruction at the top of the hoistway.

Pit: The pit is at the lowest landing to provide clearance for the support components that are beneath the elevator car allowing the elevator floor to level with the lowest landing floor. In most cases, the pit is created by penetrating the top of the home’s foundation. Not all elevators and installation sites require a pit. Vacuum elevators never require a pit.

Car guide rail: A metal track that guides travel of an elevator in its hoistway.

Handrail: Bars attached to the sides of the interior of the elevator car to provide riders something to grab onto for balance and support, if needed.

Brake: an electro-mechanical device that prevents the elevator from moving when the elevator car has stopped or when the elevator has no power.

Traveling cable: also called multi-conductor wiring harness, used to get power and car functions from the controller to the car as it rises from bottom floor to the top floor. This will provide power communicate to the controller as well as provide safety circuit connections back to the controller.

Weight capacity: also called rated load, the total amount of weight that the elevator has been designed to carry.


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lower floor of panoramic vacuum elevator installed in a circular stairwell in an upper kirby home in houston texas