Understanding whether LULA elevators (Limited-Use/Limited-Application) or Vertical Platform Lifts (VPL) are right for your low-rise commercial building can be challenging. ADA mobility solutions are confusing for facility managers and building owners. Whether your goal for your Texas-based low-rise, low-occupancy building is ADA compliance or higher visitor satisfaction, we can help you make the right choice for your office, library, school, retail building, art gallery, museum, church, apartments, or other application.
Don’t let stairs prevent your customers, students, visitors, tenants, patrons, residents, congregants, or staff from fully enjoying all your business, non-profit, or government service has to offer.
LULA vs VPL Wheelchair Lifts
This article will address the similarities and differences between these 2 mobility technologies to help you better understand what solution is right for your low-rise building:
- LULA elevators fall in between wheelchair lifts and high-use commercial elevators both in terms of functionality and cost to install and operate. They offer more features and a look and feel of high-use commercial elevators, but are more compact and travel shorter vertical distances than a standard high-use commercial elevator.
- Vertical Platform Lifts (VPL) are wheelchair lifts that rise like an elevator to move wheelchair-bound and otherwise mobility-challenged individuals from one level to another. But they have fewer features, are often less aesthetically pleasing in the space, and travel at a slower pace than LULA elevators making them less desirable for commercial buildings with higher traffic.
The key to choosing the right mobility technology is to know your traffic volumes and patterns. We can help you figure this out!
What Buildings Can Use a LULA Elevator or Wheelchair Lift?
LULA elevators and VPL wheelchair lifts offer ADA-compliant solutions for a variety of low-rise buildings in Texas:
- Small office or medical buildings: These low-rise structures that usually offer rental space to a wide variety of service providers can offer its visitors and tenants improved access.
- Multi-level retail shopping centers: Customers can access stores, kiosks, parking garage levels, and restrooms on upper and lower floors of buildings without requesting assistance
- Churches, temples, mosques, and synagogues: Congregants of your place of worship who find it difficult to use stairs can access sanctuaries, offices, gathering halls, kitchens, and restrooms on different levels.
- Municipal buildings: Community centers, museums, libraries, court buildings, and other government- or foundation-operated buildings with multiple floors can offer visitors safe, convenient access to all areas.
- Multi-level residential buildings: Residents and visitors in condominiums, multifamily housing, and elder care homes and assisted living facilities gain independence within the building enabling access to all apartments and common areas from and to the lobby.
- Restaurants and bars: Customers and staff have access to upper and lower floor seating.
- Boutique hotels: Small hotels with lower traffic and only 2 or 3 floors can offer its guests and staff effective transportation among all floors.
The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) establishes LULA elevator and wheelchair lift requirements in its Handbook on Safety Code for Elevators and Escalators.
LULA elevators are intended for use by mobility-challenged visitors to your building and are not for heavy use by the general public. LULA elevators are similar in appearance and function to commercial elevators you encounter in high rises but are smaller and only service 2- or 3-story buildings. LULAs have enclosed cabs with sliding doors and are fully automatic.
LULA elevators can be a great choice when your visitor numbers are lower and your building’s architecture does not offer the space for a larger elevator. Budget can also be a concern. If you don’t have the budget for full-sized traditional elevator but want more features than a wheelchair lift, LULA elevators are a cost-effective solution.
Key Comparisons of LULA Elevators to Commercial Elevators
Below summarizes the differences between a LULA elevator and full commercial elevator so that you can more clearly understand why LULA may be the perfect mobility solution for your building:
- LULA pit depth is 14 inches below level of the lowest landing; a commercial heavy-use elevator requires a pit depth of 4 feet, almost 4 times the depth required by a LULA elevator.
- LULA’s overhead clearance of 114 inches above the top landing for existing buildings and 134 inches for new construction is almost 2 feet less than commercial elevators.
- LULA elevators’ machine rooms occupy less space as their speed and distance of travel are less requiring less powerful large equipment. Plus, today’s new LULA designs also offer MRL (Machine Room Less) elevators.
- Construction requirements are less costly due to:
- Shallower pit depths and overhead clearances.
- LULA shafts are permitted to be made of wood or drywall instead of concrete.
- Hoisting beams are not required.
- LULA hydraulic cylinders are located on the pit floor and don’t require excavation whereas high-use commercial elevators’ hydraulic cylinders must extend underground.
- LULA elevator maintenance is required every 6 months, which is much less than the required monthly maintenance of a commercial elevator.
Key LULA Features
As outlined in the ASME code, LULA elevators are limited to:
- Vertical travel of up to 25 feet (the distance from the ground to the floor at the top landing)
- Speeds of up to 30 feet per minute
- Capacity of 1,400 pounds — in comparison, a vertical platform lift has a capacity of 750 pounds.
Although a LULA elevator has less costly, more simplified installation requirements than a commercial elevator, your visitors’ safety and comfort are important. LULA elevators “feel” like a standard elevator with passenger functions and professional styling they are familiar with in a high-rise elevator.
LULA Elevator Emergency and Safety Features
Key safety features in LULA elevators that ensure passenger safety:
- Handrail for safety and convenience
- Key control when needed
- Audio/visual car direction and floor indicators
- Braille markings on the control panel to allow for tactile reading by visually impaired passengers
- Stop button for emergencies
- Door sensors that prevent doors from closing if extra time is required for loading or unloading or if something is obstructing the doorway that prevents the elevator from closing
- Emergency battery-powered system to safely evacuate passengers in case of loss of power
- Emergency lighting that illuminates the cab during a power outage
- Call button to request assistance
- Hands-free ADA phone to call for assistance
You may select from a wide variety of materials and finishes from our LULA elevator manufacturers. Some items like wall paneling can be customized. With our help, you can have not only an excellent functional answer for your ADA needs but also a design that looks professional and integrates into your space.
Our LULA elevators can service most low-rise building architectures. Due to your building’s layout, passengers may need to exit on a different side of the cab from where they entered. Our LULA elevators offer multiple configurations:
- Same door entry and exit
- Opposite door entry and exit
- 90º exit to the left or to the right of entry.
Commercial Platform Lift Features
VPLs (Vertical Platform Lifts) offer many of the benefits of LULA elevators like safe mobility solutions while taking up less space and lower cost construction and operation than commercial elevators.
Both types of commercial platform lifts can travel vertically between levels for your building’s visitors or tenants and their wheelchairs, power wheelchairs, mobility scooters, and other mobility devices.
- Wheelchair lifts are typically open platforms that are limited to about 14’ of vertical travel.
- Its lack of railing or enclosure along with limited vertical travel height make wheelchair lifts impractical for between multiple floors. They are commonly used for low elevation changes like 2ʹ to 8ʹ.
- Wheelchair lifts are intended for use by mobility challenged visitors and tenants, not for general public use that can easily walks up or down a few steps.
- Weight capacities of up to 750 pounds to accommodate power wheelchairs, heavy-duty scooters, and other heavier mobility devices.
Key Safety Features of Wheelchair Lifts
- Back-up batteries for continued operation in case of power outage
- Emergency communication is on all our wheelchair lifts to enable users to gain help they may need.
- Under-platform safety sensors to prevent crushing of someone or something that may have entered the area under the lift.
- Emergency on/off switches for user and bystander safety.
- Anti-skid platforms and side guard panels ensure user safety.
Key Considerations for Choosing LULA or VPL
Choosing between a LULA elevator or commercial wheelchair lift is a decision that can feel very confusing. And our ADA mobility specialists are here to help. But to give you an understanding of the basic considerations for choosing between them will help you prepare for an on-site consultation:
- Building architecture – availability of space, structure of stairs and stairs landings, use of mezzanines.
- Traffic – how many mobility-impaired visitors do you anticipate daily? Are there patterns such as in retail spaces, more traffic would be expected during “rush hours” as people come and go from work and school.
- Budget – If you budget permits installation of a LULA elevator, it is a more comfortable and familiar option for our visitors or tenants, but a safe, effective wheelchair lift can be used to offer ADA compliance and mobility. Note that a LULA elevator will increase your property value, so part of the investment is recouped if you ever sell the building.
No matter your choice, installing an ADA-compliant mobility solution will increase safety and inclusion for all your visitors.