Pneumatic vacuum elevators and hydraulic home elevators offer diverse options to fit the architecture, space availability, budget, and specific mobility needs. Home elevators are increasing in popularity as our population ages and wish to stay in place. Also, because in the last 50 years, multi-story homes are more often built than before when single-story homes were more prevalent. Elevators offer safety and independence for the disabled and the aging.
Both pneumatic and hydraulic elevators are good solutions. Each type has advantages and disadvantages when the available space or architecture may dictate which is the best for your home. The information below summarizes the differences and trade-offs between pneumatic elevators and hydraulic elevators to help you better understand the pros and cons of each. Armed with this information helps ensure you’re making an educated decision for your elevator installation.
Hydraulic elevators have been around for decades. This traditional style elevator is still popular today. Its operation is based on an arm (sling) that pushes the elevator cab up by lifting from below the cab. The sling is forced upwards using a fluid-filled piston that is filled with a submersible pump located in an oil tank. To lower the cab, a controller releases the piston cylinder’s pressure slowly until the lower floor position is met.
This method tends to be very quiet, which may be very important depending on installation location in your home.
Hydraulic Elevator Benefits
Top benefits of hydraulic elevators include:
- The cab (the part you ride in) can be big enough to accommodate a wheelchair and multiple passengers.
- They have a capacity to carry 1,000 or more pounds. This makes for a good choice for homes but also in light commercial applications where there’s more traffic between floors than a typical single-family home.
- The machine room that houses the mechanics is separated, making it less noisy.
Hydraulic elevators can access up to 5 floor levels (50′ vertically) which is further than some otr types of elevators.
Hydraulic Elevator Disadvantages
Disadvantages of hydraulic elevators include:
- Installation needs a hoistway and a machine room requiring more space which reduces valuable storage or living space. This can be challenging for older homes that have smaller rooms and less storage space.
- Hydraulic requires regular maintenance by a professional elevator service technician to prevent the elevator from losing its smooth, fast operation or failing to work.
- Higher energy consumption which may be noticed on electrical bills, as the elevator needs both power to ascend and to descend to each floor.
Pneumatic Vacuum Elevators (PVE)
Pneumatic elevators are newer to the market with state-of-the-art technology. They operate differently than hydraulic elevators. PVE models use air pressure rather than pressure from fluids. In its system, a powerful vacuum pump is responsible for creating a low-pressure, high-pressure environment inside the tube (shaft).
When the system receives notice that the elevator will be going up, the vacuum pump reduces the air pressure above the elevator cab. The pressure below the cab naturally pushes the cab upwards. As the cab approaches its destination, the vacuum pump equalizes the pressure both above and below the cab, so the cab stops. And when you set the elevator to travel to a lower floor, the air is flushed back into the elevator and gravity brings you down.
Vacuum Elevator Benefits
Benefits of a PVE include:
- Vacuum elevators are economic as power is hardly used for descents and a super-efficient pump requires far less frequent and less expensive maintenance.
- Installation is less expensive and less disruptive (2-day install) to the homeowner with no machine room, pit or shaft, or other structural changes to the foundation or structure.
- PVE takes up little space, making it ideal for older homes and for homes that were not designed with an elevator in mind.
- If a power failure occurs, the cab descends to its lowest floor, a reassuring safety feature.
- The PVE seems faster as you have panoramic view when traveling between levels. An absolute marvel for many.
- The pneumatic elevator has a contemporary appeal with elegant designs. Many homeowners prefer the enhanced modern designs even for traditionally styled interiors.
- Super quiet operation.
- Remote operation up to 30 feet away.
- You can take your elevator with you if you move.
Vacuum Elevator Disadvantages
Disadvantages of PVE elevators include:
- The pneumatic vacuum elevator cab is generally smaller than the hydraulic elevator although the largest of the three PVE models accommodate wheelchairs or up to 3 passengers.
- It is not suitable for larger loads as the largest model has a maximum capacity of 525 lbs.
PVE elevators are limited to home use as they don’t meet the capacity capabilities required for commercial use.
- The designs of vacuum elevators are all-glass tubes with a modern aesthetic, which may not be the preferred style for a home.
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More Residential Elevator Type Comparisons
If you are considering other residential elevator types, one of the below elevator comparisons may be a better fit to help you prepare to ask the right questions when you talk with your home elevator installation company.