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Traction vs. Hydraulic Elevator

Home elevators offer independence and convenience to all homeowners, and they can increase the value of your property. Because they are available in a wide variety of styles, colors and designs, they are also a great way to complement a new or existing space.

The two most common types of residential elevators are traction and hydraulic. Though both drive systems offer reliable, smooth elevator service, they do not operate in the same way. Either option is a great choice, but the best one for your home ultimately comes down to your available space and what you’re looking for in a home elevator.

Learn more about the difference between traction and hydraulic elevators, including how to choose the best fit for your property.

How Does a Traction Elevator Work?

Traction elevators operate via a system of cables and counterweights that exist within the elevator shaft. This integrated design means you don’t need a separate machine room to house the equipment. The traction elevator’s counterweight system enables it to lift and pull the unit without the need for excess energy or fluids.

Here’s how it works:

  1. When you enter the elevator cab and push the button, strong steel ropes or belts will begin to move outside the unit.
  2. These belts or ropes roll over the sheave, which has built-in grooves. These grooves allow the sheave to maintain a tight grip on the cables.
  3. The cab and counterweight balance one another, allowing the weight to teeter when activated.
  4. This counterweight stores energy and allows the cab to move in the chosen direction.

When you choose to work with a company that creates premium residential elevators, you can rest assured that this traction system will operate seamlessly and quietly. Residential Elevators was the first residential elevator manufacturer to utilize the traction system. When we analyzed the technology that commercial elevators relied on, we realized we could adapt this into a superior home elevator system to provide a convenient, high-performing alternative to those who do not or cannot use hydraulic systems in their home.

How Does a Hydraulic Elevator Work?

Another common type of residential elevator is the hydraulic elevator. Hydraulic elevators use a piston and pump. The piston is connected to the elevator and the pumping unit is housed in a separate machine room. Hydraulics allow the cab to move smoothly and quietly, offering a similar experience you would find in a commercial building, but taking up far less space in your home.

how a hydraulic elevator works

Hydraulic residential elevators work like this:

  1. A Piston is connected to the elevator within the hoistway
  2. The nearby machine room houses the pumping unit
  3. Once you activate the elevator, the hydraulic system moves pressurized fluid into a cylinder, where it moves the piston for ascension.
  4. When descending, the system moves the fluid back into its reservoir, which allows the cab to move downward without jolting or stopping.

At Residential Elevators, our clients continuously praise their hydraulic units for their unparalleled stability and enjoyable riding experience. We adhere to the same strict quality and performance standards as industrial hydraulic elevators, but in a more stylish and accessible way that saves you money and complements your home. Though they do require a minimal amount of additional space for a machine room, these systems are ideal when overhead limitations exist.

Which Type of Elevator Is Best?

Though traction and hydraulic elevator systems operate differently, both make an excellent addition to any home. Regardless of which drive system is better for your space and needs, both offer the following advantages:

  • They are a long-lasting investment: Like with any major home appliance, investing in a residential elevator is investing in the long-term value of your home and lifestyle. Every residential elevator from Residential Elevators is constructed using premium materials and the latest technologies to ensure a top-quality build and unmatchable performance.
  • Ongoing servicing is available: Once our experts work with you to design, install and service your home elevator. We offer convenient ongoing servicing options to help you get the most value for your investment. We believe elevators should enhance your life, and that includes a simple way to ask questions or request help for your lift. With our remote diagnostics system, we can easily monitor your elevator’s performance and troubleshoot if necessary. Whether you have a question about your unit or need assistance, our technicians are always a phone call away.
  • They add value to your home: Residential elevators add value to your home and your daily life. For some homeowners, elevators are the best way to navigate multiple stories quickly and safely. This added convenience allows homeowners to feel a sense of independence and security. When you decide to sell your home in the future, an existing elevator — especially a custom-built design — will entice buyers and may help you get more out of your property.
  • They are available in multiple designs: At Residential Elevators, our drive to help you build the perfect home elevator is what sets us apart. No two homes or families are alike, so why should every elevator be the same? Our experts will work one-on-one with you to design the ideal elevator for your space, needs, wants, style and budget. You can also choose from additional, optional features, like automatic light timers, an audible arrival notification or additional custom handrails.

Our traction and hydraulic elevators meet and exceed all national building codes and standards to provide a safe and reliable experience. Residential elevator cabs have a 950-pound weight limit and can travel 40 feet per minute, and up to 50 feet of travel. All cabs have an integrated operating panel with a phone and emergency light, as well as a battery backup, door locks, an alarm bell and an emergency lowering unit for peace of mind. All elevators come with a one-year warranty.

Pros and Cons of Traction Elevators

Traction elevators can be the perfect fit for both small and large spaces, and they offer a smooth, comfortable ride that consumes minimal power. Additional advantages of traction units include:

  • No machine room needed: Whether you’re building a new home on a strict budget or retrofitting a residential elevator to fit your existing home, square footage can sometimes be limited. Unlike hydraulic elevators, you do not need to set aside square footage for a separate machine room when you choose a traction elevator. These units are powered from within the elevator shaft, making them suitable for areas with less available space.
  • Premium functionality: Our traction elevators offer premium performance and safety. Because these units rely on counterweights to generate power and movement and do not require extensive electrical equipment, they are a very energy-efficient option.
  • Highly customizable: Thanks to our custom design process, you can create a discreet, non-intrusive lift or a bold design statement with the power to impress. We can adapt elevators to fit a variety of spaces, and some take up no more space than your average hallway closet. You can also choose from a front, side or rear opening in your traction elevator, and enhance your experience with additional safety and design features.
  • Highly reliable: We build traction lifts to accommodate the maximum amount of weight permitted, so you’re free to move furniture or board the whole family without worrying about performance. Our traction systems are also simple to use and include built-in emergency backup features for optimal safety and assurance.

When considering the advantages and disadvantages of traction elevators, you’ll have a hard time finding a reason not to install a traction lift in your home. However, if you’re looking for the quietest lift available, or are working with low-hanging ceilings, a hydraulic elevator might be the better option for you.

Pros and Cons of Hydraulic Elevators

Hydraulic elevators are some of the quietest lifts available today, and every riding experience promises a quick, effortless trip. When it comes to advantages and disadvantages of hydraulic elevators, the benefits far outweigh any drawbacks:

  • Versatile and convenient: All our residential elevators promise high performance, and hydraulic systems are no exception. They are built to last a long time, accommodating the maximum amount of weight permitted by code. The best part is that you can take advantage of this superior performance while still enjoying an energy-efficient lift.
  • Minimal headroom needed: Hydraulic elevators store their equipment in a separate room, which means the cab itself takes up minimal space. These units do not need ample headroom, so if your space has low-hanging ceilings, a hydraulic system might be just what you need.
  • Highly customizable: Our elevator experts are here to bring your vision to life. No matter your taste and style, we can custom build you the hydraulic elevator you need to fit into new or existing spaces. Browse our classic, signature, vintage, estate, reserve, shaker, modern farmhouse and stainless-inspired designs, or create a unique blend of style and functionality. Pair your lift with additional safety and convenience features for an even better experience.
  • Quiet operation: Both traction and hydraulic drive systems operate quietly if they are constructed out of high-quality materials and installed by expert technicians. Hydraulic elevators in particular are powered by moving hydraulic fluids, which results in exceptionally quiet operation.

One factor to consider when choosing between residential lifts is how much space you have available, especially if you are retrofitting your elevator. Hydraulic elevators require enough available space for a separate machine room to house all the components.

How to Choose the Best Elevator for Your Home

Now that you know more about traction vs. hydraulic home elevators, how do you choose the right one for your home? Ample space for a separate machine room is one factor to consider, but it’s not the only one. You should also account for the type of space you’re working in, what you need and want out of a residential lift, what kind of design matches your space and which features can help you have the best experience possible:

  • Analyze your space: Consider where you want to place your new elevator unit and note the available square footage, the number of stories and feet you need it to travel and whether the elevator should have a front, rear or side door.
  • Assess your needs: Next, make a list of requirements for your elevator. For instance, how many handrails do you need? Does the elevator’s layout need to include code-compliant mirrors or weather-resistant hall stations? Do you require a wheelchair-friendly design? What is your total budget for your new lift?
  • Choose your design: When you work with us to create your residential elevator, you have endless design choices to choose from, including wood and metal cab finishes or stains and recessed lighting. Choose brushed, matte or mirrored handrails, as well as a surface-mounted, flush-mounted or digital touchscreen operating panel. You can even choose between an accordion or scissor-style gate for a one-of-a-kind build. Use our online cab builder to visualize your options and see your design come to life.
  • Consider additional features: As we work together to design your elevator, we are happy to explain what additional features are available and make suggestions based on your wants and needs. Popular add-ons include power door openers, an automatic accordion gate operator, remote monitoring and diagnostics and observation glass panel inserts. 

The best and easiest way to ensure your elevator meets all your wants and needs is by working with a professional. If you’re including a residential elevator in the blueprint for your upcoming build, we will work alongside you to make sure you choose the one that makes the most sense for your space, budget and design choices.

If you’re interested in retrofitting an elevator to an existing home, we will carefully assess your space and help you make an informed decision based on the amount of available square footage and overhead height. We will make sure your chosen elevator design meets all building codes, standards, regulations and electrical requirements, so you remain safe and compliant.

Let Us Help You Find the Right Elevator for Your Home

Residential Elevators is a family-owned, full-service residential elevator company — the only home elevator business in the United States that handles each step of the process on our own, without outside contractors or manufacturers.

After we work with you to assess your wants and needs, our team of trained experts handles the manufacturing, design, shipping, installation and servicing of each hydraulic or traction elevator. Plus, all our products are American-made with the highest level of craftsmanship and construction available. This means you are always receiving the best service and premium quality in addition to extensive custom-built options and features.

Whether you choose a space-saving traction unit or an ultra-quiet hydraulic drive system, your residential elevator is an exciting investment that has the power to enhance your daily life. Contact us to learn more about elevating your standard of living, or request your free brochure today!