Maintenance matters: Lifts & Escalators

Published:  29 September, 2014

Longer opening hours means lifts and escalators are used more intensively than ever, but careful maintenance can extend their lifespan. 

Vertical circulation plays a vital part in any multi-level shopping centre, assisting flow to retailers on upper floors and providing comfortable transit for shoppers, but lifts and escalators are expensive pieces of kit and maintaining them can be a headache for landlords and managers, especially with M&E coming to the end of its lifespan in ageing centres.

According to Deni Scafton, engineering specialist at Bureau Veritas, one of the global leaders in testing, inspecting and certifying lifts and escalators, the average lifespan of M&E is 20-25 years. But he warns that that has been an industry standard for decades and may not take into account the longer opening times of the modern shopping centre.  

“Newer machinery will take opening times into account but where old lifts and escalators are concerned, longer day-to-day use could shorten life expectancy,” he says. 

With a good maintenance plan critical to guarantee life expectancy, Bureau Veritas advises that maintenance be fully comprehensive and ideally carried out by the manufacturer to maintain optimum safety and operating levels. 

“Our advice is to have a maintenance contract with your lift or escalator manufacturer,” says Scafton. “There is a defects liability period of a year after install but we recommend a rolling programme of checks and maintenance from then on - managers should arrange monthly checks with a thorough examination every six months for insurances purposes. We’ve seen problems occur when smaller maintenance companies take over.” 

Scafton estimates fully comprehensive maintenance to cost around £1,800-£3,000 per lift per year depending on height and around £2,000 for an escalator. And while it is possible to get a cheaper, more basic maintenance package, there would be extra costs on top for parts that needed replacing. 

For Warren Jenchner, managing director at Apex Lifts - which currently services the lifts at The Swan shopping centre Leatherhead, Palace Gardens in Enfield and Eden Walk in Kingston – prevention is better than cure. 

“Prevention rather than reaction is key, so a full hour should be spent each visit on proactive maintenance,” he says. “And we would always recommend critical spares and consumables are kept on-site too, so should the lifts breakdown they can be efficiently and effectively repaired.” 

Scafton suggests centre staff carry out start-up checks every morning before the centre opens, sending lifts up to all floors and testing the communication and alarm systems. And his colleague Julian White, head of engineering technical services, says a centre’s maintenance team should be trained by an engineer to carry out simple checks and to recognise signs that machinery isn’t working as it should, such as identifying unusual noises.  

“The sooner any maintenance issues are picked up on, the better,” says White. 

When it comes to health & safety, the renewal of lifts and escalators should adhere to safety standards EN 81-80, whereby the level of safety of older lifts is raised to match those of new lifts, and EN 115-2 – Safety of escalators and moving walks part 2 – which outlines rules for the improvement of the safety of existing escalators.  

And in the case of putting new machinery into a development or extension, specification depends on environment, but there are two main types of lift – hydraulic and traction – and according to Scafton, traction lifts deal with traffic much better by providing more start-ups per hour. 

Although, if a hydraulic lift is more suitable for the environment, new technology is making them safer, as Jenchner explains: “One new piece of technology which improves safety on hydraulic lifts is gate lock valves. Hydraulic lifts are extremely reliable but in the unlikely event a valve fails or develops a significant leak, there is a risk of the lift descending with the doors open – there are well-publicised cases of this happening. 

“By de-energising and closing when the lift arrives at floor level, gate lock valves prevent this from happening, providing that extra level of back-up, improving safety, and safeguarding property owners from the risk of prosecution.”

Much of the new equipment on the market will save energy, with lifts that regenerate power back into the mains and escalators that use sensors to move only when people approach, leaving them static when not in use. And energy efficient models aren’t necessarily more expensive. 

“Making your lifts energy efficient doesn’t have to be expensive,” says Jenchner. “Energy monitors can be applied to existing lifts to monitor the amount of runs, and the load of each run, to calculate the correct energy consumption of the lift. Then the lift can be upgraded to optimise energy consumption. Once the upgrades have been made, the equipment can be refitted to record the difference and the savings made.”

While lifts in shopping centres were primarily used to access the shopping centre from the car park, Apex Lifts have seen an increase in popularity of lifts for vertical accessibility within the shopping centre itself. 

“Freestanding feature lifts, often featuring glass doors, became incredibly popular a few years ago for their aesthetic properties but as they are less practical, and can hold fewer passengers, they are now falling out of favour,” says Jenchner.  

As for the future, he says lifts in shopping centres will evolve to be more efficient, practical and safe. 

“The new safety standards, EN 81-20 and EN 81-50, due to be issued by the BSI later this year, will change the way passenger lifts are designed and installed,” he says. 

“Any lift project due for completion after 2017 must abide by these new standards, which dictates more rigorous design requirements for passenger lifts and the safety components used in them. 

“Doors must be stronger with wider entrances, there must be more free space in the pit and at the top of the shaft, and they must withstand increased perpendicular force on the shaft walls, for example.”   

“Both lifts and escalators are getting more and more efficient and refined and less clunky,” concludes White. 

Capital Allowances

The government offers a little known about range of tax incentives for businesses investing in commercial property. These tax incentives, called Capital Allowances, can help shopping centre owners claim back some of the money they spend on their premises by reducing their tax bill. 

All types of fittings potentially qualify, including lifts and escalators, and with careful planning, shopping centre landlords could claim as much as 85 per cent of refurbishment costs against their tax bill. Enhanced Capital Allowances (ECAs) go further, giving 100 per cent up-front tax relief to businesses investing in energy efficient technologies. 

While capital allowances are available for investment, most landlords undertaking a refurbishment don’t consider tax relief on the expenditure they incur, and a recent change in legislature has tightened the process. 

“Commercial property owners are often culprits in forgetting they can claim capital allowances tax relief on both lifts and escalators,” explains Mark Tighe, managing director, Catax Solutions. 

“Claimable across the spectrum of commercial properties including shopping centres, relief can initially be claimed upon purchase of the property’s fixtures and then a second time if the fixture has been removed and replaced - for example, if escalators and/or lifts are ripped out and replaced, as expenditure has been incurred twice.

“However, capitalising on this benefit is now restricted, as a result of recent legislative changes. It is law that unless unclaimed capital allowances are identified and documented at the point at which commercial properties are bought or sold, they could be lost, forever.”

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