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When will my lift need to be refurbished?

Lifts By Danny Hillyard, Principal Engineer, Vertical Transportation – 06 January 2021

Black lift doors against a white office corridor wall


Danny Hillyard in a white shirt with glasses on and a plant terrace background

Danny Hillyard

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Bob Hall standing in a blue shirt against a white background and a line art landscape drawing

Bob Hall

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Wayne Oliver

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There are many factors which can influence the decision of a building owner or tenant when considering lift refurbishment. There are some key points to think about when making this decision. Below are a few of them:

  1. Age of lift
  2. Availability of replacement parts for maintenance
  3. Reliability
  4. Reduction in energy usage / introduction of energy saving measures
  5. Change of lift use / building use
  6. Change of aesthetics (interior and exterior finishes)
  7. Compliance with current safety standards
  8. Open protocol lift equipment

This list is not exhaustive, but these are the primary reasons that can form the decision of lift refurbishment.

Age of lift

Typically lifts are designed to last between 15 - 25 years dependent upon their original construction and the quality of lift installed. Buildings will typically last much longer than this and it is normal for a lift to be refurbished or replaced at least once or twice during a building’s lifespan, and possibly more.

Availability of replacement parts for maintenance

As lifts become older, it often becomes more difficult to obtain the replacement parts needed when a lift breaks down, or when parts wear out. In some cases, it is possible to obtain generic parts from a third party supplier, similar to buying tyres for your car. But there are often major components which are only available from the original equipment manufacturer (OEM), and once these are no longer available the building owner can be left with little option but to refurbish the lift and replace such components with new.


Poor reliability is observed through high levels of lift breakdowns; this can be a sign of failed components or that a lift is reaching its end of life. After 20+ years of usage the wear on the lift system results in the lift not operating as it was originally designed. Where such issues are related to a single component it may be appropriate to replace that part, but often the wear is attributable to all components and the most cost-effective solution is a lift refurbishment program.

Reduction in energy usage / introduction of energy saving measures

New lifts are constructed with the technology that is available. Lifts constructed in 2021 will incorporate many new features to reduce their operational energy usage and assist a building owner in providing an energy efficient building. Schemes such as BREEAM, LEED, NABERS, AL-SAFAT exist around the world to encourage design teams to build energy efficient buildings and have specific requirements for the energy efficiency of lifts.

Existing lifts will have been constructed to comply with the regulations and good practices at the time of their construction, but even a lift which is five years old will be unlikely to include the latest lift energy saving features of 2021. A lift which is 20 years old is likely to be inefficient compared to the 2021 standards, and therefore offers great opportunity for lift refurbishment to reduce the lifts energy usage and improve overall building energy efficiency.

Change of lift or building use

Over a building’s lifespan its usage may change, and therefore the needs of the lifts within the building change. We’re currently seeing many projects where retail buildings are being converted to other uses, e.g. offices and hotels, and office buildings converted to residential units or mixed use developments. The design of a lift is developed from the building it is used within, when changing the buildings use the lifts should be assessed to check if they are suitable for the new use, and if any modifications are needed.

For example, lifts in retail buildings would often use manually operated shutter gates (doors) which would not be suitable for lifts in an office or residential building, so the lift may be refurbished to change from manual doors to automatic sliding doors.

Change of aesthetics (interior and exterior finishes)

Lift interior and exterior finishes will often be updated in association with building fit-out or redecoration. Examples of this could be to coordinate the lift finishes with the overall building look and feel, to introduce corporate branding into the lift design, or perhaps just to update the look and feel to be more modern. Interior design trends change, as do available materials and finishes. A well selected lift car interior refurbishment can give a lift the look and feel of a brand-new lift.

A word of warning however, upgrading the aesthetics of a lift does nothing to improve its reliability or operation, but can give lift users the perception of a lift being new. A lift which looks new, but which behind the scenes remains a mechanically old lift, is likely to frustrate lift users who expect new lift performance but receive old lift unreliability.

Compliance with current safety standards

Over time safety and construction standards change and develop, and lifts are no different. Generally, improvements in safety originate from the experience of unsafe situations by lifts which complied to earlier standards. In the UK there is no specific legislative requirement to upgrade a lift to the latest standards when the standard is published – typically such standards will only apply to new lifts constructed from the point of the standards publication. However, there are significant safety changes and improvements over the lifespan of a lift.

Where possible a lift owner should seek to upgrade existing lifts to the latest standards during any significant works.

Open protocol lift equipment

The term open protocol is used extensively when talking about lifts but does not have a specific legal meaning and means different things to different people. To some it means that equipment can be maintained by any competent lift company, to others it means that no specialist tools are needed, or that the equipment is manufactured by an independent specialist manufacturer (e.g a lift control system manufacturer) and not by one of the major global lift manufacturers (e.g. Kone, Otis, Thyssen, Schindler).

In all cases its important to understand what open protocol means to the lift owner, and how this decision could impact the future life of the equipment.

Lift refurbishment next steps for building owners

I hope that this article has provided a brief introduction into the key factors affecting the decision to refurbish a lift. We recommend that the first step in any lift refurbishment project should be to engage a lift expert to survey the lift and provide specialist advice.

Your lift maintenance company may be able to assist you with this, however such advice may be limited to their available lift refurbishment products. A building owner should consider obtaining independent lift consultancy advice to understand other refurbishment options and considerations across the entire supply chain.