As more and more baby boomers reach retirement age, healthcare for the elderly and disabled is becoming big business. Not many home solutions have been available for those who lose mobility, though. Generally, people on a tight budget are restricted to a single floor of their home. For others, a chair lift provides access to a home’s second floor.

In addition to high initial costs, though, chair lifts hold other disadvantages. For example, people who are restricted to a wheelchair typically need help moving from the wheelchair to the chair lift. Moreover, once users arrive at the destination floor, they will need a second wheelchair and assistance in moving from the chair lift to the wheelchair. Similar challenges await those who use a walker.

A more practical solution would be an elevator. But the complexity of conventional elevators makes them cost prohibitive for most users. However, an unconventional elevator design that uses vacuum to lift its passenger cabin provides a more practical and attractive alternative for the elderly and disabled who want the freedom of unassisted access to multiple floors in their home.

Unlike most residential elevators, the Vision 550 pneumatic elevator, from Nationwide Lifts, Glens Falls, N.Y., requires no pit or machine room. No ropes, pulleys, chains, or counterweights are needed either. The lack of a pit makes it easy to install the elevator in an existing home and holds down construction costs for new homes.

Vision becomes reality

The Vision 550 consists of a 53-in.-diameter cylindrical tube constructed of aluminum and polycarbonate. A cab inside the tube can travel vertically up to 35 ft at speeds to 20 fpm and make up to four stops. Instead of a using hydraulic cylinder or cable, the elevator’s driving mechanism consists of a 230-V, 35-a air turbine installed at the top of the shaft.

When activated, the turbine pulls air from the volume above the car. Air at atmospheric pressure flows freely through vents in the lowest few feet of the shaft and pushes the car upward against the vacuum created by the turbine. Essentially, the elevator cab acts like a piston in an oversized rodless pneumatic cylinder. A vacuum seal is built into the car’s ceiling. Steel brakes, mounted on top of the cab, secure it at each selected stop.

To reverse direction, the turbine energizes briefly, lifting the car off the brakes. After the turbine deenergizes, the car drifts down slowly and quietly. Magnetic sensors located at the top of the car track its position so the cab is signaled to stop on certain floors. Once it reaches the next designated level, the brakes re-engage.

Why vacuum? Compressed air could be used, but would require large, noisy compressors mounted near the bottom of the tube. The air turbines are much quieter than a compressor, and they are located near the top of the tube. This places them out of sight and simplifies isolating noise from living space.

The Vision 550 has a 525-lb load capacity and moves at 30 fpm. The cab’s internal height is 6 ft 7 in. with a 43½-in. internal diameter and 32-in.-wide entryway, making it wheelchair accessible. Clear polycarbonate cylindrical walls offer panoramic visibility.

For more information, call Andy Darnley, president, at (518) 798-0871, e-mail andy.darnley@nwlifts.com, or visit www.home-elevator.net. You can also find additional information and links to videos at bit.ly/hp514Elevm.