Rising demand for home elevators

Ray and Eve Pech inside their Sevaria home elevator, which was recently installed as part of a larger renovation project.

Debra A. Aleksinas

Rising demand for home elevators

Ray and Eve Pech were in their late 30’s when they built their dream house 40 years ago on the side of a mountain overlooking Ski Sundown.

The modest, 2,000-square-foot, vertically-designed home offered privacy, ample space for their young family, stunning scenery — and stairs galore.

“It’s on three levels because it’s on the side of a hill,” said Ray Pech, a retired lawyer who serves on the Northwestern Connecticut Transit District board of directors. “We fell in love with the tremendous views.”

As for the stairs, he said, “We really didn’t think a lot about it. The thought never occurred to us that the day would come when we wouldn’t be able to go up stairs forever.”

The Pechs are among the growing number of Baby Boomers who aren’t planning to sell because they like their homes and have decided to age in place.

During a 2020 expansion project, they retrofitted their home with an elevator so that in their Golden Years they could safely enjoy all levels of their home, and also make it easier for visiting friends with mobility problems and wheelchair bound relatives to visit without climbing stairs.

“We thought, 'how do we make this house so that we can stay here?' and that was the logical choice, even though we didn’t need it physically yet,” Pech explained. “But I guess it’s there when we need it.”

Elevators are no longer just a luxury. Connecticut is home to 823,529 people aged 60 or older, representing 23% of the state’s population, according to a Healthy Aging Data Report. For many seniors, assisted living is out of reach due to rising costs and health concerns, particularly post-pandemic. Caregiving, too, can be costly for those on limited incomes.

A challenging housing market is discouraging senior homeowners from selling their homes, so many aging Baby Boomers are choosing to stay put. But with age comes the inevitable potential for decline in mobility. Home elevators, and to a lesser degree, stair lifts, are solutions to this growing problem, according to industry experts.

Elevator Service Company, Inc., (ESCO) based in Torrington, currently has licenses to install lifts and elevators in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island, and installs more than 100 residential elevators annually, according to company officials.

“For the Northwest Connecticut area, towns that are most abundant in our installations would be closer to the New York border, as the square footage of private homes are larger and more frequented to owners who live there year around,” said Managing Director Mat Montgomery.

Over the past five years, Montgomery said he has noticed a change in the attitude that elevators are reserved for the wealthy. “Today, the elevator is a mainstay in the design of the home as building outward for most is challenging with limits in land.”

And while the market continues to grow, he said, the manufacturing for the type of equipment offered by ESCO is growing, too, “bringing down costs which allow us to put these units in every type of home, regardless of wealth.”

The cost to install a residential elevator varies according to layout of the home, the number of levels served and the elevator style, said the ESCO official.

“Our customers all have different needs and wants for their elevator, so the price range will vary with equipment and product offerings.” Generally speaking, he said, a two-story home prepped for an elevator shaft requiring two closets stacked on top of each other, “will spend about $45,000 on a new elevator for this shaftway. This is much cheaper than the price of some newer cars, making an elevator a low barrier to entry to having the to move around your home freely and safely for decades.”

That estimate does not include construction costs to house the unit.

Ray Pech said when he and his wife crunched the numbers, their elevator cost them the equivalent of about three years of rent in a “reasonably nice” senior living complex.

“For us it made sense financially” to stay put, said Pech. “We built the house and decided to redesign the house again in 2020, and the elevator was the instigation of it.” They enlarged their living and dining areas to make up for lost space on the third level where the elevator shaft took up one of the bedrooms.

For the Pechs, the idea was to make the elevator look as if it had always been in the house. It appears as an ordinary door off the living room. Ray Pech opened the door, then slid aside a safety gate leading to a well-lit, wood-paneled box elevator with a weight capacity of 1,000 lbs. and ample space for a wheelchair and another adult.

Once inside, he secured the gate, and with a push of a button, the elevator, which operates via a pulley chain, smoothly and quietly ascended to the upper level at a barely noticeable speed of 40 feet per minute.

Beyond function, elevators can also be aesthetically attractive in a home.

“We do need to hang some art in there,” Eve Pech said to her husband as the elevator door opened on its return to the main level.

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