How Many Elevators Should a Building Have?

Published Categorized as Building Design
Building Elevators

Many of us have had the experience of walking through an office building, mall, or other indoor public place and have taken an elevator. These elevators serve as an important way to increase accessibility, especially for people who may have disabilities. Upon knowing their importance, do you ever wonder how many elevators there should be in a building?

A building may have at least one elevator or no elevator at all. The Americans With Disabilities Act states that most buildings under three stories don’t need elevators, except for shopping centers, health care centers, or public transit areas.

Making sure buildings are accessible for everyone to use, regardless of their physical abilities, is incredibly important. Read on to learn more about requirements for elevators in buildings, recommendations for the number of elevators in different buildings, and more regarding elevators in buildings.

Not All Buildings Require Elevators

Depending on the type of building, an elevator isn’t always necessary. However, buildings for the public to access that have multiple levels should have elevators.

In the next section, I’ll take you through the Americans With Disabilities Act Elevator requirements to help you better understand whether or not a building requires elevators.

Americans With Disabilities Act Elevator Requirements

In July 1990, President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans With Disabilities Act, known commonly as the ADA. The act, which is one of the most comprehensive expansions of civil rights in US history, was created to protect people with disabilities from discrimination and ensure equal protection under US law.

While evolving over many years, the ADA has become the standard for ensuring that buildings are “handicap accessible”.

With this act and its multiple iterations, the legislation has made it so that public buildings, especially buildings with multiple levels, are accessible to everyone. This has meant that lifts and elevators are often required in some buildings.

While the act doesn’t say the number of elevators necessary for each building, it states in which cases elevators are necessary. Let’s take a quick look at these standards:

  • Buildings with less than three stories or fewer than 3000 square feet (278.70 square meters) are exempt. In these buildings, an elevator isn’t required. This is called the “elevator exemption” or the “vertical access exemption.” Stories are defined as floors with occupiable space designed for regular human occupancy. Thus, while an attic wouldn’t be defined as a story, the third floor that has a bedroom in it would be.
  • Shopping centers are required to have elevators. Shopping centers or malls, meaning buildings with five or more “sales or retail establishments” or a series of buildings under the same ownership that house five or more “sales or retail establishments,” must have elevators if there’s more than one story.
  • Health care providers are required to have elevators. Any building that either supports health care professionals or provides health care services, defined as when a state-regulated professional provides physical or mental health services to the public, must have an elevator under the ADA.
  • Transportation terminals are required to have elevators. Any building that serves as a transportation hub, be it an airport, train station, bus station, etc., must have an elevator if it’s more than one story.

General Recommendations for Elevator Spacing and Numbers

Although not every building is required to have an elevator under the Americans With Disabilities Act, it’s often advisable to have an elevator anyways, either to transport people or goods.

The recommended number of elevators changes depending on the situation. The following are general guidelines for the number of elevators that should be in a building.

Elevator Recommendations for Commercial Buildings

In commercial buildings, depending on the size and nature of the building, different numbers of elevators may be necessary. Generally, there should be an elevator for every 50,000 square feet (4645.15 square meters) of space, as well as an additional elevator for every two and a half floors.

That means if you have a commercial building that’s five stories tall, you should have at least two elevators.

It’s also true that when installing elevators, the grouping of these elevators, called “elevator banks: should never exceed eight. That means if you’re going to access an elevator, there should never be more than eight surrounding it.

You should have an additional “elevator bank” for transportation if you’re servicing more than sixteen floors.

Elevator Recommendations for Hospitality Buildings

In hotels, lodges, and other buildings of hospitality, the needs for elevators are different. The general guideline is that there should be at least one elevator for every 80 hospitality rooms. The distance between an elevator and a room should never be more than 150 feet (45.72 meters).

For every two “passenger-elevators,” there should also be one “freight elevator” available for maintenance, moving large items, and other needs.

It’s also recommended that more elevators should be accessible in hospitality buildings than in a general building. That means even if a hotel, for example, is only two or three stories, it should probably have an elevator anyways.

Elevator Recommendations for Multi-Residence Complexes

There should be at least one elevator for every 90 rooms in apartment buildings and other multi-residence complexes. It’s recommended, just like in hotels, that the furthest door be no more than 150 feet (45.72 meters) from an elevator.

In higher-end units, there should be an elevator for every 60 rooms. One of these elevators should also be larger than the standard elevator for transporting freight.

Elevator Recommendations for Healthcare Centers

While healthcare centers have some requirements stipulated by the Americans With Disabilities Act, it’s also true that special consideration should be taken for hospitals. For example, public use elevators should likely be separate from medical use only elevators, and medical use elevators must have special ventilation and sterilization standards.

Additionally, the number of elevators in hospitals should be linked to beds, with 100 beds having at least two elevators.

Final Thoughts

The number of elevators in buildings depends on the building’s purpose and what the Americans With Disabilities Act requires. Different buildings have different needs, and it’s important to consider these needs when designing your building.

There’s no “magic number” when determining the number of elevators, but the general guidelines listed in this article are essential for one to follow.


By Giovanni Valle

Giovanni Valle is a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is the author and managing editor of various digital publications, including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place.

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