A 2014 survey conducted by the NAHB on what home buyers desire ranked elevators as the most unwanted feature for new homes. Some builders are bucking this trend, however, as aging in place becomes a priority for baby boomers. “With 10,000 people a day turning 65 through 2030, this demographic will represent the largest age group in the country,” says Manny Gonzalez, senior partner at KTGY’s Santa Monica, Calif., office. “Most of them would prefer to live in their existing home as long as they can, but the biggest obstacle to allowing that is stairs, specifically when the master suite is located on the second floor.”
Sometimes buyers need to look at amenities like elevators from another angle. “Once people realize an elevator is a necessity rather than a luxury, they become accustomed to what it is and how useful it can be,” explains Dawn O’Connor, owner at Daytona Elevator in Daytona Beach, Fla., noting that an elevator typically costs about $30,000. “When I compare that to a luxury SUV and how often that kind of investment turns over, it puts things in perspective.”
A holistic vision of universal design should guide the placement of any residential elevator. “Locating the kitchen and pantry in close proximity to the elevator makes the weekly task of stocking groceries and staples convenient for anyone,” Gonzalez says. The shaft also should be close to resident parking.
In KB Home’s Skylar at Playa Vista community in Los Angeles, the townhome concept is turned on its side. The floor plans provide single-level living with a semi-private elevator. “The unique aspect of the design of Skylar is that you use the elevator only to access your home, otherwise your day-to-day activities all take place on a single level,” Gonzalez says.
While elevators are far from a standard feature, production homes with elevators as an option are increasingly popular. These designs also allow for a future installation. “The typical way of accomplishing this is to stack two levels, but more commonly three levels, of roughly 4-foot-by-4-foot storage closets that could have the floor removed without any structural issues,” Gonzalez says. But Cliff Wenn, sales manager at Manassas, Va.–based Area Access, recommends leaving nothing to chance and completing the installation during construction. “Even if the shaft is already built, there’s a chance for damage,” he notes. “The time to do it is now while they are building the house.”
A lesser-known option is the pneumatic vacuum elevator. The aesthetically striking vacuum elevator requires no excavating pit, hoistway, or machine room. Since the product’s inception in 2002, vacuum elevators have been most common in retrofits where the self-supporting structure costs less to install than a traditional elevator. In new-home construction, traditional elevators are the less costly option, but some buyers prefer the look of the pneumatic elevator. “This type of buyer loves the design, the 360-degree views, and the way it fits in their home,” O’Connor says.