Adding an Elevator To a Townhouse in NYC

by | Last updated Jul 13, 2020 | Renovations, Townhouses

A Townhouse or Brownstone can be retrofit with an elevator, these can be Commercial Elevators or a more compact Single Family Residential Elevator.

If you are considering adding an elevator to a townhouse there will be many issues to take into consideration below are a list of points we will review in this blog post. We we say adding an elevator to a townhouse we are also talking about adding an elevator to a Brownstone. A Brownstone is a type of townhouse.

  • Commercial Elevator vs Single Family Residential Elevator
  • Standard Sizes of Small Residential Elevators and Configuration
  • Structural Considerations
  • Fire Rating
  • Permits
  • Design


Selecting an Elevator

Commercial Elevator vs Small Residential Elevator

There are 3 major differences to take into consideration when deciding if you want a Commercial Elevator or a more compact Single Family Residential Elevator.

Commercial Elevators are Larger, Faster, and more expensive and single family residential elevators are smaller, generally slower, and have a lower cost.


Standard Sizes for Small Residential Elevators

According to New York City building code elevators in buildings 5 stories or more must be large enough to accommodate a stretcher but this does not apply to single family residences or to LULA Elevators. A LULA elevator is a Limited Use Limited Application Elevator that can only have a travel distance of up to 25 feet.

The following are standard sizes for residential elevators that do not require fitting in a stretcher. These dimensions are for the CAB size not the hoistway dimensions.

  • 36″ x 48″
  • 36″ x 54″
  • 36″ x 60″
  • 40″ x 54″

Standard Cab Heights are 80″ or 84″.

Configuration of Elevator Cabs for Residential Use

Based on your Townhouse Layout there are multiple ways to configure your new residential elevator. The doors do not all need to be on the same side.


Structural Work for Adding an Elevator to a Brownstone

If you are adding an elevator to a brownstone of townhouse in NYC the layout of your townhouse will affect the scope of work to accomplish the work. You will most likely have some structural work to do on your townhouse. Most townhouses are built with masonry bearing walls and wood joist. The wood joists will need to be cut to accommodate the new elevator. This is a structural modification. The loads will need to be transferred and this means re-framing the area of floor joists affected. New walls will need to be built to support the elevator and equipment. These can be framed or masonry depending on variables like building size and construction classification.


Fire Protection for Adding an Elevator to a Brownstone / Townhouse

The shaft or hoistway of your new elevator requires fire rating. This will affect the construction and cost. The project architect will provide the required fire rating details to complete the work. At our architecture firm we always make sure this aspect is very clear on our drawings. We also perform progress inspections to verify the correct fire ratings. The Department Of Buildings will require us to provide a Technical Report on required progress inspections and special inspections for the work.


Permits for Adding an Elevator To a Townhouse in NYC

You will need multiple permits to add an elevator to a Brownstone / Townhouse. The elevator company will get their own elevator permit for installing the elevator, additionally you will need an architect. In NYC the architect will file for an Alteration Type 2 permit to add a new elevator to ta townhouse, as long as no other work requires an Alteration Type 1.


Townhouse Elevator Design

The point of this blog post was not necessary to address any design issue with regard to aesthetics of an elevator but to outline some practical and technical issues. In most cases you will get an elevator with a plywood interior finish and you will have your contractor customize the interior however you like. You can do any type of interior you want.


Thank you for reading our blog post on Adding an Elevator to a Townhouse in NYC.

I hope this was helpful. Please leave questions and comments below. If you would like to speak with an architect you can contact us directly.


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Jorge Fontan
Jorge Fontan

This post was written by Jorge Fontan AIA a Registered Architect and owner of New York City architecture firm Fontan Architecture. Jorge Fontan has earned 3 degrees in the study of architecture including two degrees from the City University of New York and a Masters Degree in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University. Jorge has a background in construction and has been practicing architecture for 15 years where he has designed renovations and new developments of various building types.