Pneumatic tubes are a staple of the drive-thru bank, but the same method is also being used to operate some small residential elevators. We recently caught wind of this product and were awash with memories of the Jetsons, which left us more than curious to find out more. To our delight we discovered that the vacuum elevator uses not only fewer materials than a conventional residential elevator, but also forgoes the need for hydraulic oil, which can pose an environmental hazard if spilled.
Many homes don’t need elevators, but those that do can benefit from the pneumatic vacuum elevator. Installation can be completed in as little as two days and can be easily retrofitted given that the technology sits simply on the floor, and does not require any special excavation. Moreover, the lack of hydraulics also means the vacuum elevator requires minimal maintenance.
The vacuum elevator uses a clear polycarbonate tube as the shaft, providing passengers with a view and creating an air-tight duct for the elevator. Operation is very simple: the elevator creates a vacuum at the top of the tube, and air pressure moves the cab up. Descent is even easier optimizing gravity and controlled airflow, allowing the cab to descend slowly and safely.
The only downside is that compared to more conventional elevators, the vacuum elevator is very slow — moving at a rate of just 15 cm/second (6 in/second). The single-passenger model has a capacity of 159 kg (350 lbs) and has a small cabin only 52 cm (20 in) in diameter. Vacuum elevators are also limited to 35 feet (10.7 meters) of height. But despite their limitations, for those who require an elevator in their home — such as the elderly or disabled — a vacuum elevator may be the right choice for savings in terms of each cost, power and maintenance.