Lift maintenance: refurbishment or replacement

Going up in the world

22 November 2018

Replacing or refurbishing a lift can be time-consuming and expensive. Gareth Lomax explains how to streamline the process

As with all electromechanical equipment, lifts reach a point when parts fail, and the reliability of service is compromised. If major component failure can be pre-empted, however, you can avoid your lift being out of service for a prolonged period; for example, a controller failure could mean it is not working for an average of 8 to 12 weeks.

Some modern lift equipment has a design life of between 15 and 18 years, provided it has been maintained properly. Equipment from the 1970s generally had a lifespan of 25–30 years, with lifts from the 1960s lasting even longer.

Lift replacement and renovation can be expensive: the average replacement costs in the region of £80,000, while a full refurbishment is an average of £65,000, based on a 4-floor traction lift. This amount increases for taller buildings with more storeys due to the additional labour and materials required.

Refurbishment is usually a better option than replacement: not only is it cheaper in most cases, but it also results in a longer life expectancy

Refurbishment is usually a better option than replacement: not only is it cheaper in most cases, but it also results in a longer life expectancy. In the case of a robust lift, this may even give 25–30 years’ service with the potential to repeat the exercise at the end of that term. Some modern equipment may not be suitable for refurbishment later, forcing another replacement in future.

With any capital expenditure in shared accommodation – such as flat-roof repair or boiler renewal – accurate planning is critical to ensure the works will be completed to the required standard, while enabling funds to be collected over a prolonged period, particularly if there are not many flats to share the cost. A lift replacement or refurbishment is a potentially complex and disruptive project, so this feature offers some pointers on how best to schedule and carry out major works to any lift you may have in your property.

Know your lift

Property managers and anyone involved with the maintenance of your block must get to know the lift. In most instances, it will be the same age as the property; there may be rare exceptions when it has been added later.

Given that 20 years is a good rule of thumb for the lifespan of many components, check whether the lift has undergone major refurbishment at any point. Review comments from the service provider and insurance inspector, who are required to provide reports under the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998, to ensure that it is in good condition.

Some simple things for property managers and residential management companies (RMCs) to look out for, which often indicate other underlying issues, are:

  • increased number of breakdowns or lift failures;
  • poor levelling of the lift or erratic movement when starting or stopping;
  • unusual noises from the lift shaft, motor room or lift car;
  • increasing repair costs from the maintenance company;
  • doors reopening or not closing correctly first time; and
  • problems highlighted in the insurance inspector’s report.

It is better to plan for major works to the lift than deal with problems as components fail. Lift equipment cannot be bought off the shelf in many cases, as most manufacturers only make to order. For example, if part of the mechanism seizes up, the manufacture of a replacement may take 4 to 5 weeks; factor in delivery and installation and this means that a lift could be out of service for 8 weeks. Works will cost between £6,000 and £10,000, but if the lift itself is in this state, then the rest of the mechanism will be in the same general condition. This could lead to further failures and expense.

Commission a survey

If in doubt, have the lift surveyed. An independent report is the most cost-effective way to check on the current condition, future lifespan and potential expenditure over the short, medium or long term. It is difficult to keep up with technology and all lift regulations, and to ensure that you are always getting best value from the lift industry.

This is where an independent lift consultancy can provide measured, professional advice on the must-haves, and on the specific performance of equipment and contractors alike. A qualified consultant will:

  • assess the condition of a single lift or a whole portfolio;
  • analyse a building’s lift requirements; and
  • specify a replacement or refurbishment to give the maximum value within the client’s budget.

While consultants can sometimes be viewed as an added expense, an expert in a specific field will often obtain the best value from the parameters they have been given, which will frequently offset their fees.

Independent survey reports by a lift consultant will offer guidance on which course of action to take, possibly recommending refurbishment rather than replacement. This process will always highlight areas that must be addressed to ensure that the lift does not fail as a result of neglect. The survey will consider its current condition and operational issues, typical energy consumption values and predicted lifespan, as well as making recommendations with associated costings.

Consulting with residents

The high costs associated with major works to lifts mean they should be one of the sinking fund or capital items scheduled in a lease as requiring an annual contribution for planned refurbishment or replacement.

When it becomes clear that a refurbishment or replacement is needed, the project will require the section 20 notice of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, as amended by the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002, to be implemented. This is when the plans for the works need to be clearly identified, explaining to the leaseholders why these are to be undertaken and what the objective of doing so is, outlining the costs and timescales.

Independent survey reports by a lift consultant will offer guidance on which course of action to take, possibly recommending refurbishment rather than replacement

At this stage, supplying correct information to leaseholders is critical to ensure the project is accepted by all. Major works often cost substantial sums of money, which can be an emotive issue, but well-produced evidence and plans can clearly demonstrate why such works are necessary. Property managers and RMCs should ensure that meetings are held with residents at the earliest possible stage. Anyone who is unable to attend these should be informed of progress via email or leafleting to ensure the consultation process is clear, effective and meets statutory requirements. It is important to respond fully to any written comments received from leaseholders.

The right specification

A correctly specified level of works has 2 distinct benefits.

  1. It ensures that the client’s requirements are clearly listed, and thus that a lift meeting their expectations can be provided.
  2. It ensures that only those areas that need attention are addressed.

Flat owners will have to pay for any remedial work, and it is easy to replace too much and leave them liable for the costs. If the specification is clear, the lift contractors can supply the correct pricing, which will ultimately result in savings for the residents. The specialist consultant will draw up a full specification for your project to ensure adherence to the contractual and technical requirements for the building, client and those using the lift. 

Find the right contractor

The UK lift industry is made up of many companies, ranging from multinational powerhouses to sole traders. It is vital they are used for projects that match their skill set, so it is inadvisable merely to choose a name from a Google search. A spread of 4 to 5 companies will ensure a competitive price.

Your chosen independent consultant should be present at all stages to advise and guide you through the process, leading to simple, value-for-money decision-making. They will work closely with the lift contractor, commenting on all the paperwork and technical documentation, and making regular site visits to ensure that the quality of work and programme are meeting expectations. They will also communicate regularly with the client and contractor so that all parties are aware of timescales and progress.


A well-planned lift refurbishment scheme, if scheduled correctly, ensures downtime is minimised. Typical timescales are:

  • survey lift and write report: 2 weeks;
  • review survey report and plan works: 4 weeks;
  • write specification for given site: 4 weeks;
  • tender works to 5 companies: 4 weeks;
  • tender analysis and post-tender meetings: 4 weeks;
  • place order and procure materials: 14 weeks; and
  • refurbish lift: 8 weeks/replace lift: 12 weeks.

From the survey stage to the start of replacement can take 32 weeks or more, which will enable residents who rely on the lift to make alternative plans for the time in which the works are undertaken. The lift service will be unavailable while it is replaced or refurbished, so knowing when this will take place always makes residents’ lives much easier. The average refurbishment period for a lift would be around 8 weeks. There is more disruption associated with replacement of a lift, because of percussion drilling and scaffold installation.

Following successful completion of the project, a full witness test of the installation should be undertaken by your lift consultant. This is to ensure the lift is:

  • safe;
  • reliable; and
  • in accordance with the specification and all regulatory requirements.

The service should also include monitoring of the lift during the defects liability period and beyond.

Check your warranty

After the lift has been installed or refurbished, it will be covered under a warranty period by both the manufacturer and installer. This is where lift performance should be monitored to rectify teething troubles, while ensuring any more significant issues can be dealt with as part of the contract.

The lift industry’s standard warranty period is 12 months, but lift contractors are increasingly prepared to negotiate longer periods of cover. With the expense of a replacement, it is important to ensure that the lift will operate safely and reliably for many years to come. 

Gareth Lomax is Company Director of Ardent Lift Consultancy

Further information