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Today’s shaftless elevators offer a sleek alternative to larger traditional elevators that require more machinery, says Ann McGee, pictured at home with her new pneumatic vacuum elevator. (Courtesy Marni Jameson)
Today’s shaftless elevators offer a sleek alternative to larger traditional elevators that require more machinery, says Ann McGee, pictured at home with her new pneumatic vacuum elevator. (Courtesy Marni Jameson)

Ann McGee loves her home. Every room of the 2,800-square-foot Mediterranean-style house in Winter Park, Fla., reflects her well-traveled life and rich memories. She loves her neighbors and her community. What she doesn’t love are her stairs.

At age 73, the retired college administrator, who’s had one knee replaced, found that an upstairs master was a bit of a pain ─ literally. Renovating to put a bedroom downstairs was too costly. Moving from her home of 15 years didn’t appeal either.

So when her niece showed her a magazine ad that featured a modern-looking shaftless elevator powered by air pressure, McGee was intrigued. “It didn’t look like any home elevator I’d ever seen,” she said. “It looked like a piece of art.”

Plus, the installation did not involve knocking out walls or digging into the foundation as it does for traditional shaft elevators. Shaft elevators send cabins through minimum 5-foot square spaces within walls, while shaftless elevators sit in the open on finished floors. Their see-through cylinders transport passengers from floor to floor using air pressure or cables. After talking with a couple of elevator companies, McGee installed a pneumatic vacuum elevator just beside the stairs in her entryway in November, choosing the color of the metal as well as the tint on the polycarbonate windows.

“I love the look of it,” she said. “I worried that it would ruin the aesthetics of my home, but it’s enhanced it.”

While she doesn’t use it every time she wants to go up or downstairs, McGee, an avid traveler, definitely uses it for her luggage.

“I love where I live and how I live,” McGee said. “I wanted to buy more time in this house, and I did.”

Daytona Elevator owner Dawn O’Connor rattles off the reasons customers call her: “Hips, knees, hearts, backs, lungs, in-laws, convenience.”

To that list, Rich Eller, owner of Nashville-based HomeLift, adds people who “flat out are not moving and have got to get upstairs.”

The demand for home elevators has been quickly growing, with shaftless models the fastest growing sector, he said. Five years ago, shaftless elevators accounted for 6 percent of Eller’s home elevator installations. Last year, was double, and he expects that 20 to 25 percent of home elevators will be shaftless by 2025.

“We have a population of people who want to age in place,” Eller said. “More people are realizing that installing an elevator or a stair lift is a lot cheaper than moving. Builders and architects recognize this is a growing market and are designing more homes with elevators in mind.”

While not every home is a candidate for an elevator, if your home’s stairs are becoming an issue, here’s what to consider before you pack up and move.

A solution for every budget: If creating a downstairs bedroom isn’t an option, the lift industry has many ways to get you upstairs, O’Connor said. The least expensive option is a stair lift. A seat that travels straight up a flight of stairs typically costs between $3,500 and $4,000. If the stairway curves or takes a turn, the cost will climb to as much as $15,000. Pneumatic vacuum elevators or PVEs typically cost $35,000 to $60,000 depending on size. They come in three widths: 30, 37 and 52 inches, which will accommodate a wheelchair. McGee paid $40,000 for her 37-inch elevator, which includes a fold-down seat and phone. The extra construction cost to retrofit a space varies.

Build it in: The best time to install an elevator is when you’re building a home. But adding one later may be easier than you think. Have an expert take a look. “Often people think they don’t have a place to put an elevator, then we find two or three possibilities,” Eller said.

Location, location, location: When looking for the best placement, start upstairs where you want to exit, usually on a landing or common area, and work your way down. Remember, you can enter on one side of the elevator and exit out the other. A traditional elevator shaft can be inside a home or built onto the exterior, but a shaftless elevator is easier to fit in most homes.

Looks matter: The entry to a traditional elevator can mimic paneling or a closet door, so you don’t even know an elevator is there. However, as home elevators become more common and sculptural, many are coming out of the closet.

Added value: Most realtors agree that a well-done home elevator adds value. “I feel like having an elevator lets you tap into a whole new market,” McGee said.

Marni Jameson is the author of six home and lifestyle books, including “Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go.” Reach her at

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