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What is a Hydraulic Elevator?

By Christy Bieber
Updated May 17, 2024
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A hydraulic elevator is an elevator device that raises and lowers through the use of a hydraulic cylinder. A hydraulic elevator relies on fluid pressures and resistance provided by the hydraulic fluid to perform its functions. When the hydraulic cylinder is compressed, energy is stored in the compression and as it’s slowly released the elevator rises, decompressing the pressure as it does. When the elevator is lowered again, it goes down slowly because of the amount of resistance provided by the hydraulic fluid within the cylinder, which is how the cylinder creates the energy needed for the next raising.

In a hydraulic elevator, the housing for the elevator sits on top of a piston rod that runs into the chamber for the hydraulic cylinder, or hydraulic chamber. There is an external housing that holds the hydraulic fluid when the elevator is not in use and when the controls for the elevator system are engaged, the fluid is pushed through a pumping mechanism into the piston housing. This causes the piston to become directionally displaced, pushing it upward until the desired height is reached. When the elevator is on its way down, the system and the piston housing are both decompressed, slowly adding pressure back to the fluid housing for the next time the system is engaged.

Hydraulic elevators are used in a few different applications, generally when the load that is commonly lifted by the elevator system is one of a substantial weight class. Car lifts and floor jacks that are used to lift automobiles even a short distance off of the ground are the most common forms of hydraulic elevators. Many of the exposed elevators in public places such as shopping malls are being installed with hydraulic elevator lift systems because of the lower maintenance costs and reduction in noise.

The added safety of an elevator that is on a hydraulic lift system is of great appeal in cases where the elevator is used to transport people. This added safety comes in the form of the cylinder that houses the fluid. Even if the cylinder were to fail and allow the elevator unit to free fall, unless the hydraulic fluid was completely drained from the cylinder, the resistance provided would allow the elevator to safely glide downward. This allows for a greatly reduced chance of injury versus the traditional shaft system that depends on cable supports in cases of elevator failure.

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Discussion Comments
By nony — On Dec 01, 2011

@David09 - Well, I suppose if you’re willing to pay a pretty penny you could get a hydraulic elevator in your garage. Anything is possible if you’ve got the money. I suspect the mechanic repairs will still be cheaper however.

What I like about hydraulic residential elevators is the smooth motion of the elevator. It seems to glide so effortlessly. There is no feeling that I am being tugged along, like I would normally get with a cable elevator.

Some cable elevators are so clunky in their movements I feel as if I am merely a shipment of cargo.

By David09 — On Nov 30, 2011

Every time I take my car in for repairs, they put it on a hydraulic elevator and lift it up to do their work. It looks so fragile, hoisted in mid air, this vehicle weighing several tons.

It’s very sturdy and safe however because the mechanics scurry beneath it without thinking that it might drop or something like that.

Personally I wish I had a hydraulic elevator in my garage. A lot of automotive work requires that you get underneath the car to do the work. Yes, they do have hydraulic pumps that you can buy, but I never feel totally comfortable with those things, and any blocks that you are supposed to use for added support.

With a hydraulic elevator, I might make fewer trips to the mechanic.

By tigers88 — On Nov 30, 2011

Hydraulic elevator design is much simpler than some of the older designs and they present a lot fewer maintenance challenges.

I used to work as an elevator repairman for a hydraulic elevator manufacturer. I had worked on older styles of elevators before them and the job was much harder. Hydraulic elevators present their own challenges but the basic mechanisms are so much simpler.

By summing — On Nov 29, 2011

One of my biggest fears is that I will be in an elevator and the cable above it will snap and we will fall to the ground. Every time this kind of scenario comes up in a movie I have to look away. I also get pretty nervous whenever I am in an elevator. Not so bad that I can't ride them but there is a funny feeling in my stomach.

Hearing about how safe hydraulic elevators are gives me some sense of relief. Lets hope that they only rise in popularity and that the phenomenon of the falling elevator is a thing of the past.

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