Columbia Elevator Cabs and Entrances


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The Estimator: A Key Contact for Columbia Elevator Customers

Louis "LJ" Blaiotta, Jr. on Monday, October 29, 2018 at 12:00:00 am

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Dionne Birdsall

Contact our Director of Customer Service Dione Birdsall if you have any questions about estimating.


The Columbia Elevator Estimating team, including our Account Representatives, plays a critical role as the primary contact to our customers. While we use the word “estimate,” what this team actually provides customers with a “quote” or the price that we would charge a customer for the scope of work identified. The “estimate” is the price the customer considers final (pending any change orders).

To provide accurate quotes to our customers, the Estimating Team is armed with all relevant information needed for a successful order. Necessary information from our company and the customer includes:

  1. Knowledge of how Columbia fabricates products.
    1. This consists of the capabilities, capacities, and labor required and how to best use Columbia’s pricing tools – including our online tool.
    2. Our Estimators can best respond to questions about what Columbia can and cannot build under our existing Underwriters Laboratory (UL) label and whether a customer may need to consider code-related issues that may have been left out of the specifications.
  2. Knowledge to answer customer questions about any special materials or finishes that aren’t part of Columbia’s standard offering and current market prices for those materials.
    1. Sometimes a customer doesn’t realize that a specific finish is out of the ordinary or of a very high cost.
    2. Working with the estimator helps the customer achieve custom architectural finishes.
  3. A full understanding of the scope of work and what the customer wants and expects.

During this information gathering stage, Estimators may go beyond gathering information from the drawings or specs by reaching out to the customers directly. Sometimes it requires qualifying the information multiple times before everyone is confident that the information provided is accurate. It is a lot of work, and it must be performed quickly to meet Columbia’s internal Key Performance Indicator (KPI) of getting estimates back to the customer within 48 hours.

You can reach out to our Estimating Team at our web page or just pick up the phone and give us a call at 1-888-858-1558.



Zero Clearance Entrances in NYC: Part II Fire/Smoke Barrier Doors vs Zero Clearance Doors

Louis "LJ" Blaiotta, Jr. on Monday, October 15, 2018 at 12:00:00 am

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A typical swing door for a zero clearance installation, this one by Columbia Elevator Products is installed at 56 Leonard Street in NYC.

A typical swing door for a zero clearance installation, this one by Columbia Elevator Products is installed at 56 Leonard Street in NYC.

To better understand NYC’s unique use of zero clearance entrances, you need to understand the designs and purposes of two types of door systems. Fire doors are usually held open by a magnetic catch/switch that retains the swing door in the open position during normal operation. However, upon activation of a fire alarm, the catch is released, and the self-closing swing door closes to prevent smoke from entering the hoistway. Unless properly protected during a fire event, elevator hoistways, as vertical shafts within a building structure, can allow for the unintended migration of smoke and fire between floors – a natural phenomenon referred to as the ‘stack-effect’ (as in a smoke stack.) Placing a second smoke barrier immediately in front of an elevator entryway is an extremely effective solution and an alternative to constructing elevator lobbies at each corridor landing, or to using gasketing, with or without the pressurization of the shaftway. Another solution - the use of roll-down barriers - can be used to similar effect, but present design limitations for the wall space between the top of the entrance assembly and the ceiling above. 

All such solutions, including the swinging fire door, do not allow the entrance to be locked out of service. Passengers exiting the elevator cab during a fire will easily be able to open and pass through the fire/smoke barrier positioned in front of the landing entrance. Their exit can happen without the need for any special keys or tools; plus, passengers will not encounter an entrapment issue. 

Zero-clearance doors, while very similar in appearance to the fire/smoke barrier doors, behave very differently and provide different benefits and features. Just like their fire/smoke barrier door counterparts, zero-clearance doors can also can be used to provide additional smoke and fire protection; however, their primary purpose is one of security, especially in high-end buildings that may have only one or two apartments per floor.

In super-tall, super-thin, and super-luxurious buildings – where typically there is only one apartment per landing – it is becoming increasingly the case that a "common-space" corridor between the elevator entrance and the apartment's front door becomes unnecessary. In this situation, the entire corridor can be eliminated, and the zero-clearance security entrance becomes necessary to help prevent unauthorized entry into an apartment from the elevator.

An ideal way to accomplish this – while at the same time maximizing the interior marketable space of the apartment – is by elimination of the exterior corridor while installing a zero-clearance security door directly at the elevator entrance to the cab. With the addition of such security doors, luxury apartment dwellers enjoy the effect of living with private elevators that directly service their units without the wasted space of dedicated shaftways for each unit. While the addition of the swing door in front of the sliding entrance doors does mean less unusable space and more security, it also means that the doors cannot be opened without the use of a permitted key or special tool, and, for that reason, landings used for egress during a fire alarm cannot be fitted with locked zero clearance doors.

In addition to such residential applications, zero clearance doors are being utilized commercially to accommodate a growing trend of single tenants occupying multiple floors in an office building. As the commercial tenant needs drift away from once-standard full floor/bank block occupancy, new and special requirements are arising for priority and/or express elevators, such as when a tenant’s executives require expedited travel to offices and conference rooms in the higher portion of the building. Next time, I’ll explain how zero clearance entrances eliminate concerns of entrapment.



Zero Clearance Entrances in NYC - Understanding Phase I and Phase II Fire Safety Codes

Louis "LJ" Blaiotta, Jr. on Monday, October 1, 2018 at 12:00:00 am

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520 West 28th Street

520 West 28th Street in Manhattan, often referred to as the “Zaha Hadid building,” for which Columbia Elevator provided 100 entrances. All are zero-clearance and were delivered in prime for customized adaptation to the surroundings of each entrance.

Start spreading the news: New York, New York has recently added another iconic structure to its skyline in the city’s ultra-chic West Chelsea area. Located immediately adjacent to the Highline at 520 West 28th Street, this property is often referred to as the Zaha Hadid building, in homage to the architect who personally designed it. Embodying the futuristic "mathematically inspired curving buildings” approach of Ms. Hadid’s famed point of view, this building was her first residential project in New York and among the last she completed before her passing in March of 2016.

Typical of today’s trend toward ultra-luxe environments, the 520 W 28th Street building features amenities such as a swimming pool, a private 3D IMAX screening room, and state-of-the art air filtration system. It also includes 100 zero clearance elevator entrances provided by Columbia Elevator Products. The entrances were delivered with a baked prime grey finish to allow for subsequent painting in the field to match the surroundings of each apartment.

The use of zero clearance entrances has long been a subject of confusion, particularly because their use is unique to New York City as they conflict with the locked-out-of service restrictions found in the national elevator code. Fire safety codes typically involve a Phase-I and Phase-II.

  • In Phase-I, when smoke is detected, all elevators cease up-and-down operation, redirect to the evacuation floor and shut down.
  • In Phase-II, firefighters have access to special keys, allowing them to manually assume elevator operation and direct cars to whatever floor is most advantageous to fighting the fire. If for any reason the Phase II key is turned off, the door either does not open or reverses direction and closes.

Everywhere other than New York City, Phase I and II prevent the “locking out of service” of a landing. NYC became the exception because of its unique real estate environment, particularly relating to luxury high-rise residential construction and some unique commercial applications. Besides the design flexibility that zero-clearance entrances provide an architect, such situations are also governed by matters of revenue and profitability. Market forces made it desirable to install elevators exclusive to single occupancy floors in residential buildings.

Initially for penthouses, and then for lower-level luxe apartments with private elevator service, NYC building owners and managers sought to sell or rent entire floors, including the common areas which had been customarily allocated to an elevator vestibule or corridor between the elevator doors and an apartment’s front door. But, accomplishing this while adhering to Phases I and II fire safety codes presented a major problem: it would make the firefighter’s key easily accessible to potential thieves and allow them access to entire private residences.   Let me take you into the NYC analysis process.

A first thought was to use a universal “fireman’s key” or a key-switch in the car operating panel to restrict access to the single tenant floor, allowing access exclusively to its residents. However, this created a serious security issue due to the number of elevator service and life-safety professionals who would necessarily have access to the keys and postcodes to perform their roles. A next thought was to provide all parties access to the exclusive floor, but install, in front of the elevator sliding doors, a second, separate swing door that required its own key. While this more aggressively blocked entry by thieves, while a firefighter with an axe could still gain entry, such an arrangement would not be compliant with national locked-out-of-service codes.

Ultimately it took a local, New-York-Centric modification to the building codes to accommodate this application. After much debate about the amount of space that was safe to create between the two door sets, NYC building code came around to allowing such construction using a swing door, mounted in front of an elevator entrance with sliding doors, but with the most minimal possible space or gap between them. This created the concept of “zero clearance” entrances that could yield the desired additional square footage that the real estate developers were endeavoring to sell or rent, while ensuring all the necessary security.

While many cities allow a second door in front of the sliding doors as a smoke seal (which remain open during normal operations and only close to an unlocked position with the tripping of a fire alarm), to the best of my knowledge, NYC is unique in that it permits such swing doors to lock in the closed position during normal elevator operation.