Columbia Elevator Cabs and Entrances


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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.



Columbia Elevator Celebrates its 53rd Anniversary

Louis "LJ" Blaiotta, Jr. on Monday, September 17, 2018 at 12:00:00 am

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Lou and Marie Blaiotta at Columbia Elevator Products 50th Anniversary celebration.

Lou and Marie Blaiotta at Columbia Elevator Products
50th Anniversary celebration.

LJ and Lou Blaiotta cutting the cake at Columbia’s
50th Anniversary celebration.

September 2018 is the 53rd anniversary of Columbia Elevator Products, and it is the first anniversary that our founder, my father, Lou Blaiotta is not here to celebrate with us. It has been a difficult few months since we lost Dad, but it has been inspiring for me, my mother, and the extended Blaiotta family to receive cards, phone calls, emails, and text messages from people who knew Mr. B.

What was most humbling were the stories we heard from people about how Mr. B extended a hand to others in the industry, even in the early years when he was struggling to get his own company off the ground. The messages I heard were often the same:

“Your dad helped me out when I was just starting out in business.”

“He extended me credit when no one else would.”

“He always gave us great advice, even though we were competitors.”

Those wise enough to listen to his advice came to realize that Mr. B’s intentions were pure; he wanted you to succeed in business as much as he wanted to build safe, aesthetically pleasing elevators in his own business.

We also heard from current and hundreds of past employees who appreciated Mr. B’s tough approach to business and saw that he wanted us to live by the characteristics most paramount to him: hard work and determination. He kept a Sam Goldwyn quote pinned up on his desk for inspiration, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”  

When we hit the 50th anniversary, we at Columbia had a huge celebration, and, at the center, of it was Mr. B! Although he isn’t here today working alongside us as we move the company forward, we know that his spirit of innovation and enterprise will endure in us and in the memories of the people fortunate to have known him intimately or to have collaborated with him across the industry.

Happy Anniversary to Columbia Elevator Products – and thank you Lou Blaiotta for leaving a legacy of industry excellence. We are determined to work hard and keep you proud of the company you started in September 1965.



Innovative Solution-Based Products for Columbia Elevator Customers: Products for Small Shaftways

Louis "LJ" Blaiotta, Jr. on Tuesday, September 4, 2018 at 12:00:00 am

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Drawing of Slim Line entrance

Drawing of Slim Line entrance Here we see a profile of Columbia’s Slim-Line entrance which helps pick up space inside a small shaftway. This entrance called Slim-Line enables the entrance and door-operating equipment to be sufficiently narrow and allow installation of a car with dimensions meeting ADA compliance standards.

Columbia Elevator is strategically innovating in response to the needs of and influences on today’s construction job site, rather than simply releasing a series of new products merely for the sake of it. We’re increasingly focusing on the ‘people’ side of the equation and helping our customers with modernizations.

In older buildings, we typically find small shaftways which are challenging for the accommodation of larger entrances and ADA-compliance issues. For ADA-compliance, a car interior needs to be a certain depth and width. Since there is no practical way to enlarge existing shaftways nor their corresponding platforms, an alternative method was needed to create more space inside the car. Columbia’s initial solution was to push the sliding door entrance inside the wall similar to swing doors. But in ‘virtual new construction’ – that is a modernization so comprehensive that the elevator is almost entirely new – the market needs fully-operational sliding doors and the elimination of the stationary panels and transoms that were necessary to an “in-wall” design. 

Columbia’s challenge was to make the entrance and door operating equipment as narrow as possible, to occupy the minimum possible amount of space in the shaftway. A new solution that replaces the classic-depth sill was needed to replace legacy harmonic operator installations. By switching to a linear door operator where we can eliminate the clutch and rollers from the back of the doors, the doors can be moved much closer to the running clearance edge of the sill, thereby simultaneously enlarging the platform and the corresponding cab interior space. 

For a single speed door, we were able to have a 2 1/4-in sill instead of a 4-in on both the hatch and platform. This allowed us to pick up 3 ½-in of shaft space while, for 2-speed, it was 3 ½-in instead of 5 ½, picking up an additional 4-in between the cab and landing sills.

Building upon our initial innovation, today we offer two types of entrances: one for traditional, standard depth described above for harmonic equipment, and one that is a slime-line hanger assembly that we are using with linear equipment. This allows the cab platform to be a couple of inches deeper to meet the ADA requirement without making the shaftway bigger, which allows our customers a choice of products.

Columbia’s innovative spirit is customer-centric. Bring your installation or other elevator challenge to us, and we will design a solution!