There are a few products that may play a central role in making a home more accessible for various needs, and two that are comparable in certain ways — but different in other important ones — are elevators and dumbwaiters. Both these systems carry out similar operations, but in some very different ways that make them more or less practical depending on the needs of the home and its occupants.

At A+ Elevators & Lifts, we’re proud to offer a wide range of both elevators and dumbwaiters for both residential and commercial settings. What are the basic differences between the two, and how do they compare in certain key areas? Here’s a primer on these two components.

Elevators Vs. Dumbwaiters

The key element that differentiates elevators from dumbwaiters is what they’re meant to carry. Elevators are generally meant to transport people, while dumbwaiters are meant to transport items. This is reflected in the design of the two systems, as elevators typically have a large cabin that can accommodate several people, while dumbwaiters are typically much smaller and only meant to carry a few items at a time.

Let’s go over some other basic elements that should be considered.

Specific Purposes

Digging in a bit further on the above, some common purposes and uses of an elevator include:

  • Safely transporting people between floors in a home
  • Allowing people with disabilities or other accessibility needs to have easier access to all parts of a home
  • Creating an alternative to stairs in multi-story homes

In contrast, common purposes and uses of a dumbwaiter include:

  • Lowering food or other items from a kitchen to a basement or ground level
  • Receiving food or items from different levels in a home for storage or preparation
  • Moving large amounts of laundry between floors in a multi-story home
  • Hauling other heavy objects between floors

The precise ways in which both these items are used will depend on the needs of the home and its occupants.

Size and Dimensions

Both these systems are available in a variety of custom sizes, so there’s no singular example to go from here. Generally speaking, however, elevators are significantly larger than dumbwaiters, and as such can take up more space in a home. This may be a consideration for those who are tight on space, as elevators require a certain amount of clearance around all sides in order to operate safely.

Elevator cabs can typically range up to 18 square feet or even larger in some cases, while a dumbwaiter’s cab will typically be around 4 – 6 square feet. These dimensions may also be impacted by clearance space that’s required, plus the height of the building in which the system is being installed.

Weight Capacity

Down similar lines, elevators typically need to come with a much higher weight capacity than dumbwaiters. Elevators are built to handle the weight of multiple people, as well as any items they might be carrying, while dumbwaiters are not typically meant to carry more than a few hundred pounds at a time. This is something to consider if there are plans to use the dumbwaiter for transporting especially large or heavy items — you’ll want to be sure to choose a dumbwaiter that’s rated for high weight numbers.

For elevators, the weight limit will be based on the drive system that’s used. There are a few common setups here:

  • Hydraulic system: Hydraulic elevator drives are some of the strongest available, rated for a standard maximum capacity of 950 pounds, up to 18 square feet. In some cases, capacities up to 4,000 pounds can be achieved
  • Gear driven: These systems also have a 950-pound capacity for 18-foot cabs, and up to 1400 pounds capacity for larger cabs.

Cost Factors

Naturally, anyone considering installing an elevator or dumbwaiter in their home will want to weigh the cost factors involved. Elevators can be significantly more expensive to install than dumbwaiters, and this is largely due to their size and weight capacity. Additional costs may also be incurred if the home needs to be retrofitted in order to accommodate an elevator, which is not always necessary with a dumbwaiter.

That said, elevators do offer a number of benefits that may be worth the extra investment, such as the ability to transport multiple people at once and the addition of wheelchair accessibility. It’s important to weigh all the factors involved in order to make the best decision for your unique needs.

Making Your Choice

As we noted above, much of the decision in terms of whether to install an elevator or a dumbwaiter will come down to what (or who) is being transported. If there are many people in the home who will need easy access to all floors, an elevator is likely the best option. For those who only need to move light objects or food between floors, a dumbwaiter may be more practical and affordable.

Installation professionals can help assess your needs and provide guidance on the best system for your specific situation. They will also help you ensure you have the right components for any selection you make — for instance, that your dumbwaiter, if you choose one, is of appropriate size and rating for the weight of the items you’ll be carrying.

When it comes to accessibility, elevators and dumbwaiters are both valuable tools. Though they serve similar purposes, there are some important differences between the two that should be considered before making a purchase.

For more on this subject, or to learn about any of our affordable home elevators or other lift types, speak to the professional staff at A+ Elevators & Lifts today.