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What is a Pneumatic Elevator?

B. Turner
B. Turner

A pneumatic elevator is a machine that relies on air pressure changes to transport passengers up and down to various levels within a building. These machines are much less complex than traditional elevators, which rely on elaborate pulley and cable systems in order to operate. Pneumatic elevators are typically used in residential applications that range from two to four stories. They are typically not available for structures taller than four stories, and are not able to meet the demands of heavy commercial use.

Pneumatic elevators are made up of three basic components. The largest component is a hoist cylinder, which is made of clear plastic or carbon fiber. A passenger car carries passengers through the cylinder, while a series of vacuum turbines are used to provide power.

Most pneumatic elevators are too small to accommodate wheelchairs.
Most pneumatic elevators are too small to accommodate wheelchairs.

As riders operate the elevator using a series of simple controls, the controls direct the vacuum turbines to redistribute the air pressure within the hoist tube. By moving air to the bottom of the tube, the turbines can push the car up. By releasing air from the bottom of the tube, the turbines can safely lower the car to ground level. A very small amount of electricity is used to raise the car, while no power at all is needed to lower the car, making pneumatic elevators must be energy-efficient than standard cable-powered units.

These elevators offer many benefits to homeowners, and can be used in many different types of houses. A pneumatic elevator costs just a fraction as much as a traditional elevator, which may help open up home elevators to a much wider market. These units are also easy to install, and do not require extensive excavation and demolition. They are easy to use and maintain, and contain few mechanical parts, which greatly reduces the chances of a breakdown or malfunction.

One of the primary drawbacks associated with the pneumatic elevator is its size. These units are too small to accommodate most wheelchairs, and most have a fairly limited weight capacity. While the pneumatic elevator may be a viable option for some elderly or disabled people, it will not work for the majority of wheelchair users. This type of elevator may also not be adequate for obese homeowners, who may exceed the recommended weight limits. Pneumatic elevator manufacturers are working to increase the size and weight capacity of their designs in order to accommodate a wider range of users in the future.

Discussion Comments


I recently ordered the PVE 37 with three stops. The initial price is $57,000 and does not include costs of electrical and carpentry work.


I just got a quote to retrofit a pneumatic elevator in a 2008 home, and the quote was for $60 - $70k (2 stop, 52"). I wish I knew if that was reasonable. The guy really pushed their standard elevators and didn't want to quote the pneumatic at all. He brushed me off, saying it would be a lot more expensive. When I reminded him it wouldn't need a pit or drywall etc., he just said the parts were more expensive. I'm wondering if he made sure it was more expensive because he wants to sell us a standard elevator.


Thanks for posting. A home lift is a welcome feature for the elderly and those in wheelchairs or injured. There is no need for expensive renovations and these can be installed for much less than a commercial elevator.


I have heard that some lifts in old hotels are driven by compressed air, but the source of the compressed air is a mystery. What could be the source is that you can "make" compressed air by allowing a stream of water into a shaft construction. On its way down, it has air entrained in it.

As it gets to the bottom, a receptacle at the top of a U-bend collects the air while the water now relieved of its air passes back up to the top of the shaft. You need a difference in water level for the idea to work. However, the collected air is piped to the surface and can be stored and used at will. As long as the stream of water keeps flowing the compressed air keeps coming. If anyone knows of any elevators driven by compressed air as described, I would be interested. --John M.


I think these elevators are probably going to be the way of the future. I've noticed in the last decade or so a serious shift towards all things "green" and "energy efficient."

And these elevators definitely sound "green." They only use electricity for half the time the elevator is operating: on the way up!

I'm sure there are already companies working to develop these so they can be more widely used. I bet once that happens, the government will probably give businesses tax incentive to use them or something like that.


@ceilingcat - You aren't alone in your fear of elevators. I think it's actually pretty understandable. It is a bit scary to imagine the elevator breaking.

However, that doesn't happen that much. Elevators are pretty safe, overall. I'm sure that pneumatic elevators are just as safe, if not safer, than regular elevators.

We have a ton of regulations for stuff like this in this country. I really doubt that these would be manufactured and sold if they weren't safe!


Elevators kind of freak me out. I don't think I would ever be comfortable riding on an elevator that was operated only by air pressure. What if it broke and plummeted to the ground floor?

Also, I say no thank you to the see through part. I do not need to see through the elevator while it's taking me up a few floors! There is just no reason for that.

Anyway, I would never want to get an elevator in my house anyway. Awhile ago, I heard about an elderly couple that died because their in-home elevator broke while they were both in it. They were unable to get help! So scary. I'll just take the stairs.


I love the sheer look of a pneumatic elevator. I know they are probably more for function more than for fashion, but I would love to just have one for the fashion of it.

They are three hundred and sixty degree see-through material, so you have an amazing view to behold each time you get on a pneumatic elevator. Also, they look like bigger versions of the shoots used at drive-through banks, which I think is just so neat.

If I had a pneumatic elevator, this would make it easier and more appealing for my older and/or disabled relatives and friends to spend an extended amount of time at my house.

The younger, enabled relatives and friends of mine I am sure would have a blast using it as well.

With a pneumatic elevator, you could also send supplies up and down to your different floors, saving trips and time.


@NathanG - I agree. I like pneumatic equipment in general, so the idea of a pneumatic elevator strikes a chord with me.

I’ve done a lot of do-it-yourself projects, and have a few pneumatic tools that I use for some of my projects. What I can tell you is that these tools are more powerful in my opinion, and they tend to be lighter.

The only problem is that if you’re using something that is pneumatic you need access to compressed air. So the air compressor is kind of an inconvenience.

But other than that, they’re great, and I have fewer moving parts to mess with, which means the tools should last longer; at least that’s my expectation.


I love the concept of the pneumatic vacuum elevator. I’ve seen videos of these things and they look like a page out of a science fiction movie, where people are transported through capsules.

That’s all they are - tiny capsules meant to hold one person at a time, and they silently glide from one floor to the next on the basis of air pressure alone.

It’s a brilliant concept, and the fact that it’s pneumatic and not based on a gear and pulley system means that it will last longer, in my opinion. Further, unlike regular elevators which are drab in appearance, these things can be modeled to match the décor of your house, making them almost inconspicuous.


A pneumatic elevator seems like a frivolous thing to buy, unless there is someone seriously injured or disabled in a residence with stairs. When I say disabled I mean to the point they can no longer make it up or down stairs without endangering themselves and/or others.

It seems like it is extremely outrageous that these pneumatic elevators are so small and have so many limitations. There should be less limitations and more accommodations for anyone and everyone who needs to use an elevator instead of stairs.

For example, it seems like those in a wheel chair and/or those who are obese would need this pneumatic elevator the most. I do hope they increase the size and weight capacity for these devices so more people can benefit from them.

I think if I ever get to a point where I can not climb stairs any longer, I will probably move into a living space where everything is on one floor, like a ranch style house or an apartment on the first floor only.


@popcorn - If you want to save your grandparents and brother a lot of problems with installation you should just buy a pneumatic vacuum elevator. These elevators are easy to install and don't require any excavating of a pit.

Basically the pneumatic residential elevator that works off the vacuum principle is just a giant tube. Simple physics creates the lift from the ground floor up.

The pneumatic elevators will on average set you back $20,000 USD to $28,000 USD and come with quite a long warranty. I am pretty sure if your grandparents are willing to invest in the technology this is the way to go.


Does anyone know what the cost of installing a pneumatic residential elevator would be?

My grandparents have a big house and they are starting to have trouble getting up and down the stairs. They are quite wealthy so I think that they could do well with a house elevator to help them out.

My brother is also pretty handy, and even built his own home. So I think that he would be able to install an elevator lift with some solid instructions, which could save my grandparents on some of the costs associated with installing such a big piece of equipment in their home.

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    • Most pneumatic elevators are too small to accommodate wheelchairs.
      By: Monkey Business
      Most pneumatic elevators are too small to accommodate wheelchairs.