How Do They Work?

Some of us use them every day, but do we actually know how they work? Elevators are a part of our daily lives, and were a vital part of history; as they allowed cities to expand vertically as well as horizontally. We owe a lot to elevators. So to honour one of the greatest inventions, let’s get to know them a little better.


Maybe the reason we know so little about the way an elevator works is because all the working parts are covered up. To those taking a lift to the 20th floor, an elevator is simply a metal box. For the more curious passengers, elevators are made up of:

  • Cars (the metal boxes)
  • Counterweights
  • Electric Motor
  • Braking system
  • Metal cables and Pulleys
  • Safety Systems
  • Electronic Control System

To get to the 15th floor by stairs takes energy, so to go vertically up will take energy also. The electric motor is connected to the car by cables, but pulling the large weight of the car straight up requires a huge amount of energy.


To make lifting the car easier a counterweight is used. This counterweight is generally the same weight as the car plus 50% of the total weight it can carry. This counterweight makes it much easier to raise and lower the car as the motor now needs to apply much less force in order to lift it. Having less force applied to the cables also makes it much safer.


Being essentially suspended in mid-air by a bunch of cables is an intimidating feeling. Rest assured, there is nothing to fear. In the event of a cable snapping, various security systems come into action to prevent the elevator crashing into the ground. A backup ‘ratchet’ system means sturdy metal teeth, embedded all the way up vertical guide rails, are attached into by spring loaded hooks, locking the car safely in position.

For all parts of an elevator to remain functioning properly at all times, regular lift maintenance is advised. This ensures all systems are operating effectively, avoiding any risk of injury.