Tag Archives: stairs rise

Pneumatic Vacuum Elevators for Barndominiums

Thank you to my friend John Lyle who encouraged me to write about elevators.

As a child, I was fascinated by going through bank drive thrus with our mother as she made bank deposits.


Because Mother could fill up a clear plastic cylinder with her deposit, push a button and it was whisked away to a voice somewhere inside! It wouldn’t be long and whoosh – cylinder would reappear, Mother removed her deposit receipt and away we went.

Obviously it took very little to entertain and amaze me.

When my lovely bride and I were planning our shop/house barndominium 16 years ago, our living space would be 20 feet above grade. This means stairs and lots of them. Even using residential maximum rise of 7-3/4” this 20 feet of climb results in a total of 30 stairs.

Now this is great for cardio training, however my lovely bride told me in no uncertain terms was she going to haul groceries up all of those stairs!

My wife did our elevator shopping and found a somewhat affordable option – a pneumatic elevator! My childhood fascination was loving this solution! Our choice then was a 37” diameter unit, good for two persons (up close and personal albeit) and a capacity of 450 pounds.

This elevator was all well and good, until my bride was in an accident five plus years ago leaving her as a paraplegic. (read more here https://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2015/10/when-life-changes-in-the-blink-of-an-eye/). In order to get her from garage/shop level to living spaces, using our pneumatic elevator,  it entailed us investing in an airline aisle wheelchair.  I would physically pick her up from her manual chair, rotate 90 degrees and plant her on this aisle chair, then strap her on. All of this was a tight squeeze through the elevator door and she had to poke a button over her shoulder to get it to rise. Meanwhile, I would race upstairs to reverse transfer processes and get her into her power chair.

Eventually, we added a full sized elevator (story for another day).

Now PVE® (www.vacuumelevators.com) does provide a wheelchair accessible version with a 52-11/16” diameter. Downside is capacity is only 525 pounds and my wife’s power chair weighs in at close to 400 pounds without her!

Some things we found out in this process…..

These units are very fragile when being shipped. At factory, a ‘tipping indicator’ is placed on each crate, as handling direction is crucial. Somewhere along its journey, one of our crates was tipped and someone tried to remove the indicator and relocate it to hide what had occurred (and yes, there was damage).

Our builder had provided dimensions to the elevator company from top of garage/shop slab to top of living area floor. He must have been having a tape measuring challenged day – as our elevator stops about two inches too high.

Elevators must be run regularly. If it goes more than a few weeks without being used, it loses its ability to suction and takes some time and effort to get it operational again.

Considering a multi-story barndominium? If so, these pneumatic elevators might be a wise upfront investment. If we were to do it again from scratch, I would have opted for a wheelchair accessible unit.

How Much Room Will Stairs Take?

 I am an advocate of avoiding stairs in post frame buildings. They both take up space and reduce accessibility to upper level(s) of your building. It is less expensive to construct a post frame building on one level, rather than multi-levels. 


I happen to live in a barndominium (actually more technically speaking a shouse – or shop/house combination) and we have stairs. Lots of stairs, due to our living area being located on our second floor. Our second floor also happens to be 20 feet above grade! We also have two elevators. First of these was a pneumatic “tube” elevator because my lovely bride let me know there is no way she was going to tote groceries up those stairs! Our second elevator is a full sized one, necessitated after my wife’s tragic motorcycle accident four years ago, leaving her a paraplegic.

Back to our case at hand – how much area will stairs take?

For residential (R-3) use maximum rise of stairs is 7-3/4” and minimum run is 10”. 

For sake of this example, we will assume lower floor is going to be a concrete slab on grade. Begin with vertical distance from grade (bottom of pressure preservative treated splash plank) to top of flooring of second floor.  Deduct four inches for concrete floor thickness.

Arbitrarily picking 9 feet for top of second floor, we have 9 feet X 12 = 108 inches. Deducting for slab = 104 inches.

104 inches / 7-3/4 inches of maximum rise = 13.42. Rounding up we get 14 total risers, with our second floor itself becoming number 14.

13 treads remain, at a minimum of 10 inches = 130 inches or 10’6” of horizontal floor space. But wait, there is more!!

A minimum of three feet of space (for a three foot width stairs) must be provided at both top and bottom of stairs, so allow for these areas as well.

For Building Code requirements for stairs, please see: https://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2015/09/stairs-2/