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Different housing developments require different lift configurations. Multi-storey residential properties may require multiple elevators and there are several considerations to take into account to provide the best solution for your building, occupants and housing managers.

Whether you’re designing a new scheme or refurbishing an existing one, you need to familiarise yourself with the regulations and industry recommendations around lifts, elevators, building rules and fire regulations.

Vertical transport systems, i.e. lifts or elevators, are essential for easy and comfortable movement of inhabitants, visitors and goods from floor to floor in tall and high-rise buildings. Multi-storey housing properties often accommodate many people who come and go regularly to access their individual flats and apartments.

The Lifts Regulations 1997 define a “lift” as:

“…a lifting appliance serving specific levels, having a car moving along rigid guides or a fixed course and inclined at an angle of more than 15 degrees to the horizontal, intended for the transport of:

  • People
  • People and goods
  • Goods alone, if a person may enter without difficulty and fitted with controls inside the car or within reach of a person inside.”

What is a multi-storey housing development?

A multi-storey residential property is one with multiple levels and some form of going up and down – be it stairs, ramps or passenger lifts.

  • People have lived in houses with multiple stories since ancient times. The Romans built properties of up to five levels and the Egyptians built massive multi-storey palaces.
  • Multi-storey homes were popular in mediaeval times because only a limited amount of territory could be accommodated within the town walls built to protect its inhabitants.
  • The invention of the elevator in the late-Victorian era made it possible to significantly increase the height of buildings. Prior to that, the rich had lived on the lower floors while the poor resided above because of the amount of stairs they would have to climb.
  • The advent of the passenger lift upended multi-storey housing with the wealthy moving above to enjoy the views from penthouse apartments.
  • In the post-war era, with a great need for affordable housing, high-rise blocks of flats became popular to solve the need to house families as slum areas were cleared.

Without the passenger lift, we wouldn’t have high rises, tower blocks or properties with flats and apartments.

What type of lift does a multi-storey residential property require?

Part M of the Building Regulations recommends that passenger elevators should always be considered ahead of other methods for transporting people up and down a property.

Lifts should be able to accommodate a person using a wheelchair, a parent and child with a buggy, or several standing people.

Platform lifts are only really suitable for low-rise housing where they will be used infrequently by a small number of people.

What do the regulations say about lifts and fires?

By default, all new lifts must conform to British Standard EN81-73: Behaviour of Lifts in the Event of Fire. This means that:

  • The lift is connected to the building’s fire alarm system
  • In the event of a fire, the lift will travel to the ground floor
  • The doors will then remain open and the lift will not be operational

NB: this is not the same as a firefighting lift

When does a property require more than one lift?

For managed housing, with two floors or more, a vertical passenger lift should be installed to ensure the property is suitable for all occupants.

As per BS8300 – Design of an accessible and inclusive built environment – Part 2: Buildings (Code of Practice) suggests that if there are more than 30 individual units within the block, then a minimum of two lifts should be offered.

This is because if one elevator is out-of-action, then the availability of a second (or more) will not cause significant disruption for occupiers, visitors and contractors.

When does a multi-storey residential building need a firefighting lift?

A fire fighting lift should be installed if the building has a floor more than 18m above, or more than 10m below, the access level at which fire service vehicles would arrive at and operate at the property.

Firefighting lifts have very specific safety requirements. Firefighter lifts compliant to British Standard EN81-72 have trap doors and ladders for rescue operations. Standards also require splash proof electrical components, both in the shaft and on the car.

In some circumstances, a fire fighting lift may be provided as part of an evacuation and escape management plan. Again there are specific requirements around this that must be adhered to.

What about lifts in existing multi-storey properties?

There may be restrictions on how lifts can be installed in the case of historic and listed buildings.

All elevators have a finite life-span. After this, they can be refurbished, or removed and replaced with newer, more efficient equipment that meets the latest design standards.

For existing tower blocks or multi-storey residential properties where there is a new requirement for a fire-fighting provision, architects and designers can find guidance on providing lifts intended for use by fire-fighters in BS 8899: Improvement of fire-fighting and evacuation provisions in existing lifts.]


The key factors to take into account when deciding upon a lift configuration for a multi-storey property are:

  • The number and characteristics of people living in the building
  • How many lifts are required
  • Is there a requirement for a fire-fighting lift?
  • Whether the elevator(s) will be used for evacuation purposes
  • Whether the lift requires a vandal-proof fit out
  • The visual styling of the lift

To keep up to date on industry trends, regulations and best practice, bookmark our news page for all the latest on lifts and elevators.