I know this question has many variables related to ones own ambition / physical condition, but I'm wondering if you were to have a multi story building, what would be the maximum set of stairs a user would be willing to climb before needing to install an elevator? My thought was most users would favor one set ie a two story building, but the limit would be two sets, or a 3 story building. Any thoughts?

Lets also assume our user group is young to middle age healthy individual without any disabilities within an apartment building. The thought behind this question is how many floors can you have in an apartment building without having high turn over due to a lack of an elevator.

  • 1
    There is no definite answer here since the need for an elevator can be felt in even one story or two story buildings depending on who is going to be using the building and what the function of the elevator is.
    – Mervin
    Jul 27, 2012 at 13:17
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    1-10,000 depending on the person. May seem sarcastic, but it's the truth.
    – JohnGB
    Jul 27, 2012 at 13:23
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    @George There is legislation in various regions on this, but it's more based on what is the worst that you're allowed to do than on what is a good idea to do. The Netherlands for example has a rule (in most cities) of 4 floors without an elevator. Which is why so many new buildings are 4 floors here :)
    – JohnGB
    Jul 27, 2012 at 14:20
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    3 sets. It's 3. Didn't you play Sim Tower? They prefer escalators though.
    – Ben Brocka
    Jul 27, 2012 at 14:57
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    This is a rather impossible question to answer. The assumption is that all the residents are healthy young people who never get sick, never get into accidents, never need to carry anything heavy to or from the apartments, never have children (strollers, carriages), and never have visitors who would need the elevator. A fantasy world, in other words. With an impossible premise you can just as well assume that the residents are all Olympic athletes and run up the stairs to the 20th floor with no problems.
    – JJJ
    Jul 30, 2012 at 11:59

6 Answers 6


What if someone gets disabled?

When my uncle, an architect, became old, ill and consequently got disabled, he was harsh on himself why he had built a house which has all the bedrooms on the first floor, and where there's no bathroom or bedroom on the ground floor...

  • In that case the individual would either need to be located to a lower unit or a complex designed to handle disabled individuals. As indicated in other responses, this question is based on the assumption we have healthy individuals on average carrying small items such as food etc. If there were to be be a high turn over, then an elevator may be required.
    – George
    Jul 27, 2012 at 13:57
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    ok, it's just that in my country, people stay in the apartment (even if they just rent it) they got hold in their 20s usually until the end of their lives. Therefore we're full of retired or near-to-retirement babyboomers nowadays in areas which were the youngster center 40 years ago (university area) But maybe it differs in your country.
    – Aadaam
    Jul 27, 2012 at 14:03
  • Building 'future proof' houses is a good idea. With an aging population I think its something housebuilders in the UK are starting to think about. A lot of it is just down to allowing sufficient space in the original design so that other facilities can be introduced at a later date if required.
    – PhillipW
    Jul 27, 2012 at 15:14
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    @Aadaam: no, I actually meant usability though I agree with Nicolas that accessibility is an aspect of that. I recently watched a TV series where architects for the first(!) time wend back to the projects they designed, years after they after they were done. That was the first time they were confronted with the very obvious shortcommings of their designs. To me, it was mainly shocking that they didn't do this kind of revisiting on a regular basis. Isn't that the basis of UX: actually test what you have thought up? See if it works in practice on real people? Not so for architecture, it seems.
    – André
    Mar 26, 2013 at 8:39
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    @NicolasBarbulesco of course it is, but I felt that's obvious and left it out
    – Aadaam
    Mar 26, 2013 at 11:57

There are clear guidelines and regulations for when to install accessibility aids for disabled people in newly built public facilities. It's not a matter of user ("visitor" more appropriately ) experience. There are a few exceptions however.

One passenger elevator complying with 4.10 shall serve each level, including mezzanines, in all multi-story buildings and facilities unless exempted below. If more than one elevator is provided, each passenger elevator shall comply with 4.10. Appendix Note

EXCEPTION 1: Elevators are not required in:

  • private facilities that are less than three stories or that have less than 3000 square feet per story unless the building is a shopping center, a shopping mall, or the professional office of a health care provider, or another type of facility as determined by the Attorney General; or
  • public facilities that are less than three stories and that are not open to the general public if the story above or below the accessible ground floor houses no more than five persons and is less than 500
    square feet. Examples may include, but are not limited to, drawbridge towers and boat traffic towers, lock and dam control stations, and
    train dispatching towers.

The elevator exemptions set forth in paragraphs (a) and (b) do not obviate or limit in any way the obligation to comply with the other accessibility requirements established in section 4.1.3. For example, floors above or below the accessible ground floor must meet the requirements of this section except for elevator service. If toilet or bathing facilities are provided on a level not served by an elevator, then toilet or bathing facilities must be provided on the accessible ground floor. In new construction, if a building or facility is eligible for exemption but a passenger elevator is nonetheless planned, that elevator shall meet the requirements of 4.10 and shall serve each level in the building. A passenger elevator that provides service from a garage to only one level of a building or facility is not required to serve other levels.

Read more at ADA

  • Hi thanks for the code requirements, however in my case I'm not required by code to install an elevator and being that it isn't a public facility, I'm not required to meet the disability requirements. I'm working with a residential building and wondering if there would be a high turn over on the third floor due to two sets of stairs and no elevator.
    – George
    Jul 27, 2012 at 13:45
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    Presumably the code requirements are based on some kind of research into user requirements ?
    – PhillipW
    Jul 27, 2012 at 15:19

You may have no disabled people, but what about young moms with strollers? Plus, no matter how fit and childless your individuals are, there will always be situations where they'd wish there was an elevator. For example, each of them at some point will want to buy furniture. Or heavy electronics (like TV or microwave). Or just have a gazillion of packages they bought at the store. Or maybe their parents (who are elderly) are visiting.

Of course, this all won't make them abandon the building at once, but they will eventually realize that lack of elevator is a downside, and consequently value their apartments less. Now it all boils to the fact how good your competitors are, how easy it is to switch, and how much cheaper/more expensive their offerings are.

That said, I grew up in a 9-story building where the elevator was broken more than 50% of the time. People complained, but that's it. If there is no choice, then there is no choice.


Every user is different, have their needs and special abilities, are more or less willing to exercise daily. Because of that some users won't climb even one step, where others are willing to climb a hundred floors. To get an average no of steps, you need to make statistical tests.


I would agree on the idea that this is a totally personal preference. However, I guess you can try to anticipate a person's willingness to climb much like you can make an intelligent guess. Stuff like amazing view on the third floor would increase a person's willingness to climb as well as willingness to pay for that apartment.

Of course on the personal preference issue, if you really expect the building's "audience" to really be young to middle healthy individuals, and that, for example, care for the environment or with a "don't care about luxury, just care about style" kind of attitude (and I don't know what that is, but you get the idea) I would personally expect that they would be willing to go to a third set of stairs.

It's quite hard to really give facts and make good estimations for this kind of thing but I just tried to provide how I would think about this issue.

  • Thanks for your response. Yes a very difficult question and is definitely based on willingness as you just stated. I'm sure if we had a 10 story building, few individuals would want to make that climb a daily basis where as a two story would be no issue. It's tough to figure out where the willingness cut off point is.
    – George
    Jul 27, 2012 at 14:31
  • If you find an existing building with both stairs and an elevator a bit of careful observation should give you some data.
    – PhillipW
    Jul 28, 2012 at 20:39
  • Well I work in a building with 4 floors and my observation is that people almost always use the elevator when they want to go to the 2nd floor, even though the elevators are pretty slow. But of course there are 2 factors that can affect this specific situation: first, this is a building with mostly offices; second, it is really hot here right now. And there's also the fact that the building has a -1 floor for parking so that could affect people's habit of using elevator even though they didn't come through the -1 floor.
    – Oraj
    Jul 30, 2012 at 7:42

I found this question asking myself the inverse question:

Why do Haussmann style buildings in Paris have 5-7 floors, not more or less. Haussmann was active 1853-1870. Commercial electric elevators only became common in the late 19th century. So the Haussmann style may give away how many floors a user could be expected to walk up.

That said, there may have also been structural height restrictions in Haussmann's time.

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