Site search



Stairs vs. Elevators

A conversation with my boss yesterday has convinced me to finally commit to taking the stairs at work. (Thanks, Rob.)

This was easier in our old building. Walking up the carpeted, brick-walled stairwell was a much nicer experience than making small talk with the security guard while waiting for the single elevator. Then, when we moved, not only was the stairwell a depressing institutional concrete, but the door to our floor had a combination lock that the security guard wouldn’t reveal. And there were four elevators; there always seemed to be one waiting in the lobby. So I started walking down, but taking the elevator up. When I found out the combo from one of the Berkleemusic guys, I was already in the habit and had a hard time breaking it. What can I say? I’m lazy.

From an environmental standpoint, it’s not the end of the world. Elevators don’t actually use a crazy amount of energy per person per day. The figures change depending on a lot of different variables (type of elevator, how many floors in the building, how many people are riding with you, etc.), but various calculations have estimated it at 0.012 kWh to 0.3 kWh per day. That’s the equivalent of using your laptop for fifteen minutes (or six hours).

But you wouldn’t leave on a light that you didn’t need just because it didn’t use much power, would you? Actually, I’d liken it to not turning off a light that’s shining in your eyes at night. Sure, it’s not wasting much energy, but if it prevents you from sleeping, it’s worse for you than turning it off. Similarly, taking the elevator prevents me from burning calories, and is therefore worse for me than taking the stairs.

So I’m making the commitment now. If you see me in the elevator, you have permission to give me a hard time about it. Maybe shame can do what good intentions haven’t.

Oh, and if you aren’t willing or able to take the stairs all the time, but still want to save a little energy, here’s some info. Hydraulic elevators are generally found in buildings seven stories or less, and those use a lot more energy going up than coming down. Traction elevators are in taller buildings, and they use a counterweight system, which expends about the same amount of energy either way. However, if the elevator weighs more than the counterweight on the way down, or less going up, gravity helps it along. So to be more efficient you could choose a full elevator going down and an empty one going up.


Comment from Daniel
Time September 18, 2009 at 3:31 pm

I like your thinking! I’ve always felt that the stairs were a free way to get a quick quad workout, burn a few calories and avoid pointless small talk with coworkers. I’ve used the stairs in every building I’ve ever worked in–even when I had a job on the 56th floor of a midtown Manhattan building.

Of course in that particular case I would cheat a little and take the elevator to the 52nd floor.

Casual Kitchen

Comment from Brenda Pike
Time September 18, 2009 at 3:41 pm

It definitely helps that my office has been on the 4th floor of both buildings. Any higher and I might choose the elevator instead.

Pingback from Looking Back at 2009 « Pragmatic Environmentalism
Time January 4, 2010 at 9:06 pm

[…] Taking the stairs – Once I got into the habit, it was easy to keep up. […]

Pingback from Pragmatic Environmentalism
Time September 10, 2010 at 8:59 pm

[…] One year ago: Stairs vs. Elevators. […]

Write a comment