I've read the above factoid many times, but sources are conflicting as to whether or not its true; that is,

  • some say there's a set timer on door openings and closings that can't be budged by pressing the button

  • others say that manufacturers provide a button, but some landlords choose to disable it

  • and yet others say, it's just an archaic holdover from earlier days before elevator automation.

Is there anything definitive out there known on whether door-closing buttons in elevators work, and who's enabling and disabling what?

  • 3
    From personal experience... The door close button does cut the timer short, especially if someone accidentally blocked the door open. – crasic May 8 '11 at 19:49
  • 4
    In my apartment building (built in the 70s, still using the same elevators) the door close buttons very obviously work. A user can close the doors immediately after they have finished opening by holding the button down before the doors fully open. – Puddingfox May 9 '11 at 0:50
  • From my own personal experience, the door close button doesn't seem to work unless the door open button has been pushed first (e.g. if you were holding the door for someone, and now want it to close). I have found that pushing the door open button immediately followed by the door close button does end up closing the door faster in the majority of the elevators I have used. – Austin May 9 '11 at 3:16
  • 5
    I believe you should mention your country in the question. Elevators in, i.e., former USSR countries may be way different from the elevators in, say, USA. – user288 May 9 '11 at 4:01
  • My apartment's elevator don't even have a close button, noone has ever complained; anecdotal evidence that they're redundant. – Lie Ryan May 9 '11 at 4:05
up vote 136 down vote accepted

No.

Elevator manufacturers do not purposefully provide a door close button that doesn't actually work.

Elevator manufacturers provide door open and close buttons because they are required by code. (in the US)

CHAPTER K1 MODIFICATIONS TO ASME A17.1 - 2000, SAFETY CODE FOR ELEVATORS AND ESCALATORS

SECTION 2.27 EMERGENCY OPERATION AND SIGNALING DEVICES

2.27.3.3.1 When the Phase II switch is in the "FIREMAN SERVICE" position, the elevator shall be on Phase II operation, and the elevator shall operate as follows:

(d) Open power-operated doors shall be closed only by momentary pressure on the door close button. On cars with two entrances, a separate door-close button shall be provided for each entrance if both entrances can be opened at the same landing.

(e) Opening and closing of power operated car doors or gates that are opposite manual swing or manual slide hoistway doors shall conform to the requirements of §2.27.3.3.1(c) and (d). Door opening and closing buttons shall be provided in the car-operating panel.
New York New York City Administrative Code

The code requires that the buttons exist and defines their functions when the elevator is in the "FIREMAN SERVICE" operation mode. What the buttons do otherwise is of no interest to the code.

  • [S]ome say there's a set timer on door openings and closings that can't be budged by pressing the button.

This is correct...

4.10.7 Door and Signal Timing for Hall Calls.

The minimum acceptable time from notification that a car is answering a call until the doors of that car start to close shall be calculated from the following equation:

T = D/(1.5 ft/s) or T = D/(445 mm/s)

where T total time in seconds and D distance (in feet or millimeters) from a point in the lobby or corridor 60 in (1525 mm) directly in front of the farthest call button controlling that car to the centerline of its hoistway door. For cars with in-car lanterns, T begins when the lantern is visible from the vicinity of hall call buttons and an audible signal is sounded. The minimum acceptable notification time shall be 5 seconds.

Door call times

ADA Evaluation: ThyssenKrupp.

The Bottom Line...

Once all the code requirements are met: Five seconds is a long time when waiting in a elevator.

  • 18
    A big +1 for the legwork running this down. – Uticensis May 11 '11 at 4:05
  • 3
    +1, but is there any information for non-US countries? – March Ho Jan 12 '15 at 20:30
  • 2
    So the gist is: It's only guaranteed to work in Fireman Service mode, not normal operation mode. Operation in normal mode is - to use a term familiar to C/C++ programmers - Undefined Behavior. It may work, it may not, or it may even cause a chicken to fall out of the elevator ceiling. – The_Sympathizer Jul 21 at 10:38

According to Futility Closet,

In most elevators installed since the early 1990s, the “close door” button has no effect. Otis Elevator engineers confirmed the fact to the Wall Street Journal in 2003.

Most other online articles ultimately all point to the same resource.

The WSJ article is: Sandberg, Jared. (January 15, 2003) "Employees Only Think They Control Thermostat". The actual quote from the article is:

That's just one of several examples where the mere illusion of control seems to satisfy us. Plenty of placebo buttons give the same false impression. That "close door" button on elevators? It won't work unless you're a fireman or an elevator operator with special access to the system. The rest of the time, in deference to various building codes, it's deactivated, according to engineers at Otis Elevator.

Note the reference to building codes. This might well vary from city to city, and therefore be true in some places (say, New York City, where WSJ is published) and false in others.

I found another reference in a New Yorker article that seems to indicate this change dates from the 1990s:

In most elevators, at least in any built or installed since the early nineties, the door-close button doesn’t work. It is there mainly to make you think it works. (It does work if, say, a fireman needs to take control. But you need a key, and a fire, to do that.)

Perhaps that is when the building codes changed? I tried looking this up in the New York City building code, and saw nothing specifically mentioning buttons inside the car. (I will admit to being bad at reading legalese like this, its not very accessible prose). However, like most local building codes in the US, they defer to national standards as set by ASME:

3001.2 Referenced standards. Except as otherwise provided for in this code, the design, construction, installation, alteration, repair and maintenance of elevators and other conveying systems and their components shall conform to ASME A17.1 as modified by Appendix K, ASME A17.2, ASME A18.1, ASME A17.5, ANSI A10.5, ASME QE1-1, ASME A90.1, ASME B20.1 as modified by Appendix K, ALI ALCTV, and for construction in areas of special flood hazard, Appendix G.

Only the table of contents of ASME A17.1 (PDF link) is online, ASME charges several hundred dollars to purchase this book, so I can't directly check it for the rules on close door buttons.

  • 2
    This button is technical placebo. You click it and when doors close you feel that you did it. :) – Andrey May 9 '11 at 0:07
  • @Andrey It seems that the button is simply deactivated during regular operation and comes into play in the "special" modes - like firefighter operation. – crasic May 9 '11 at 4:01
  • 3
    "In most elevators installed ... Otis Elevator engineers ... Wall Street Journal", this should read "In most elevators installed in the USA ...", shouldn't it? It might be completely different in other parts of the world. – Martin Scharrer May 9 '11 at 11:22
  • 1
    @Martin Otis is by no means exclusive to the US. In fact, as far as I know most European elevators are Otis products. I just copied the quote verbatim so I imagine that the engineer was referring to overall installations (of Otis products). – Konrad Rudolph May 9 '11 at 11:28
  • 1
    Point taken. In this case it seemed like this answer was most of the way there, it just needed some references to back up the claim. – Tim Farley May 24 '11 at 18:57

Although there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to show that the door close button works in some modern elevators (including the one in our office building).

Here is a link to a KONE elevator information brochure which states:

Door Close button for quick closing of doors

And another from KONE:

Door close button allows the door to be closed for a call, which shortens the normal dwell time and improves the interval during non-peak hours.

Wikipedia also shows there are multiple uses for the close button:

Independent service (ISC)

The elevator will remain parked on a floor with its doors open until a floor is selected and the door close button is held until the elevator starts to travel.

Fire service mode (EFS)

However, like independent service mode, the car will not respond to a car call unless the firefighter manually pushes and holds the door close button.

Medical emergency/'Code Blue' service (EHS)

Medical personnel must then activate the Code Blue key switch inside the car, select their floor and close the doors with the door close button.

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