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EN 81-21:2022 - The updated standard for passenger and goods lifts in existing buildings


What is EN 81-21 and why is it important for elevator safety?




Elevators are essential for the mobility and accessibility of people and goods in buildings. However, installing new elevators in existing buildings can be challenging due to the structural and geometric constraints that may prevent the compliance with the general safety standards. That is why the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) developed EN 81-21, a specific standard that specifies the safety rules for new passenger and goods passenger lifts in existing buildings.




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EN 81-21 is part of the EN 81 series of standards that cover various aspects of elevator safety, such as design, installation, operation, maintenance, inspection, testing, and modernization. These standards are harmonized with the European Union (EU) Lifts Directive 2014/33/EU, which sets out the essential health and safety requirements for lifts and their components. By following these standards, lift manufacturers, installers, owners, operators, and users can ensure that the lifts are safe, reliable, efficient, and compliant with the EU legislation.


In this article, we will explain the scope and purpose of EN 81-21, the main requirements and solutions it provides for different situations, the benefits and challenges of applying it in practice, and how to download it as a pdf file for free.


The scope and purpose of EN 81-21




EN 81-21 was first published in 2009 and revised in 2018 to align with the changes introduced by EN 81-20:2014 and EN 81-50:2014, which are the general standards for electric traction lifts and hydraulic lifts. It is currently being modified again to take into account the changes introduced by EN 81-20:2020.


The standard applies to new passenger and goods passenger lifts permanently installed in existing buildings where some requirements of EN 81-20 cannot be met due to limitations imposed by building constraints. It does not apply to lifts installed before its publication date or to lifts that can comply with EN 81-20 without any modifications to the building structure.


The purpose of EN 81-21 is to specify alternative solutions that ensure the same level of safety as EN 81-20 or even higher when necessary. It addresses the following constraints and gives requirements for different scenarios:


The main requirements and solutions of EN 81-21




Existing perforated walls of the lift well




Some existing buildings may have perforated walls along the lift well that allow natural ventilation or light penetration. These walls may pose a risk of trapping or crushing between the car or counterweight and the wall openings. To prevent this risk, EN 81-21 requires that:


  • The openings are closed by solid panels or mesh screens that can withstand an impact force of at least 1 kN.



  • The panels or screens are fixed to the wall by at least four points that can resist a pull-out force of at least 1 kN.



  • The panels or screens have no sharp edges or protrusions that could cause injury.



  • The panels or screens have a minimum distance of 0.5 m from any moving part of the lift.



Reduced distance between car, counterweight or balancing weight




Counterweight or balancing weight in a separate existing well




Some existing buildings may have a separate well for the counterweight or balancing weight that is not directly opposite to the car well. This may cause a risk of unbalanced forces or vibrations that could affect the stability and smoothness of the lift. To avoid this risk, EN 81-21 requires that:


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  • The counterweight or balancing weight is guided by at least two guide rails that are securely fixed to the building structure.



  • The guide rails are aligned with the car guide rails and have the same inclination.



  • The distance between the guide rails is not less than 0.5 m and not more than 1.5 m.



  • The counterweight or balancing weight has a safety gear that can stop it in case of overspeed or free fall.



Reduced building dimensions and clearances




Some existing buildings may have reduced dimensions and clearances that do not allow enough space for the car, landing doors, machine room, pit, or headroom. This may result in a risk of insufficient access, ventilation, lighting, or maintenance. To overcome this risk, EN 81-21 provides alternative solutions that ensure the minimum comfort and safety for the passengers and service personnel. For example:


  • The car can have a reduced height of 2 m or a reduced area of 0.36 m if it is intended for one person only.



  • The landing doors can have a reduced height of 1.8 m or a reduced width of 0.6 m if they are manually operated.



  • The machine room can have a reduced height of 1.8 m or a reduced area of 1.5 m if it has adequate ventilation and lighting.



  • The pit can have a reduced depth of 0.5 m or a reduced access of 0.6 m if it has sufficient lighting and drainage.



  • The headroom can have a reduced height of 2.3 m or a reduced clearance of 0.3 m if it has adequate lighting and protection.



The benefits and challenges of applying EN 81-21




The advantages of installing new lifts in existing buildings




Installing new lifts in existing buildings can bring many benefits for the building owners, occupants, visitors, and society in general. Some of these benefits are:


  • Improving the accessibility and mobility of people with disabilities, elderly, children, pregnant women, or anyone who needs assistance.



  • Increasing the value and attractiveness of the property by enhancing its functionality, comfort, and aesthetics.



  • Reducing the energy consumption and environmental impact of the building by replacing old and inefficient lifts with new and energy-efficient ones.



  • Creating new opportunities for urban regeneration and social inclusion by revitalizing old and neglected areas.



The difficulties and limitations of complying with EN 81-21




Applying EN 81-21 in practice can also pose some challenges and limitations for the lift manufacturers, installers, owners, operators, and users. Some of these challenges and limitations are:


  • Finding the optimal solution that meets the specific needs and constraints of each building and project.



  • Obtaining the necessary permits and approvals from the authorities and stakeholders involved in the project.



  • Ensuring the compatibility and coordination between the lift system and the other building systems and services.



  • Maintaining the quality and performance of the lift system throughout its lifecycle.



  • Educating and informing the users about the proper use and operation of the lift system.



How to download EN 81-21 pdf for free




The official sources and prices of EN 81-21




The official source of EN 81-21 is CEN, which is responsible for developing and publishing European standards. CEN sells its standards through its national members, which are the national standardization bodies in each EU country. For example, in Germany, DIN is the national member of CEN; in France, AFNOR; in Italy, UNI; etc.


The alternative sources and risks of EN 81-21




Some people may be tempted to look for alternative sources of EN 81-21 that offer it for free or at a lower price than the official ones. These sources may include websites, blogs, forums, social media, file-sharing platforms, etc. However, th


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