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The Dumbwaiter: A Mobility Lifting Aid

Updated on May 2, 2009

What is a Dumbwaiter

A dumbwaiter is a device that in many regards is much like an elevator. They travel vertically between floors in a building and are designed to carry items between the floors. Usually the part that travels between floors is called a car. The dumbwaiter car can be as simple as a wooden platform or can include a more complicated enclosed design.

The electric dumbwaiter is one of the most popular types installed today, but some do still opt for a manual dumbwaiter. Usually though, and even more so in commercial settings, the manual dumbwaiter is becoming a thing of the past.

Some Pictures of Dumbwaiters

Click thumbnail to view full-size
This shows a residential dumbwaiter loaded with some groceries.This shows a dumbwaiter being unloaded.This is another shot of a dumbwaiter being unloaded.
This shows a residential dumbwaiter loaded with some groceries.
This shows a residential dumbwaiter loaded with some groceries.
This shows a dumbwaiter being unloaded.
This shows a dumbwaiter being unloaded.
This is another shot of a dumbwaiter being unloaded.
This is another shot of a dumbwaiter being unloaded.

Why Use a Dumbwaiter

Commercial Dumbwaiters

In businesses, dumbwaiters have been used extensively for several hundred years. They are very popular in the manufacturing industry, cruise liners, hospitals, and restaurants. These devices provide a quick and easy way to move items between floors. Often large wholesale stores would use them to provide a way to link the warehouse with the showroom.

A dumbwaiter designed for commercial use is usually larger and able to support more weight than a residential dumbwaiter. Some are quite large, supporting over a thousand pounds. They are often of metal construction and in some industries, shelves will be built into the lift to facilitate easier movement of goods.

Residential Dumbwaiters

While commercially the dumbwaiter has a very long history, they have been used in homes or residences for thousands of years. Arguably, some of these early dumbwaiters were actually commercial, but in the home, the dumbwaiter is a powerful tool.

They are used to make it easier to bring groceries to the kitchen, firewood to the living room, laundry throughout the house, and the movement of pretty much any items in the home. Often people who are mobility challenged will use a dumbwaiter because carrying things up the stairs can be very difficult.

Most home dumbwaiters support around a hundred to a hundred and fifty pounds. This of course varies by model and type, with upgrades available for most residential dumbwaiters.

Getting Ready for a Dumbwaiter

One of the first steps in preparing for a home dumbwaiter is planning where it will go. The dumbwaiter will move vertically between floors, so it needs a straight vertical shaft that spans the distance between floors. The minimum size shaft that a dumbwaiter requires is usually around 4 square feet or 2 foot by 2 foot, but this is something that will vary by the dumbwaiter and is related to the size of the dumbwaiter car.

In new homes, it is easiest to install the dumbwaiter as the home is being built. This can allow the homebuilder more flexibility in regards to where it is installed, but this is not required. Most homes will have a space that the dumbwaiter can fit. A hallway closet can usually provide the perfect space for a dumbwaiter shaft, but most homes have several places the dumbwaiter can be placed.

The car, which is the part of the dumbwaiter that moves vertically between floors, can be configured so that on each floor, the dumbwaiter door opens on a different side. This allows much more flexibility in the placement of the dumbwaiter shaft.

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