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Auto Lifts: From Gas Station to Your Home

Chris d Craiker AIA/NCARB


A client of mine asked me to design the inside of his new garage extra tall to “stack” his collection of antique cars. When I designed Ken Behring’s home for ten cars, we looked into mechanically stacked auto lifts in his garage to save space. The past owner of the Seattle Seahawks, loved cars enough to create the Blackhawk Museum in Danville, with 90 of the world’s most unique and expensive cars. There was just too little evidence of success for placing $500,000 cars on top of one another. We scratched that idea quickly. However, stacked cars systems have come a long way and makes a lot of sense for homeowners, but may not be the best idea commercially for office buildings and hotels.


For a homeowner, this is perfect for storing that boat only taken out once a year on the Fourth. 11’ to 12’ clearance is required and up to 15’ for SUVs with 9’ width between post supports. Don’t forget the 12’ required for the overhead garage door. The cost varies considerably depending upon the existing foundation and the vehicles or boats to be supported. Assuming one has the space for a lift in their existing garage or in a new garage, figure $15,000 to $20,000.


This is not a toy. Any homeowner planning on installing and operating such a unit must be thoroughly trained and should be certified in order to maintain and operate such equipment. There are multiple safety regulations, and, like taxes, the rules change every year. It is recommended that a homeowner inspect constantly for excess dirt and grease, rust, scratches, burrs, cracks, and bent or damaged components, and check electrical connections and power cords and most important, check the emergency stop. Some companies require the homeowner to take a class which makes a lot of sense. After all, you don't want that old car waiting for restoration or boat to collapse on your new Mercedes.


For commercial uses it could be a game changer. Parking facilities area could be reduced up to 30% for two-car stackers, and 50% for 3 car stackers, driving lanes are still required. Any commercial facility such as office, retail or hospitality will clearly require knowledgeable valet attendants to receive a car, park in a slot, leave the car keys, raise the vehicle and allow another car to park below. Retrieving the vehicle will take just as long.


Stack parking is a great idea for utilizing space in commercial areas as land prices soar. But the processing and construction of the facilities is not cheap, figuring close to $80,000 a unit, plus all the training for attendants. Of course, a big question is what to do in a power failure and if the system has the ability to remove cars manually. Some units do have hand cranks but that only ups the price.


Interestingly, I had conversations with one manufacturer who noted California State’s march to all electric will require various levels of EV charging to be available in all parking facilities. Handicapped parking gets even more complicated. It would appear that every parking space would have to have its own universal charging station, or if providing only a plug, owners would have to bring their own cable for charging.


I looked into the option of stacked parking for apartments, and I could not find any companies that have successfully installed a system in California. Since these systems require an attendant operating them, for our typical suburban apartment complex of less than 50 units per acre, it does not appear practical except in high density urban areas. So, multifamily apartments are not candidates for stacked parking.


I looked into hospitality stacked parking systems in California and because hotels are already heavy labor users there are a few examples of functioning stacked parking in major metropolitan areas like San Francisco and LA, but the cost and training requirements generally do not work for suburban or even high tourist destinations. It’s easier to have remote parking with valets running back and forth.


Another option for high density parking is the rotary elevator structures that work like a Ferris wheel. They can hold up to 16 units and revolve to open and receive an automobile. Interestingly this kind of system has been around since 1920 in Europe. Its popularity is based on 16 car spaces in a two-car footprint. They are mechanically simple, relatively easy to install and operate. Highly adaptable to existing outdoor parking lots, they should be valet operated for safety.


So, let’s consider where mechanically stacked parking works: Apartments? No. Offices & Retail? A qualified maybe. Hospitality? A highly qualified maybe. Single family homes? Yes. It all depends on who is operating and taking responsibility for the performance. After all, nobody wants to be the pioneer with the arrows in his back.


Chris d Craiker AIA/NCARB parks his 2nd car at the mechanics shop since it’s always in for repairs

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