After Trapped In An Elevator premiered last week, we started hearing from viewers who disagreed with one of our on-screen experts about a quirk of elevator operation: the door-close button. Does it actually do anything? In the film, John Menville, an elevator technician with almost 50 years of experience maintaining elevators in New York City, said no:

John Menville: As you'll notice, there are a lot of buttons in the elevator. However, there's one button that doesn't work. The door close button will not close the doors no matter how many times you push it. "Door Close" button does serve a function: it lets people think that they have some control over the elevator, although that's not the case.

New Yorker writer Nick Paumgarten said the same thing in his 2008 story on elevators, with a little caveat: "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."

But some of our viewers--and some of our own staff--are convinced that their favorite door-close buttons are perfectly functional. It turns out there is a lively debate on the subject online, too. So, who's right? Are the pro-close-button folks delusional? Are anti-closers dour cynics so convinced of their own powerlessness that they won't accept responsibility for something as inconsequential as an elevator door?


But then we realized that this isn't a question that can be answered on the internet. There's only one place to go to settle the issue once and for all: The elevator. Which actually means there are about 700,000 places to go, in the U.S. and Canada.

Seven hundred thousand is a lot. So, we need your help. Call it citizen science. All you need is a stopwatch and, naturally, an elevator. Hop in the lift, hit your floor button, and wait to see how long it takes for the door to start closing. Then try it again, adding a press of the door-close button. Repeat the whole thing a few more times, because that's what scientists do. Report your results in the comments section.

We'll do our own experiment on the elevators here at our One Guest Street headquarters. Stay tuned for the results!

User Comments:

My fiancee's father lived in an independent living facility where the elevators were programmed to stay open for an extended period so that residents with mobility issues wouldn't have to worry about getting slammed by the door. In those elevators, pressing "Door Close" always resulted in an immediate closing of the door, regardless of how long the elevator had been open.

In the various office buildings I've worked in, Door Close didn't really do anything.

The elevator "Door Close" button at work DOES close the elevator door, but the elevator in the building in which I live does not.

It works? A door which otherwise would close perhaps five seconds after opening, closes immediatly when the button is pushed!

I travel a lot and stay in many hotels around the world. I have noticed that in US based hotels that less than 20% actually have functioning Close buttons, however, internationally the function rate is 80 to 90%.

I blame the unions.

When I was in college, 20 some years ago, one of the two elevators in our building definitely had a functional Door Close button. The doors would stay open about 20 seconds if left alone, but would close immediately if you pressed Door Close. We used to use this feature to "pinch" people who were trying to get in after us - trust a bunch of 18-21 year old males to come up with a way to abuse technology...

The other elevator's Door Close button (with a cosmetically different panel) did not work. I have encountered only maybe one or two elevators since then which had a functional Door Close button. From reading the instructions for Fire Operation, I get the impression that button only works on most modern elevators if someone has inserted a fire alarm override key and turned it to a specific setting. But the occasional working button also makes me think that it's up to the installer whether to configure that button to work in non-fire mode.

3 of 4 elevators I use on a daily basis, have functional door close buttons. Used the stop watch method.

I would ask the elevator installers and manufacturers if that feature can be disabled. I don't doubt what the technician is saying, but from my experience the door close button seems functional.

My mother lives in an apartment building with an elevator and the door close button does work, however, the door close button on the elevator at my work does not. Reading through the other comments on here, I would say there is no universal answer; it appears some work and some don't. Maybe its attributable to whomever installed it?

At work we have both the door close and door open buttons. I have used both with success multiple times.

This is crazy - of course it's going to vary, remember that these are units installed by technicians, and they know how to tweak things. Those buttons I'm sure function just fine by default, but I can easily imagine some folks figuring that it's best to not let it work for all sorts of reasons, so they just disable them, so they won't get called back later because of complaints of the doors never staying open long enough.

The one other variable in here is that sometimes I think folks are confused because they think the button works *sometimes* but not all the time, and in those cases I believe they just need to observe a little better. The button *would* work, if someone had not just tripped the door sensor, which is probably programmed to stay upon for a few seconds regardless of any button pressing if someone trips it. And so on...

If you want definitive proof, you need to talk to the elevator manufacturers and ask them how their units come preconfigured, and if it's possible to reprogram/disable certain features in the elevator control box once installed.

who wrote this nonsense about "science"?
you have to randomize the sample for to actually be science.

a bunch of people commenting on your blog is purely anecdotal no matter how you slice it.

The 'door close' button in my building elevators, Otis brand circa 1968, absolutely works. The normal time the doors stay open is approximately 5 seconds, but if you are in a hurry, you can press the button and they close immediately.

Clearly, when I have pressed some "close doors" buttons, there is an immediate response and the doors close.

In other elevators - nothing happens.

So the obvious answer is that in some elevators the door close buttons work and in other elevators they don't.

What percentage work - and what percentage don't is the real question. Also, is it a matter of working (or not working) after a certain year of elevator manufacture or not. This all needs to be checked out!!

I don't know about the close button, but I do know that out of the two times I was trapped in an elevator, the emergency phone was hooked up to people who (1) didn't know there was an elevator phone in direct dial d to their phone and (2) were not trained to handle emergencies. The first time I was stuck, I picked up the phone and when it was answered on the other line the lady thought I was making a prank call. After several attempts at calling out, she finally believed that I was stuck in the elevator and then became hysterical and yelled, "Oh my god! Stay calm!" and then hung up on me. She was crying when the fire department got me out of the elevator. I was okay...just a little frustrated and just another day at work.

This question can easily be answered by talking to any elevator technician. Several people have even given the answer to this quesiton in previous posts.

Modern Elevators are complicated machines controlled by computer systems with a host of control options. Door timing is a huge aspect of elevator operation and affects wait times at each floor depending on how long an elevator needs to wait at each floor with the doors open. Wait times and door open times can all be adjusted via the computer. The door close button can be programmed to overide the wait time or the wait time can be the lone determining factor for when the elvator leaves the floor, this makes it look like the door close button does not work.

The door open button is required to operate the elevator in indepedent service and in fire service modes, each service mode requires a command to close the door and a floor selection before the elevator will move. That is why you will see a door close button in all elevators even if it appears not to be operational.

How door close buttons work....on older non solid state elevators door open time is controlled by using capacitors for timing. Caps take time to discharge thus higher value caps and more of them provide longer door open time. Door close buttons on older equipment function in such a way that when pressed they "short out" the caps thus canceling the timing and the doors close immediately. New elevators are all software driven and buttons addressed via serial link networks. To have a door close button to shorten door time it only needs to be turned on by a parameter in the controller. Usually the customer decided if they want Jo public to have control over having the doors close faster.

I agree with anonymous about independent mode (mostly used on freight elevators) where door stays open unless you keep close door button depressed, but my understanding of fire service mode is that door stays closed until fireman presses open door button, and rapidly shuts if fireman lets go of open door button. This feature can save the life of the fireman if there is a raging fire behind the door.

In response to both building lobby security guard, and anonymous re: independent mode:

As someone with both construction experience and experience in the fire service, I can tell you both that you're both correct.
The door open/close buttons are there for running in fire service mode, and independent mode. In fire service mode the door does stay closed untill the door open button is held down.

The same is true in independent mode (freight use) as far as the door close button goes. The door will remain open until someone holds the door close button to shut the doors and send the elevator on it's way.

If the buttons work when they're not in independent/fire service modes, it's just up to the building manager, or elevator installer as far as the buttons function goes.

O.K. I have also been in the elevator business for 50+ years. All the above answers are correct. Because the only standard for the "CLOSE" button use, is written in the National Code, for "Fire Control Recall". And that rule does not apply during normal operation. So the answer is that anything is possible, depending on the age, make, city, size (how tall) and decision of the owner. What is totally not true however, is "holding the close button and the lobby button at the same time, will express the elevator down without stopping..

I will say as an expert on elevators, It depends on if the building owner wants it to work. It can be programed to shut the door, or shorten the time. like for example at murray state, if you push door close, they close 4 seconds later. Schindler elevators typically only use the door close on fire service while MOST dover and ThyssenKrupp elevators, the door close works instantly, Also true with SOME otis, again it all depends on what the building owner wants. If you watch some of the elevators i have filmed on my youtube channel you will find i come across many that work and many that dont. some elevators, pressing the floor works the same as the door close.

When I videotaped the elevator at 5001 Yonge Street Office Building, I had to turn on my camera before I got in the elevators. I stepped into the elevator with open doors and an operator was on board. Her name was Marsha.
She actually let me push the button, and when I did, the elevator started to go. The doors were closed when it was moving very fast. The elevator went from the ground floor to the second floor, passing the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth floors, and on with the seventh, and twelve more floors, until finally...if you could believe it...we have most likely and not surely come near the nineteenth floor of the building.
The doors opened, and we suddenly got out! How was that meant to deal with my elevator filming? People could not talk to me! There was a two speed door elevator going up to 20. It was either locked or turned off so we rode a different elevator in the bank down to the lobby. When I got off, I turned my camera completely off by pushing the button that said "Power." Suddenly, this trip actually came out alive!

This was taken back in December of 2010.

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