The Great Elevator Button Debate: Part II

Does the door close button in your elevator actually work? In Trapped In An Elevator, one expert said the button was a sham. But after viewers wrote to us disputing that, we decided to run a little citizen science experiment. Dozens of our blog readers and Facebook fans chipped in by putting their favorite elevators to the test, using stopwatches to time the elevator doors with and without a press of the door close button. (Catch up with Part I of this series.)

Here's our own contribution to the debate. Take a look.

So, is the button a total fake? Not necessarily. First, based on reports from our readers, some elevators really do have working door close buttons. Plus, we didn't consider every possible scenario in which a rider might press the button. What if she'd been holding the door open button for a while before pressing the door close? What if a stream of passengers had entered the elevator? What if she'd sent the elevator up to a new floor? What if the elevator was operating in a manual or emergency mode? We only tested one particular scenario in one particular elevator.

More on our research methods: In our first stab at this experiment, we used two side-by-side elevators (we called them A and B) in our sister building at 10 Guest St. Our plan was to open the doors simultaneously, then have the rider in elevator B press the door close button while the rider in elevator A just waited it out. But when we switched the conditions, we learned that even elevators in the same bank aren't necessarily identical: Door close button or no, elevator B always closed faster than elevator A. (Employees of 10 Guest: If you're running late, take the elevator on the left.)

So we took a different tack, and ran the experiment on a single elevator, using the video to measure the time that elapsed from the moment the doors opened to the moment they closed again. The doors bobble a bit on both ends, contributing to our experimental error, but we're not reporting our results to the microsecond here.

So, now we know. When we're riding up to the NOVA offices from 10 Guest Street, the door close button isn't going to get us to work any faster. But, as every kid knows, sometimes it's fun just to push the buttons.

User Comments:

The trick is to keep pressing the button. It might not make the doors close any sooner, but at least it helps you pass the time while avoiding eye contact with anyone else on the elevator.

Do you think we can get an elevator company to simply share either their source code, or at least psudo-code detailing how they've programmed their elevators to operate?

I've found with certain elevators you have to press and hold for a second or so for it to work too.

I've been in some where it must be ion a timer and did not seem to make a difference and others where the doors closed right away once I pushed it. Depends on how they have the elevator programmed and even that varies if it rush hour so to speak

The elevator at my dentist's office will not close until you press the close door button. At first I thought it was broken, but now it makes sense. Press the floor, once everyone's on, press close door.

I know I have been in an elevator where the buttoned work properly due to an embarrassing story.

Late one night I was taking an elevator from my room on the third floor to the ground floor. When I reached the elevators I found one just arriving with no one around (people often called the elevator before abandoning it for the stairs).

I stepped into the elevator and realized it was going up, apparently I had walked into an elevator which the previous person had called to go up, so the elevator honored the next waiting call before my request for the bottom floor.

When I realized I was going in the wrong direction, the door was beginning to open. Being impatient and a little irritated, I quickly lurched to press the door closed button. Just as I reached the doors were opening to reveal an excited young woman taking a swift step forward into the elevator.

As our eyes made contact I had just hit the button, and the door began to quickly shut. She made a last ditch lunge and the elevator door slammed her promptly on the should stopping her in her tracks. The door was sent back open letting her into the elevator for an uncomfortable apology filled ride back to the lobby.

So I know this button worked, and I also understand why incidents like this have probably lead to their discontinuation.

I always use this button.
When I'm in a hurry, I don't want to wait for the doors to close on their own.
I have never seen an elevator where it doesn't work...

The elevator in my house uses a crank so I don't have the luxury of a button.

I work on elevators for a living. Some elevators will cancel the door hold open timer, some elevators have the button only there for use on Fire Service when a firefighter has placed the car in a special mode with a key.

you are forgetting about "Fire Department Emergency Override Mode", the button is vital for this scenario ("Everybody Aboard? Here we go").

how about express mode... press & hold door close then press the floor you want.

the elevator in my apartment bldg has a functional door close button. the door closes the instant you press it.

They just redid the elevators in one building at my workplace, inactivating the Door Closed buttons in the process. I asked someone from Operations about it and was told the ADA required the elevator to stand open for eight seconds before reclosing.

As far as I can tell those elevators wait out the eight seconds and then will cheerfully close on you as many times as it takes for you to get fully on or off. So the door close button is now purely a stress reliever. (Unlike the next building over, where they still work and are now prized.)

My office is in the building with the slowest elevator in all of New York City. If the door close button didn't work, most of us would not get to work in the morning.

I used to work as a cable tv installer and as a result I have been in a very large quantity and variety of elevators - I was always in an incredible hurry.

Most elevator doors would close within a second or two of pushing and holding the 'Close Door' button, but you had to push and hold - just pressing it once did nothing.

Also, a large number of elevators would close their doors within a second or two if you pushed and held the button to select your desired floor.

A small number of buildings had frustrating elevators that would do nothing in response to the 'Door Close' button.

I would like to see this experiment repeated with the test subjects pushing and holding the buttons down instead of just pushing and immediately releasing.

I live in Hong Kong where it is common practice to immediately press the door close button upon entering the elevator. Its crazy - even if someone sees you walking up to the elevator, they will still often push the door close button before you get there.

I have never once been on an elevator in Hong Kong with other people where someone did not press the door close button in the lobby and immediately after other riders exited on each floor.

Okay I just had to make a comment on this whole "great elevator button debate". The Door Close button doesn't close the door any faster than it would regularly close.

I'm a mover for United Van Lines, and the door close button is simply used when the elevator is on SERVICE. It won't close unless you either hold down the floor number, or push the floor number and hold the close door button until the elevator moves.

Yeah, Express mode... Some work, some dont. Push door close + your floor and you fly direct to your floor, skipping the floors in between where people are waiting to get in! ;)

I agree with some others. The elevator close button is for when the elevator is in manual (service) mode. When someone has booked an elevator for moving purposes the door stays open until the door close is pushed. Probably what makes people think it closes the door quicker is that different elevators have a different wait response time, giving the illusion pressing the close button sped up the process. Whats even more odd than pushing the door close button to no avail, is pushing the call button in the lobby when it is already lit. Imagine if that made the elevator come quicker. Imagine the people on the elevator as it accelerates every time someone pushes the lit call button.

At work we have a really old elevator (from the 60s I think). Until very recently, ours was wired so that pressing the *current* floor button acted as a close door button (otherwise it took about 10 seconds before the door closed on its own.) I don't know why this was disabled, but since the last time the repair guy worked on it pressing the current floor button doesn't appear to do anything.

Wow, You guys have a lot of spare time.
I am an elevator mechanic and have worked on a lot of different make elevators from various vintages.

Most of you are right, and most of you are wrong. With modern computerized elevators I can make the door close button behave however I want by just changing the programming.

The main purpose of the button is for fire service and independant sevice operation. It can also be made to work on automatic to close the doors early. If you have a door hold button, and you push door hold, pressing door close will cancel the timer to close the door right away.

As for older relay logic elevators (pre 1980s), they have been wired and rewired in so many diffent ways that just about anything is possible.

The bottom line is that if you have fire service or independant service, the door close button works during this mode. After that, not all elevators are alike. Just because your elevator works one way doesn't mean the next elevator will work the same.

At the Washington Plaza Hotel in our nation's capital, the elevator doors close within 2 seconds of pressing the "door close" button. Normally, it takes 4-5 seconds. I tested this out several times and the evidence suggests the button does work.

I'm an elevator mechanic and to be honest the door close button was actually setup for fire fighters using the elevator in fire service mode. The purpose of the door open and close buttons in this mode is so that the fire fighters have complete control of it in case flames are outside the door when they arrive at a floor. They can then open the door by holding the button til it's fully open or let off and the door will immediately close. Once the door is fully open it will stay open and only close while holding the door closed button until fully closed to go to another floor. In normal mode door open buttons always work but close buttons are programmed to work only with certain types of controllers, otherwise the door is on a timer and you've gotta suck it up and wait.

Gee...I know of elevators (in the garage where I work) that the door takes a long time to close UNLESS YOU PUSH THE CLOSE BUTTON. It's obvious that it's not an illusion. The elevator is DEAD SLOW but you can get places faster if you push close. Pushing open when you arrive does not help. On the other hand, I don't know if close does anything in the elevators inside the's not so obvious.

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