Great Issues of the 21st Century: Does the Close-Door Button Really Work?

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It’s a classic situation: you’re in an elevator, jamming the door close button, only to discover the elevator gods are not with us that day, and the doors don’t obey our command. In fact, it seems like we’ve been in this situation so many times that many people even begun to question the legitimacy of the buttons themselves.  So what are we to think? Do the “door close” buttons actually work? 

This question that has plagued Bwog for too long, so, though the elevator expert was trapped at the time (guess where?), we dispatched dumbwaiter expert David Hu to test close door buttons around campus. For each elevator, we let the door close by itself “naturally” without pressing the close button and then again with pressing the close button. For consistency, the tests were conducted when no one walked on or off the elevators, and if possible, we averaged the times for multiple elevators in a building. Was it scientifically rigorous? Of course not, but scientists have far more important subjects to study.

Hit the jump for the (mostly) comprehensive report, which may surprise you. Or not.


Without pressing: 7.2s

With pressing: 6.0s

Verdict: The button seems to work, but the difference isn’t much. And with the slowness of the actual elevator, most of the times you may be better off just taking the stairs.  


Without pressing: 6.5s

With pressing: 5.2s

Verdict: This button also seems to work, but once again, the difference is negligible. If you’re going up one flight, why not just take the stairs?


Without pressing: 6.8s

With pressing: 6.9s

Verdict: That’s right, the button in Hamilton actually makes the wait longer. This is just a glitch that happened in averaging the times, but in all seriousness, the button here has no effect.


Without pressing (3 main elevators): 7.3s

With pressing (3 main elevators): 5.2s

Without pressing (side elevator): 8.2s

With pressing (side elevator): 6.7s

Verdict: The button works on both elevators, but you may want to opt to wait for one of the main three.  


Without pressing: 7.5s

With pressing: 6.5s

Verdict: The button cuts your total travel time by one second; so if it takes longer than one second for you to get out of your corner of the elevator, don’t bother.  


Without pressing (main elevators): 10.4s

With pressing (main elevators): 6.9s

Verdict: Press the button. It will make a difference. (Insider’s secret: the left elevator’s doors close significantly faster than the right one) 


Without pressing (North elevator): 5.8s

With pressing (North elevator): 4.3s

Without pressing (South elevator): 7.5s

With pressing (South elevator): 5.3s

Verdict: Definitely make the effort to press the button, especially if you’re on the South elevator.  


Without pressing: 5.9s

With pressing: 5.2s

Verdict: By the time you make the decision to press the button, you would have probably already lost the time you would have saved by pressing it.  


Without pressing (North elevator): 8.0s

With pressing (North elevator): 7.9s

Without pressing (South elevator): 6.8s

With pressing (South elevator): 6.5s

Verdict: Don’t bother pressing the button; you’ll barely even notice a difference. 


Without pressing (North elevator): 5.6s

With pressing (North elevator): 5.4s

Without pressing (South elevator): 6.4s

With pressing (South elevator): 5.3s

Verdict: Sorry Northies, the South elevator seems to be better than the ones on the other side of the hall. Again. 

John Jay

Without pressing: 6.3s

With pressing: 5.9s

Verdict: Keeping in mind that the elevators travel at an abysmal speed and are generally packed, even though it will barely make a difference, pressing the close button may be the only thing to save you from misery.  

East Campus

Without pressing: 8.5s

With pressing: 7.2s

Verdict: Press the button if you wish. Especially if it’s past 2 A.M. and you need to get back home as fast as you can to bid your bladder’s calling.  


Without pressing: 5.0s

With pressing: 3.9s

Verdict: If you really want to save the 1.1s, go ahead and press. (Insider’s secret: The left elevator was actually the fasted one tested on campus with a door close time of 3.4s after pressing the button.) 


Without pressing: 6.5s

With pressing: 6.5s

Verdict: It definitely seems like the door close buttons don’t work here. Is there really anything good about Wien?  

Final verdict

More often than not, the door close buttons indeed do not work, or at least they don’t make much of a difference in total travel time. But there are those tiny glimmers of hope, most noticeably in Mudd, Carman, and Furnald. Still in most cases, it’s a matter of saving under a second, which may or may not be worth the effort, depending on who else is in the elevator, your destination floor, and what awkward social situations that may entail. Make of the evidence what you will, and happy pressing!

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  1. Anonymous  

    According to an elevator expert in this fascinating article in the New Yorker, the buttons are there for purely psychological reasons. They only work for the fire department.

  2. similarly...  

    The "press button to cross street" buttons that are located on some street corners don't work either.

  3. the forgotten dorm  

    Nussbaum... though I've done no official testing, the button seems to make a significant difference (at least on one of the tem).

  4. I think  

    the close door buttons in Schapiro elevators also work pretty well, but you guys didn't test them : (

  5. wow  

    someone actually did this..

  6. what about  

    the open door buttons? Someone in an elevator once told me that neither the close door or open door worked, but I swear I've opened an elevator door at the last minute for someone by pressing the open door button.

  7. scherm  

    just because I dealt with this last week, and said to my bemused elevator companion, "I guess they really don't work," thinking of the nytimes article quoted above, the button in schermerhorn (extension) doesn't seem to make any difference whatsoever.

  8. Wien  

    Close-door function in Wien elevators definitely work. Not sure how your scientist f'ed it up.

  9. Yay!  

    Long ago, I lived in Schapiro. Those were the happiest elevator rides of my life.

  10. yes.  

    epic post, bwog. but i always hit the door close button in the hopes i can be a douche and secure my own elevator.

    and of course the door open button works. how is that even a point of contention?

  11. wien  

    where is wien anyway?

  12. Broadway  

    The ones in Broadway are very much worth pressing. God I loved those elevators.

    In a related note, whether or not it's true, it seems that in Broadway, if you are in the elevator and hold the 'door close' button, it will skip other floors where someone may have pressed the button and go straight to your floor.

    Not sure if that's actually true, but it worked for me for 2 years without fail.

  13. Elevator Nerd

    The close door buttons definitely do work in most elevators both on and off campus. They are especially useful in freight elevators where the doors tend to take a long time to close naturally to accommodate people moving things in and out. In some elevators you can hit a certain combination of buttons (ie Door Open+Door Close+Desired Floor) to express to that floor skipping other calls or other floors selected. This is used in emergencies when no firefighter or maintenance key is available.

    Also note that in a lot of large buildings the doors will naturally close faster if there is another call for the elevator, whether it be another floor selected or a call on another floor. Similarly, idle elevators wait on different floors at different times of day to better serve the usual traffic flow, and they will wait longer on their "home" floors to close the doors.

    There is a lot more to elevator design than most think, but most of it is not really applicable to smaller Columbia buildings. I read a lot about it when I was a kid and wanted to get good at SimTower...

  14. Another Nerd

    Maybe they've fixed the Lerner elevators, but aggressive use of the close door button is the only way to go in those god awful death bins. What's worse is waiting for the damn thing to stop at every floor with the doors open like some slackjawed dumb fool ogling a naked girl and knowing it because you can hear that annoying voice every time it stops (thanks open air atrium!) Seriously people, if you're in a Lerner elevator, please hit the button, for everyone's sake.

    BONUS SECRET: On some elevators, the door close button is useless BUT if you press a floor button (e.g. the floor you're trying to get to) the doors immediately close.

    That one's on the house, kids.

    • You'd think  

      With all those administrative offices they'd have upgraded those damn death-traps.
      Oh, and if you've ever had the pleasure of moving large unwieldy theater sets, it's fun frantically reaching for the open door button when the elevator doors try to crush you, obstacles be damned.

  15. Best  

    Comments I've read in faith in Bwog commenters is restored!

  16. Yay  

    I'm so glad you guys did an article on this! What about Barnard dorms now?

  17. what about harmony?  

    does harmony hall have elevators?

    where is harmony by the way? been trying really hard to find it no one has really been helping me...

  18. we've got walkers.  

    nussbaum elevators don't close without the door close button. With the button, they close eventually. Just take the stairs if you live below the 6th floor... please...

  19. HAHA  

    "and of course the door open button works. how is that even a point of contention?"

    it just had to be repeated.

  20. Leif Pedersen-Diaz

    Generally, the buttons don't work, however, they do create a somewhat placebo effect.
    A through scientific study needs to be commissioned (with an NYC grant) to make a conclusive determination as to any therapeutic value that may be yielded.

  21. nussbaum  

    You should test the elevators in nussbaum which all seem to have an incredibly long delay before closing. The button there definitely works to cut down the time.

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