How to Design a Dumbwaiter


Thomas Jefferson used a dumbwaiter to transport goods between floors and Harold Pinter immortalized the handy device in his play "The Dumb Waiter." However, you don't need to be a president or a playwright to benefit from the convenience of a dumbwaiter. As you begin the design process, choose an area of your home or business that has about 20 inches of hollow wall space to enable installation of the dumbwaiter box and pulley system. The wall space must be clear of loose wiring and plumbing to accommodate the dumbwaiter safely.

Things You'll Need

  • Measuring tape
  • Corridor wall space
  • Measure the wall space on each floor to determine the placement of the dumbwaiter doors. The door size may vary between floors depending on the available space. Measure from the floor to the desired door base first, then measure up to determine door height. It's best to have the door base be level with your hip, but set it to be level with your waist if you have small children in the house to prevent them from reaching the door opening.

  • Measure the wall to determine adequate space for the width of the door. The standard size for the storage compartment of a dumbwaiter is 20 inches, and the door should be wide enough to accommodate a tray of food or a pile or laundry.

    The final measurement for the door space should be slightly larger than the width and height of the dumbwaiter storage space, to account for a door frame that will secure the door and its hinges.

  • Determine if your dumbwaiter will be powered by an electric motor or operated by hand. Hand-operated pulley systems require the operator to haul the load by pulling on an exposed rope. This is practical in private residences with only two stories. In larger buildings, an electric motor is more convenient, though installation and maintenance elevate the cost.

  • Choose building materials. Use lasting, rather than decorative, materials for the functional portion of the dumbwaiter, as it is hidden from view inside the wall. Aluminum and plywood are good examples of inexpensive materials. Choose a more decorative material for the door openings, which are visible. Use the door as an accent to your room design by applying an attractive wood stain or paint color.

Tips & Warnings

  • A pulley system for a dumbwaiter may include two wheels or more. It should support the dumbwaiter load even when it is not in motion to prevent the load from dropping. Electric motor pulley systems are built to maintain the load when the motor is stopped.
  • Some states conduct inspections on dumbwaiters in the workplace. Check with your state's department of labor to avoid fines.
  • Keep the doors to your dumbwaiter shut while not in use.
  • Never put people or pets inside the dumbwaiter.
  • Child-proof the dumbwaiter doors when living with children.

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  • Photo Credit old house image by Przemyslaw Koroza from
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