A mail chute is a chute in a large building designed to accommodate mail. Typically, mail chutes appear in especially tall buildings, where traveling to lower floors to find a mail box or mailroom could become onerous very quickly. Classically, mail chutes have several slots on each floor, located in places which are convenient for residents and users of the building. In many regions of the world, the classic mail chute has been replaced with a mail box located in the lobby of the building, forcing residents to venture beyond their floors for mail drop-off.
In addition to mail chutes, many tall building also have chutes for garbage, laundry, and other things, although some buildings have blocked off their historic chutes. In older buildings, these chutes reflect a period when the building offered services like laundering and grocery shopping, among other things. Residents of a building typically paid mandatory annual fees to have access to the services provided at the other end of the chutes, from trash collection to mail delivery.
In the modern era, garbage and mail chutes are usually the only remnants of the chute system which are still in operation. In order to send something in a mail chute, a resident or user typically needs to ensure that it has been properly stamped and sealed, although in a building which handles mail for only one business, mail may be dropped in unstamped and run through a franking machine before being sorted for delivery.
In addition to being used to drop off mail destined for locations outside the building, some buildings also allow internal delivery through a mail chute. In this case, sometimes two chutes are available to choose from, one for internal delivery, and one for external delivery. Internal delivery is usually offered for free as part of the mail sorting and delivery services package for the building. A mail chute may also be provided for local post within the city, with residents needing to go outside the building for out of town mail.
Due to concerns about the spread of fire, many cities have banned the construction of mail chutes in new buildings. Chutes provide a great chimney for draft, and historically fed vicious fires in some high rise buildings. Older buildings with mail chutes can continue to use their chutes, although many have sealed their chutes off because of the high volume of mail which must be processed, and because mail in general has become much more costly, making mail chutes difficult to operate in a cost-effective way.