For most, heading up a flight of stairs without assistance is something that is taken for granted. But for people who lose the ability to use the stairs independently due to a health or age-related condition, having a stairlift installed can mean the difference between staying in their own home or being forced to move. A stairlift is a mechanized chair that travels on rails which are installed on the surface of the stair. Most stairlift motors operate with a rechargeable battery which powers the chair up and down, and left in a recharging position when not in use. Available in various styles and with customizable options, there are several important factors that people should consider when shopping for the most appropriate stairlift model. Making a well-researched decision about a chairlift will not only give the user years of reliable usage from their investment, but could save them both time and money.
Location of the installation
Before arranging an initial consultation with an installer, it’s important to be familiar with the location of the stairlift installation.
- Is it an indoor or outdoor installation?
- Does the staircase curve around or is it a straight configuration?
- Will the stairlift travel along more than one flight of stairs?
The configuration and length of the staircase will not only determine the complexity of the installation, but will be the primary factor in the total price of the stairlift. The staircase length and the amount of turns on the staircase will be the factors an installer will first consider. A straight staircase, without any turns or landings, will involve the least amount of design, the least amount of labor to install, and will have the quickest turnaround time between ordering and installation. The width of the staircase may narrow your choices; some stairlift models may not accommodate a rider in a narrow, winding staircase. Outdoor models feature weatherproofing components that make it a little more expensive.
Stairlift installations will leave their mark on the house: the track supports are secured to the surface of the stair with large bolts. An installation can be made on carpeted stairs, but existing stairlift installations should be temporarily removed for the placement of new carpet. Installing a stairlift is a major addition to a home, but it is not a permanent structural change -- stairlifts can be removed by professionals when they are no longer needed. Although some may be discouraged by the aesthetic change a stairlift installation will have on the home, the addition should be viewed as an investment that can greatly improve its user's quality of life by giving him or her the freedom to move around.
The user’s mobility determines the model and other options
In addition to the staircase itself, the health and abilities of the user will determine which stairlift model is most useful. Though reputable dealers should be able to address any and all specific needs, it’s a good idea to self-diagnose which of the following elements are the most important:
Weight: Chairlifts have a maximum weight capacity -- if the user’s weight is greater than the maximum, a model with a greater capacity may be available.
Seating Position: A user with back problems or one who is unable to bend their knees to position themselves in a seated position should inquire about a model that allows them to ride in a standing position.
Adjustability: This refers to the stairlift’s ability to not only conform to the size of the user, but to be able to be folded up when not in use.
Remote Control: The ability of the chair to be operated via remote control is helpful not only for caregivers if the user is unable to operate the stairlift, but also allows the chair to be positioned out of the way when not in use.
Safety: All stairlifts will come with a seatbelt, but additional harnesses may be available if the user requires an alternative method to support them.
Proceed with a reputable installer and place the order
Though the internet is rife with videos and suggestions claiming than any halfway competent handyman can install their own stairlift with minimal fuss, we highly recommend that consumers not attempt to do so. Many things can go wrong or get damaged during an incorrectly performed installation, especially if the person doesn’t have previous experience; and most manufacturers won’t sell replacement parts to anyone other than licensed installers or dealers, further complicating the situation. This is exacerbated when the stairlift in question is curved or has a landing.
ConsumersAdvocate.org has compiled a list of stairlift companies that can meet many different needs and deliver a successful installation. Local installers will often offer stairlifts from more than one company, though some manufacturers have a direct-to-customer model that employs its own salespeople and installers. The process begins with scheduling a consultation, where the installer takes initial measurements of the staircase and explains the options most suited to the user. After these measurements are taken and the specifics sent to the stairlift engineers, the installer will present a quote to the customer. Accepting the quote usually involves placing a deposit before proceeding with the order. If a curved stairlift has been ordered, the custom work may require several weeks of production time before the installation can be scheduled; straight rail installations may take less than a week.
Don’t be afraid to price shop -- if there are multiple dealers in your area, get price quotes from different companies and compare their various features, reputations, and prices.
Installation, use, and maintenance
Installation involves fastening the rails to the staircase and attaching the chair mechanism to the rail. Modern stairlifts are very user-friendly: the start, stop, and charging positions are all programmed by the installer. Although user operation of a stairlift involves sitting properly in the adjusted seat and toggling the control to move up or down, being completely familiar with the stair lift's operating procedures will prevent the rider or others from being injured.
Although battery-powered or electric-driven motors are sophisticated pieces of machinery, there is usually very little maintenance required for either once a stairlift has been installed. For most configurations, keeping the rails clean and making sure the chair is left in a charging position when not in use, are all the user will be required to do. Over time, battery-powered stairlifts will need to replace the battery, as it will gradually lose its ability to hold a charge. Before choosing this type of lift, make sure to inquire with the installer about the battery’s life-expectancy, how much a replacement will be, and how much a service call will cost to replace it.
Compare warranties of the products and services -- most will include a one-year warranty and one follow-up visit, though some can extend warranties up to ten years. Expect the stairlift to need an annual maintenance visit if it is used heavily, though this frequency will be largely determined by how it’s powered. If the stairlift is not used regularly, service may only be required when the battery needs replacement.
Purchasing a stairlift is often a part of a larger project to make a house safe and accessible for an aging family member. As such, it can be an emotional time for the family as they adjust to a life that requires more involvement and care for their loved one. Being educated about the different options for a stairlift purchase can help alleviate some stress and insure that the most appropriate stairlift model and options are purchased.