Purchasing a stair lift is an important decision and should not be taken lightly.
Should you have any additional questions, please call us!
1. What is a Stair Lift?
A stair lift is a device that carries a seated passenger up or down a stairway. All stair lifts have certain features, such as:
- Stair lifts are electrically powered with on-board batteries. They are plugged into standard 3-pronged, 110 electrical outlets to keep the batteries charged.
- The seat is mounted on an aluminum or steel rail which is bolted to the stairs. No part of the lift touches the wall.
- The seat, arms, and footrest of a stair lift fold up and out of the way when the stairlift is not in use.
- They have safety features such as a seatbelt, they stop automatically if an obstruction is encountered on the stairs, and the seat swivels at the top of the stairs so the rider dismounts facing away from the stairs.
- They come with two remote controls, one for the top of the stairs and one for the bottom. If you’re at one end of the stairs and the stair lift is at the other, you can retrieve it with a remote control.
2. How do Stair Lifts Differ?
There are many makes and models on the market, each with different features. Here are some of the differences:
- Weight capacity. Can vary from 250-600lbs.
- Distance. The distance of each stair lift from the wall can vary from 11 inches to 16+ inches, which can be important in narrow stairways. Both the Handicare Simplicity and Harmar Pinnacle extend less than 12″ when mounted tight to the wall and folded up.
- Battery charging. Some stair lift batteries only charge when the seat is parked at the top or bottom of a staircase. Usually, if the seat is parked away from the top or bottom the batteries will drain. On other stair lifts, called “continuous charge” stairlifts, the batteries stay charged no matter where the seat is parked. If you would like to be able to move the seat out of the way after dismounting at the top or bottom, you need a continuous charge stairlift such as the Handicare Simplicity.
- Drive mechanism. Almost all stairlifts now have a steel rack and pinion drive system, although there are still a few cable driven models available. The Harmar Pinnacle has a unique, patented polymer worm gear drive system which requires no grease.
- Rails. Most straight stairlifts come with an extruded aluminum, anodized aluminum, or painted rail. Many curved stair lifts ride on a painted single tube (such as the FreeCurve) or double tubes (such as the Handicare 2000 and Harmar Helix).
- Seat belts. All stairlifts have seat belts but the seat belts on some models, such as the Handicare Xclusive, are retractable.
3. What Options are Available on Stair Lifts?
Different stair lift models offer different options. These options are available with some, but not all, models:
- Zero Intrusion. Often needed when there’s a door at the top of a staircase. A stair lift rail normally extends at least 6 inches past the nose of the upper landing, so the seat is high enough off the floor for the passenger to safely dismount. If the door is less than 6 inches from the top of the steps, the rail may become obstructive. A Zero Intrusion option rail ends at the nose of the upper level, so it doesn’t obstruct a doorway. This option is only available with the Handicare Simplicity.
- Power swivel seat/footrest. Some models, such as the Handicare Xclusive, offer these options for customers who have difficulty swiveling the seat or folding the footrest on their own.
- Folding rail at bottom. A stair lift rail normally extends past the nose of the bottom stair about 12″, almost touching the floor. This can create a tripping hazard, depending on traffic flow. With a folding rail, the lower portion of the rail folds up and out of the way, either manually (Simplicity), automatically (Handicare 1000) or mechanically (Pinnacle).
- Power sliding rail. An alternative to a folding rail, a power sliding rail automatically slides up as the seat approaches the top of the stairs, eliminating any tripping hazard at the bottom and visa-versa. This option is available only with the Handicare Simplicity. Various models offer seating options such as different materials, sizes, styles and colors.
4. What Factors Should be Considered when Purchasing a Stair Lift?
There are several important factors to weigh when purchasing a stair lift:
- Cost. Stair lift prices vary widely from dealer to dealer, even for the same model, so it would be wise to call us before purchasing a stair lift. Generally speaking, a new straight stair lift will cost anywhere from $2,600 to $5,000 installed. Custom curved stair lifts start around $8,500+. Refurbished straight stair lifts cost about $1,000 less than new stair lifts. Unfortunately, Medicare does not cover stair lifts and private insurance policies rarely apply. Be sure the price you are quoted includes installation and determine whether your dealer will repurchase and/or remove the stair lift when it is no longer needed. Warranty. Different manufacturers offer different warranties on their stair lifts. Don’t hesitate to ask for details, which vary widely. The Handicare Simplicity and Harmar Pinnacle come with lifetime warranties on the drive train.
- Aesthetics. Some stair lifts are more attractive, more comfortable, quieter and ride smoother than others. The best way to know what you’ll be getting is to inspect and test the product you’re being offered. You are welcome to visit our showroom and check out our floor models at any time.
- Manufacturer. Some stair lifts are more dependable and may be better suited to your needs. It’s a good idea to purchase from an independent dealer who carries multiple brands. Checking a manufacturer’s reputation on the internet can be an eye-opener.
- Service. Prompt service is critically important to those who depend on their stair lifts. Ask how quickly you can expect to receive service down the road. At Lifelong Stairlifts, customer service is our top priority!
5. What Factors Should be Considered when Installing a Stair Lift?
Several decisions must be made when installing a stair lift:
- Which side of the stairs? With a straight stair lift, a decision needs to be made whether to install the lift on the right or left side of the stairs (looking up from the bottom). With a curved stairway, the question is whether to install the stair lift on the inside or outside of the turn. The primary objectives are to minimize the risk of someone tripping over the rail and maximize space available to others. To carry the seat to the correct height off the floor for mounting or dismounting, the rail normally extends beyond the nose of the upper landing and beyond the nose of the bottom step. Ideally, one wall or the other extends beyond the top and bottom of the stairs so a stair lift mounted against that wall will pose no tripping hazard at either the top or bottom. Otherwise, you might position a vase or other decorative item next to the extended rail or purchase a stair lift with a zero intrusion, folding rail or sliding rail option.
- What to do with the existing railing? Since the stair lift is secured to the steps and touches nothing else, one option may be to leave the bannister where it is, even if the stair lift is being installed on the same side of the steps. When this is done, the stair lift may have to be mounted a bit further from the wall than would otherwise be the case. Other options are to put the stairlift and railing on opposite sides of the stairs or remove the railing altogether.
- Electrical. A stair lift needs to be plugged in to keep the batteries charged. Extension cords cannot be used. Therefore, a standard 3-pronged 110 wall socket is needed within about 12 feet from the top or bottom of the stairs, preferably on the same side.
- What if there is a door at the top of the basement steps? If the door is close enough to the top step, the stairlift rail may prevent the door from closing. If so, the door may have to be removed or a Simplicity with the Zero Intrusion option may be required to keep the door operational.