Gaining a basic understanding of stair lifts

by Editor, SeniorInsider | May 31, 2011

Are you currently considering adding stair lifts to your home? If so, you are not alone. The term “aging in place” refers to a person’s ability to continue to live in his or her current residence as he or she ages. This is a wonderful concept, but not always realistic. Sometimes long-term healthcare issues get in the way, while other times it is mobility that becomes the issue. There is an option that can help with mobility if you happen to live in a multi-story home. If you live in such a home, would like to continue to live there, but are facing issues with navigating the stairs, then it is time for you to learn about mobility aid options.

What are Stair Lifts?


A stair lift is a lifting device that can move a person up and down stairs. In a residential setting it is most often a chair that is mounted to a track that attaches directly to the stairs. The chair runs up and down the track. The lift is powered by electricity or by rechargeable battery, but does not require special electrical work in order to operate.

There are stair lifts that are designed for use indoors, as well as types that are specially sealed against the elements in order to be used outdoors. An outdoor lift can be used indoors, but a lift designed for indoors should not be used outdoors.

Stair Lifts for Different Staircases


Just as there are different types of staircases, there are different techniques for installing stair lifts to match. While many staircases are straight, and go directly from one floor to the next, this is not always the case. If you have something other than a straight staircase, it can complicate the installation of a stair lift, though it can be done.

A straight staircase is the easiest for installing stair lifts. The track is installed directly to the stairs and then the chair is attached to the track. In fact, this type of installation is considered simple enough that many homeowners are able to complete the installation themselves.

Curved staircases are a bit more difficult. Some have a rounded curve to them that spans the entire length of the staircase. While considered in the curved family, an L-shaped staircase can be thought of as two straight staircases with a turn or landing in between. This L-shaped staircase can be treated as two straight staircases for installation purposes.

A truly curved staircase is more complicated and requires a custom-built stair lift. As no curved staircase is exactly the same as another, this style requires a contractor to measure and custom build the lift to the specifications of your stairs. In this situation, the track is sometimes attached to the wall instead of the stairs.

Different Options Include a Wheelchair Lift or Elevator


While stair lifts can be a great aid when your mobility is limited for climbing stairs, there are other options available. A residential elevator can be installed in a multi-story home. Considerably more expensive than stair lifts and requiring a shaft be created between levels of your home, an elevator does provide some features that are not available with a stair lift. For example, with an elevator, multiple people can be transported at the same time. In addition, if you have someone who uses a wheelchair or motorized scooter, they can be accommodated with an elevator, while a standard stair lift would not be sufficient.

The Middle Ground Between a Wheelchair Lift and Stair Lift


If there is a need for a wheelchair lift, there is an option that is middle ground between an elevator and standard stair lifts. Known as an incline platform lift, this device has a design similar to stair lifts, but instead of a chair, it has a larger platform upon which the wheelchair or scooter can rest while being transported up and down the stairs.

Installing a Wheelchair Lift vs. Stair Lifts


There are two primary differences between a wheelchair lift, also known as an incline platform lift, and standard stair lifts. The first is that there is a large platform that moves up and down the stairs. Because this platform must accommodate the weight of the wheelchair and the person, it must be of heavier grade materials than a standard lift. This means that the track is heavier and often is attached to the wall instead of the stairs. In addition, since the platform is large enough to function as a wheelchair lift it takes more space, and might not fit in smaller staircases.

Selecting the Right Stair Lifts for Your Needs


Assuming you have determined that you don’t need a residential elevator or a wheelchair lift, there are still decisions to be made relative to stair lifts. Even in the simplest installation on a straight staircase, you still must select the type of “vehicle” that you will ride up and down the stairs on.

The most common choice is a sitting lift, in which there is a chair that mounts to the track of your stair lift. It is normally just a plastic chair that you can sit on to be transported up and down the stairs. In most circumstances, there is a seatbelt to ensure your safety while in motion.

Another option is called a standing stair lift. It is just as it is named, in that you stand on a small platform as you move from floor to floor. While this type of lift is great for smaller spaces since it doesn’t take up as much room as the other options, it does require that you be able to safely stand on the small platform while the lift is in motion. While this might be realistic at first, you must consider whether it is the right choice long term as you age and your mobility situation changes.

The standing lift has more risk of falls and injury than the chair lift. You will need to evaluate your health needs against what your house can accommodate in order to make a decision on the best solution for your mobility assistance.

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