STAIRLIFTS: A COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE
At a certain point, many older adults (and sometimes younger people) lose the ability to walk up and down stairs. Mobility problems can stem from injury, weakness in the legs, loss of balance, poor eyesight and other conditions. For people who live in homes with more than one story, not being able to use the stairs can make aging in place difficult or even dangerous.
Fortunately, there’s a solution for this problem. A lift chair is an essential piece of medical equipment for a person who needs help walking up or down their stairs at home. Usually a lift chair consists of a mechanized chair that attaches to a staircase and transports the patient or resident up or down as needed, and they’re a boon to adults who have the ability to walk independently but can’t safely navigate steps.
This assistive technology is comes in a few different forms to fit the needs of the user. Variations in design ensure that even people with curved or unusual stair configurations, size requirements, and safety concerns can have a seat lift installed in their home. If you’re a disabled patient looking to bring a stair lift into your life, understanding the benefits of this medical equipment and getting acquainted with the various types can help you make the right choice.
How Do Stair Lifts Work?
A lift chair consists of a motorized chair with a lift mechanism that moves up and down a rail on a staircase. It’s typically designed to plug into an electrical outlet, but often the chairs are battery operated so they continue to work even during a power outage.
What’s the Difference Between A Stair Lift and a Wheelchair Lift?
A stair lift (sometimes called a seat lift) is a device that a person sits on to be lifted up the stairs. These devices look like seats that have been attached to a staircase. Wheelchair lifts are like miniature elevators, consisting of an enclosed platform that can accommodate one person inside a wheelchair.
Where Do You Need A Stair Lift?
Stair lifts can be installed in any location where there are stairs—inside or outside the home. They’re commonly installed in these locations:
Outside Stairways That Lead into the Home
Outdoor stair lifts are weatherproof, and they can be installed on porch railings, on decks, and even along concrete stairs. These specially designed products usually come equipped with waterproof vinyl seats for comfort and safety. Note that in some cases, seniors may need to have multiple lifts in order to access all points of the house.
Different Types of Lifts
Stair lifts come in different models to fit many stair formations. Each person must consider his or her own architectural space, lifestyle, and other factors when trying to decide which type of assistive technology is right for him or her.
Straight Stair Lift
Straight stair lifts are designed to go up and down straight staircases only. Straight lifts are trimmed to fit the staircase, so they can match the exact length of the stairs where installation is taking place.
Straight stair lifts are not custom made but are instead mass-produced. They’re also easy to ship and install. They cannot, however, accommodate landings, curves or turns—but being modular and easy to put in place makes them the most economical variety of lift chairs.
Curved Stair Lift
Curved staircases, stairs with landings, and any staircase that turns or varies from straight all require a custom-made unit to fit that particular staircase. Companies use a variety of special tools and methods to determine the exact curvature of the stairway, then install the railing to fit. Each unit requires a great deal of planning and design to ensure that the lift will fit the particular staircase where it is being installed.
Standing Stair Lifts
A standing stair lift, also known as a “perch lift,” is very much like a chair lift, except that it provides a smaller platform that mostly only allows the passenger to stand as they move up and down the stairs. They’re useful in a variety of different settings:
- Narrow Stairs: If a set of stairs is especially narrow, it may not be able to accommodate a seated stair lift. In this case, a standing stair lift can usually work provided that there is enough headroom for the user to stand erect on the platform.
- Health Conditions: Some health conditions make it difficult for people to bend their knees. Standing stair lifts make it possible to go up and down stairs without bending the knees and without sitting down.
- Conditions: Some people feel more comfortable standing than sitting, and therefore prefer standing stair lifts.
Perch lifts function in much the same ways as standard stair lifts, with the same features. Perch lifts have arm rests for balance and comfort, and braking mechanisms that can prevent the lift from running into someone or something on the stairs.
Choosing the Dimensions of Your Stair Lift
The dimensions of your particular stair lift will depend on the size of your staircase, whether or not other people also use the stairs, weight requirements, and other factors.
Typically, the people who benefit most from stair lift rental services are people who do not plan to be living in their home for much longer and people who are suffering from a temporary injury.
Narrow stairways may a need narrow chair stair lift in order to accommodate other people who walk on the stairs. If platform size is a problem, however, some stairlifts fold up to ensure others can safely use the stairs.
A typical stair lift will accommodate a person up to 300 pounds. For people who weigh more, heavy duty chairs can make using a stair lift safe and convenient. Heavy duty chairs can come in straight stair lift and curved stair lift models.
Seat Design Choices
Seat design can have a big impact on the safety of the rider. Different seat design choices include:
- Arm rests.
- Foot rest.
- Swivel seat.
All lift chairs should include seat belts. Modern features for different stair lifts also include a call/send button that can send the chair from one end of the stairs to the other, motion sensors that can prevent the lift from running into an object or person and braking systems to ensure safety.
The price of a stair lift can span a wide range depending on the length of the stairs, the complexity of the design, manufacturing quality, brand name, and other factors. For a standard unit that goes over no landings and does not negotiate curves, the straight stair lift cost will fall between $3,000 and $5,000 total. For a unit that must round a curve or turn on a landing, the stair lift price may fall anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000.
- Straight Stair Lift: $3,000-$5,000
- Curved Stair Lift: $10,000-$15,000
Most makers of stair lifts will offer a free estimate or price quote. To find out how much you will need to pay to have a lift chair installed in your home, contact a reputable stair lift manufacturer in your area.
Stair lift installation costs are usually minimal compared to the actual cost of the equipment. $70 per hour is a common rate for labor to install the lift mechanism and the lift itself, and installation usually takes up to around 4 hours. Deciding who should install the unit may depend on what type of stair lift is being purchased. People who purchase a custom-made stair lift should have their product installed by the manufacturer, while straight stair lifts can be installed by the manufacturer or by a handyman. When purchasing a new stair lift from a manufacturer, it’s common for manufacturers to include installation in the total cost of the unit.
In addition to the cost of labor, a power source will be necessary for the lift to function. If an electrical outlet is not available in the proper location, one will need to be installed by an electrician. Installation of an electrical outlet can cost anywhere from $200 to $750, depending on the circumstances. Contact an electrician to find out more.
In addition to the standard purchase and installation fees, some other fees and special circumstances can affect the price of the unit.
- DIY lifts. DIY lifts can be installed by a handyman or by a homeowner, and may cost as little as $1,000 for a new unit.
- Refurbished stair lifts. In some cases, a refurbished stair lift can save homeowners money. Refurbished stair lifts cost as little as $1,000.
- New batteries. If the batteries on your stair lift burn out and need to be replaced, new batteries typically cost around $15.
Longevity and Maintenance
Stair lifts are used on a daily basis, and like any expensive piece of machinery, may eventually begin to wear out. Taking care of your assistive technology may therefore involve performing some maintenance. If you’re new to lift chair ownership and are not sure how to take care of your machine, you can find a lot of this information in your owner’s manual. The owner’s manual will tell you how to clean your lift, what tools can be used for cleaning, how to perform small maintenance tasks yourself, and what problems must be addressed by a professional. Here’s a sampling of the types of DIY maintenance you might be in for if you install a stair lift in your home.
Clean the Chair With a Rag
Stairlift owners should use a dry microfiber cloth to clean the seat and controls.
Like any other expensive piece of equipment, stair lifts need regular tuneups in order to keep functioning properly. Have a stair lift tech come to your home on a regular basis, even if you’re not experiencing problems with the unit.
Tighten Nuts and Bolts
Check your chair periodically for loose screws, nuts and bolts. Make adjustments as necessary, but be careful not to over-tighten. Over tightening can lead to stripped screws.
Clean the Rails
The rails on your stair lift help the chair move up and down, and keep the machine functioning properly. If the rail becomes dirty, cleaning can become difficult. Use the rag to wipe off any dirt from the rail. Push a small corner of the rag into the rail and then run the rag up and down the rail with a screw driver to help.
In some cases, your chair’s rail may benefit from a light spray of lubricant. Use only lubricants that are specifically mentioned in your owner’s manual. Failure to follow the advice and suggestions in the manual can cause the warranty to be voided.
Warranties are available from most major manufacturers. Always check to ensure that the product you buy includes a warranty and that you won’t have to pay extra to get a warranty of a reasonable length. In some cases, the stair lift may be covered by the manufacturer’s warranty as well as the installer’s warranty. As soon as the unit is installed, be sure to clarify who supplies it.
Assuming your stair lift does come with a warranty, it’s important to know what is in the warranty to ensure that you do not accidentally void it. Some maintenance habits and installation practices can void a warranty, so if your lift is being installed in your staircase by a third party or by someone in your family, have them read the warranty before they begin.
As a general rule, Medicare coverage will not pay for a stair lift. For people who are insured under a Medicare supplemental insurance company, these insurance companies do not reimburse this expense or provide stair lifts either.
In some cases, Medicare will pay for a portion of a stair lift, if the lift chair has a special type of elevating seat. Usually these chairs are more expensive, however, and many people who buy stair lifts on a budget cannot afford this type of chair anyway, even if a portion of it is reimbursed by Medicare.
Medicaid coverages can vary by state, but many elderly people can get stair lifts in their home if it is medically necessary for aging in place. States that do provide stair lifts for people will do so through the program called Home and Community Based Services (HCBS). HCBS waivers can be used to cover the cost of installation and purchase of the unit. In addition to waivers from HCBS, stair lifts can also be acquired through regular Medicaid, but regular Medicaid may not pay for the full cost.
Renting Vs. Buying
In some cases, if it is believed that the lift chair is only necessary for short period of time, stair lift rental can be more cost effective than buying. Rental stair lifts require an installation fee, monthly service fee and a de-installation fee. Some rental stair lift companies will also take a refundable deposit. Typically, the people who benefit most from stair lift rental services are people who do not plan to be living in their home for much longer and people who are suffering from a temporary injury.
Standard stair lifts cost between $3,000 and $5,000, with a steep increase ($10,000 to $15,000) expected for units that curve.
When considering renting a stair lift from a company, it’s important to find a chair that has all the standard safety options such as a seat belt, braking system and swiveling chair. Calling around and comparing models can be helpful. Shopping around can also help save money, because it gives you the chance to compare costs.
For anyone living with a long-term disability and anyone who plans to live in his or her home for the foreseeable future, buying makes a lot more sense than renting.
Top Stair Lift Companies
Different stair lift companies have different strengths. When choosing the right stair lift company for your needs, consider all of the possibilities.
This company makes DIY stair lifts that can be installed for a much lower price than many of the competitors.
Harmar stair lifts are ergonomically designed, and products made by Harmar have a two-year warranty.
This company uses all of the latest technologies, including DC batteries and Smart-Level technology. Acorn outdoor and Acorn superglide models are also popular.
Stannah chairs are fully customizable. This company offers free on-site assessments and can help homeowners with unusual staircases.
Bruno straight stair lifts are popular because they take up little room on the staircase, which allows easy access to other people who might use the stairs in the house.
Grants and Financial Assistance
Some people may be able to get funding for a stair lift from outside sources. For example, the Veterans Administration provides stair lifts to qualifying veterans. Veterans must have a skills evaluation and a home visit in order to qualify. Some veterans also qualify for grants from outside entities to fund their stair lift.
In addition, some states will offer grants to fund seniors who want to age in place, and some grants can be used to buy a stair lift.
Finally, a program called Money Follows the Person can help seniors living in nursing homes transition back into their home or the home of a relative. Money Follows the Person may provide funding for aging in place accommodations like stair lifts and other mobility assistance devices.
There are many ways to go about getting a lift chair in your home. Doing product research, investigating funding, and working with a qualified stair lift installer can help you get the right product to meet your needs. Whether you’re a senior or disabled person or are suffering from a recent injury, a stair lift can help you stay mobile and safe in your own home.