If you have difficulty walking up and down your stairs, you are not alone. Each year, thousands of people search for a solution to the problems posed by the trouble they have using the staircases in their homes. While the decision to install a stairlift is sometimes a complex one, when compared with the alternative or living on one level of their home or moving to a new residence, many people have found it to be their preferred option.
The idea of selecting a stairlift and arranging for its installation may be daunting at first; however, these units can typically be installed in just a few hours. This guide can help explain what you need to consider when choosing a stairlift for your home.
Who Should Use?
Stairs present a challenge, as well as a potential danger for the elderly, disabled, or those who are recovering from surgery who may be struggling with mobility. Falling down the stairs is a leading cause of injury among elderly people, and installing a stairlift can help to reduce the risk of falls. Not only will a stairlift provide a safer way to move throughout the home, but these units can also instill a sense of freedom, self-sufficiency, and independence as they allow users to have access to the entire residence.
Types of Stairlifts
When shopping for a stairlift, the design of the staircase will be a major factor in determining the type of stairlift needed. While the main purpose of the unit is to move an individual between different levels of a home, it goes without saying that not all residences have the same stairway design.
In general, stairlifts are best-suited for straight-rail staircases as they are the easiest models for most stairlift manufacturers to accommodate. As such, they will also be the cheapest. However, those who need a stairlift for winding stairway are in luck as several models in this design are available. Keep in mind that curved rail staircases may require meticulous measurements, individual fittings, and will likely incur additional material costs and a higher price tag.
Standing stairlifts and perching stair lifts are designed for narrow staircases where a regular stairlift would not fit due to the narrow width. These units are only suitable for those who can stand for several minutes at a time. While there is a rail to hold onto for stability and security, a seated chair may be the best option for those who cannot tolerate standing for short periods of time.
The difference between the perching and standing stairlift is that the former offers support for the buttocks to help to take the weight off of the user’s legs. Both models share the same features as traditional, seated stairlifts in that both the rails and the footrests fold up.
Costs of Stairlifts
There is a lot of variation among manufacturers in terms of the actual prices of their stairlifts. Prices will depend on what kind of stairlift you wish to purchase, the length of the stairway, whether it will be installed on a curved or straight staircase, features, and upholstery.
Other factors that can influence the price include installation costs, whether the stairlift is new or reconditioned, and whether the purchase of the stairlift qualifies for a rebate or government assistance. Prices for a traditional stairlift for a straight staircase can Cost up to $12,000, but the more elaborate models can ADD between an additional $2,000 and $5,000 or more. For this reason, it is important to carefully compare features, prices, and manufacturers before making a decision about a particular style.
For the budget-minded, reconditioned stairlifts may be the best option. These models are refurbished and are guaranteed to work as new. However, it may be smart to make sure that a warranty is available to cover the cost of services or repairs if necessary following installation. Additionally, if a stairlift is desperately needed but cash is tight, several companies have flexible payment plans or financing available to help those who qualify.
Features to Consider
There are a number of features to consider before purchasing a stairlift:
- Weight capacity: Most stairlifts can hold up to 250 pounds. However, other models are available for those over this weight limit, and these styles feature an increased seat width and a stronger support system.
- Standing lift: This feature allows the user to stand up instead of sit down on the stairlift. It can be beneficial for those who cannot bend their legs to place their feet on the footrest or for narrow stairways.
- Seat depth: If the user is using a wheelchair and requires more seat stability or if he or she is over six feet tall, a deeper seat should be considered.
- Track lengths: Each stairlift is custom-fit to the size of the staircase, and the track lengths can range from 16 feet to 45 feet or longer, depending on the model of the unit and whether the stairs are straight or curved.
- Flip-up rail: This feature is available in a manual or power option and allows the bottom section of the rail to flip up out of the way when it is not in use, reducing a tripping hazard for those who may be walking past the stairs.
- Exterior package: An exterior package simply means that the stairlift can be used outdoors, but these stairlifts can be a challenge to operate in heavy rain or snow. These units are designed to sustain harsh weather conditions as the electronic components are better protected, and the components are manufactured out of a more resistant material.
- Hand-held remote control: The user can operate the stairlift with a wireless remote control device to “call” the stairlift to the top or bottom of the staircase.
- Keyed stairlifts: These units cannot be operated unless a key is in place and turned to the “on” position.
Advantages and Disadvantages
One of the most important advantages for stairlifts is that they allow the individual to remain in a home that he or she loves. Often, seniors or those with limited mobility are forced to move because these issues prevent them from living in residences with stairs; a stairlift eliminates this need altogether. Additionally, caregivers can also benefit from stairlifts as moving an individual up and down the stairs without any assistance can be dangerous for both involved.
Those who are physically-challenged and unable to leave their homes without assistance from others may feel helpless and trapped. The sense of freedom, independence, and emotional relief that stairlifts can provide is priceless as they are likely to once again feel self-sufficient and competent.
Arguably the biggest disadvantage to purchasing a stairlift is, in fact, the cost itself. While prices fluctuate depending on the actual model, features, and manufacturer competition, a stairlift can be a relatively pricely investment. However, renting or leasing a stairlift may be an option for those who cannot afford to purchase one outright, and installing a stairlift can save money in the long run because it can delay the transfer of a senior citizen to a housing community, which is often more expensive than living in the current residence.
The other disadvantage that potential buyers may wish to consider is the possible damage to the stairs when a stairlift is installed. For those with beautifully crafted wooden stairways, it may be difficult to see the railings modified or removed to make room for the stairlift. However, this minor cosmetic change is likely to be outweighed by the freedom and independence provided by the stairlifts for those who are I need of mobile assistance.
An installer will come to the home and evaluate the staircase and stairlift to ensure that the unit will properly fit and function as intended in the residence. After checking that the stairlift is the right size, the tracks for the stairlift are attached to the stairs using brackets that screw into the tread of the stairs.
The technician then installs the wireless call/send remotes, and fits the chair to the lift. The user will be asked to sit in the chair to test for sizing and proper fit. If needed, the technician will make adjustments to the safety belt, armrests, seat height, and footrest so that the stairlift is safe and comfortable.
After ensuring a correct fit, the stairlift is then attached to the wall via an electrical cord so that the on-board battery can charge. If the unit is battery-powered, it will continue to function should the home sustain a loss of electricity. The installer will then verify that the unit is functioning and train the user on the proper way to use the unit, as well as inform him or her of any additional features that may be available on that particular model.
Servicing and Repairs
Regular maintenance is important to verify that the stairlift is properly functioning. Suppliers recommend that a stairlift be inspected once every 12 months to ensure the safety of the unit. Most manufacturers will void their warranties if the stairlifts are not serviced by an approved dealer.
While there are sometimes simple solutions to stairlift malfunctions, most complications typically require some wiring expertise to correct. Problems such as beeping could indicate an electrical malfunction such as loose wire connections, or if the unit is making loud, grinding noises, there could be an issue with the track or the motor. If the unit is battery-operated and it is determined that the battery is no longer functioning, these parts can be easily obtained at any battery supplier, from the manufacturer, or even several major retailers.
Manufacturers of Stairlifts
The most well-known stairlift manufacturers include: Minivator, Savaria, Summit, Stannah, Access, Bruno, Acorn, Brooks, and Bison Bede. Before choosing a stairlift model, it may be better to first prioritize a list of the user’s needs and wants in terms of features to avoid feeling overwhelmed with all of the options that may be available. Each manufacturer is known for its own respective styles of stairlifts, and one may be better suited for your needs than others.
The following is an overview of the questions that should be considered when purchasing a stairlift:
- Is there adequate lighting at the top and the bottom of the stairs to ensure the user’s safety?
- Does the unit feature a “soft start” option for those with chronic pain rather than a quick, jarring start?
- Is the seat deep enough or high enough to accommodate the user?
- Are the stairs narrow? Will a standing or perching stairlift be required?
- Are the stair treads in good condition?
- Does the unit feature easy-to-use controls?
- Is a swivel seat available?
- Is a stairlift needed to accommodate a curved or straight stairway?
- Can the user easily and safely get on and off of the lift?
- What is the current height and weight of the user?
- Is a handrail available?
By now, you hopefully have a complete understanding of stairlifts and everything that must be considered if you are thinking about purchasing one of these units for your home or for a loved one. Stairlifts can help the elderly or those who have experienced a debilitating injury to be self-sufficient and independent which, for most people, is essential for their quality of life. However, deciding on a particular model can often be a complex and difficult decision, so it is important to carefully weigh all of the features, costs, and other factors before making your selection.