A Buyer’s Guide to Home Stairlift Systems

Depending on the type of stairway you have in your house, there are usually two types of stair lifts that are available – curved or straight.  The most simple to use and the most economical is the straight stair lift.  It is basically a product that will fit all straight stair cases, regardless of how many steps there are on the stair case.  However, because of the need to customize the stair lift for stairs that are curved, have more than one section, or unusual angles, these are more expensive and complex.

In American households, the typical outlet is a single phase, 120 volt outlet, with 15 amp and 60 Hz.  Stairlifts generally will require only this amount of power.  However, there are some that will need the amount of power supplied by a 220v or 20amp outlet.  Stairlifts do require a grounded outlet, however, so this is a consideration that you will need to discuss with an electrician.  Another thing to research is your state requirements for a disconnect switch that will be located near the stairlift.  A certified electrician will generally charge at least $150.00 for putting in the outlet that will supply power for your stairlift.

One difference among stairlifts you look at will be the weight limit.  This will not only apply to the person who generally uses the lift but also to guests and to the heavy items that sometimes get moved up the stairs by means of the stairlift.   The average model will support about 300 pounds but dealers usually have models capable of heavier duty to accommodate larger weights.

A thorough knowledge of stairlift controls is also needed.  Are there several persons using the stairlift?  If so, you might want to be sure that the lift has remote controls available.  There are also controls on the chair itself as well as the option of having controls that are permanently fixed at the top and bottom of the staircase.

Another important consideration in stairlift choice is length of warranty.  Be sure to ask what parts of the stairlift are covered.  Since the warranty frequently covers such things as the motor and gears, you may need to dig a little bit deeper and find out about the chair, movable parts, controls, and rails.  To find out what you should be looking for in a warranty, consider how many times during in an average week the lift will be used.  How long does the service department take to respond to service request?  If the answers do not satisfy your usage and expectations, you might want to look a little farther for the lift and/or the warranty.

When you are looking to save a little bit of money and decide to look into a used stairlift, there are some additional considerations to think about.  With a straight staircase, the type of rails might not be as much of a consideration, but stairlifts that are curved or angular were specifically made to go on a specific staircase, thus eliminating the ability to use it elsewhere.  When purchasing used equipment, you need to consider how well it was maintained and used.  Also find out if the warranty will transfer to a new owner if it is still under warranty.  Renting a stairlift is another possibility.

While Medicare does not fund the purchase of home stairlifts, the VA may.  If you are a Veteran, it will be worth your time to check if funding is available for your needs.  Your health insurance will may also provide funds for a lift.  A stairlift will usually cost the homeowner between $1,500 and 5,000 for the lift itself.  This does not include additional miscellaneous costs to have the stairlift installed.  These may run between $100.00 and 300.00 and they include permits, electrical work, and possible modifications to your existing structure.

Back up battery power is a very useful feature of some stairlifts.  During a power outage, a battery backing up your existing electrical power gives you opportunity to still move about your home freely.  While this feature will probably cost you more both upfront and on an annual basis (about $75.00 to replace the battery per year) it will buy you peace of mind, especially if your area is subject to frequent power outages.

While stairlifts are a great investment for those who need them, there are also some safety features to consider.  Your staircase must be free of clutter and pets will need to be kept away from the stairs while the lift is in use.  The sensors that come with some models will help detect obstacles on the stairs and it is essential that you thoroughly understand the various features included on the stairlift.  Check that the seat belt is easy to use because falling out of the chair through some unforeseen complication while using the lift is a danger.  The controls used by the operator should be pressurized so that the operator will have to apply the pressure needed to make the lift work.  This insures that he or she is fully in control of the lift each time they use it.

The chair on the stairlift will be controlled by one of two types of driving systems.  The Rack and Pinion system is built with a rack of teeth making up the rail along which the chair moves.  A gear controls the system so that the user gets an even ride up and down the staircase.  The lubrication maintenance required on this type of system is not hard but requires consistency.  The other driving system includes a chair that runs up and down a steel cable running the length of the rail.  These lifts may be cheaper but they don’t provide a ride as smooth and even as that provided by the rack and pinion system.