This article has been updated to include new stairlift guidance and information for 2020 (originally published June 6, 2019).
Stairlifts (or “stair lifts’) are a cost-effective way to make your home safer and more accessible. Whether you’re aging in place, planning for the future or recovering from an injury, a stair lift offers access and sustainable independence in your home at an affordable price. Learn more about the different types of stair lifts, their benefits, stair lift installations, warranties and how to buy a stair lift in our complete stairlift buyer’s guide.
Table of Contents
An Introduction to Stairlifts
What is a Stairlift?
A Stairlift is a simple piece of accessibility equipment, designed to help people with mobility limitations get up and down their stairs safely. Key components of a stair lift include a chair, a motor and the fixed track they travels along. Stair lifts can be adapted to a variety of staircase types, including curved and outdoor stairs.
Stair lifts also include a number of convenience and safety features that make it easier (and safer) to use your stair lift. While the basic design remains relatively consistent, these features and the quality of the service provided represent the biggest differences between the various stair lift companies. Let’s take a deeper look at stair lifts and how they work.
Watch a video of a Stannah stairlift climbing a staircase.
A common question before buying a stair lift is whether or not it will fit on your staircase. That’s why the first step of our buying process is to schedule a free in home visit, where a Stannah stair lift expert will measure your stairs and get a sense of your needs. Nevertheless, if you are looking for technical specifications of our stair lifts, you can find details – such as height, width, depth and rail length – by reading our Stairlift Dimensions page.
How a Stairlift Works
Stair lifts employ a battery-powered rack and pinion drive system, constantly charged by a nearby outlet at the top or bottom of the stairs. This design allows the stair lift to carry its rated load up and downstairs. Safety features, like the over-speed governor and emergency braking system, ensure that the stair lift will never travel faster than it is supposed to. Typically, stair lifts travel at about 18 ft per minute.
The main power supplied by the electrical outlet helps the batteries maintain a full charge, so that your stair lift is ready to go at all times. However, the stair lift won’t overdraw from your electrical supply and the minimal output means there won’t be any significant impact on your electric bill. Want to know more? Check out this page to learn about what makes Stannah’s stair lifts so energy efficient.
In the event of a power outage, the batteries will continue to operate your stair lift for approximately 20 roundtrips. In this situation, you can usually save battery power by turning off an isolator switch when you aren’t using the stair lift. However, this is only recommended during an outage and it’s important to leave your stair lift switched on the rest of the time.
Replacing the Batteries
Stair lift batteries last between 1 and 5 years. Battery life depends on usage and how often the stair lift is left off charge. When it’s time to get them replaced, a professional technician (ideally a representative from the manufacturer or an authorized dealer) can service your batteries for you. Unfortunately, this isn’t something that you can do on your own, as these industrial batteries are stored within the stair lift’s carriage and require technical training to install. However, stairlift batteries are usually covered under an initial warranty or extended service plan.
Stairlift weight capacity depends on your staircase type and the model you need for your home. Straight stair lifts can carry heavier loads than curved stairlifts, which operate on a different track that has to adapt to the bends and turns of your staircase. Typically, you can expect weight capacities between 300 lbs. and 350 lbs. for straight stairs and 265-300 lbs. for stairs that turn.
Types of Stairlifts
There are three basic stair lift types: straight, curved and outdoor. Each model is suited to a different type of staircase and comes with a unique set of attributes and benefits. Let’s take a look at the different stairlift types, so you can figure out which is right for you.
Straight stairlifts are the most common type of stair lifts, as they’re designed for simple, straight-run staircases. Usually, these are between 12 and 16 steps, but every house is different and a straight stairlift can be installed on a staircase that’s up to 12 meters (39 feet) long! Thankfully, most staircases are much shorter than that and straight rails can be cut down to the precise length you need, making straight stair lifts are also the most adaptable and reusable type of stairlift.
Moving Straight Stairlifts
Since the rail can be cut down to fit on shorter staircases, you can re-sell or donate your stair lift, or simply take it with you if you decide to move. It is important to note that this doesn’t guarantee the new set of stairs will be wide enough for a stair lift and the track cannot be extended, if the new staircases is longer than the original.
Stairs that turn are a more complicated proposition than straight-runs. Fortunately, curved stairlifts can handle the bends and turns of almost any staircase. Typically, there are two sorts of curved stairlift: custom-made “bespoke” models and modular stairlifts.
Custom Curved Stairlifts
As the name implies, custom curved stair lifts are designed specifically for your staircase. After measuring your stairs during a free home survey, stair lift professionals will design a custom curved rail that can be manufactured from scratch for a snug fit on your stairs. Custom rails do take a bit longer to manufacture, but the fit on your stairs and the smoothness of the ride are second to none.
Modular Stair lifts
Alternatively, a modular stair lift rail is pieced together from an existing set of rail sections. With these pieces already in stock, a modular stair lift can be installed quickly, but it’s important to note that the installation won’t be as tight, and the ride can be somewhat bumpier. Still, some users might need a quicker installation or simply prefer the look of a modular design. The important thing to understand is that you have options!
Outdoor Stairlifts are just that: stair lifts designed for outdoor staircases. They provide access to backyards, gardens and even garage entryways. Outdoor models can withstand harsh weather conditions, including extreme heat and cold.
Usually, outdoor stairlifts are made with durable metal rails and strong plastic seats that can handle being out in the sun or exposed to winter weather. A protective cover and a closed rail system are also vital components to ensure that your outdoor stairlift can handle the elements. If you’re interested in an outdoor stairlift, make sure you ask about landing controls and a key lock system, so that you can store your stairlift safely.
While residential stair lifts make up the bulk of worldwide installations, many corporations and public buildings have opted for stair lifts to help visitors, employees and customers use the stairs safely. It’s important to note that stair lifts are not ADA compliant and so are more of a supplementary offering in commercial and public buildings. Still, it’s important to make sure that your commercial stair lift complies with local and state building codes. To that end, it’s good to establish a line of contact between the stair lift company and your local building inspector. Don’t worry too much, as most experienced stair lift companies have run into this situation before and likely have local contacts and the proper documentation at the ready.
Heavy Duty Stairlifts
Heavy duty stairlifts are stairlifts with a significant weight capacity (over 300lbs). While most stairlift companies don’t make this distinction, it’s an important question for many people. Typically, straight stairlifts have a higher weight capacity than curved models; so, if you have multiple staircases, it’s probably better to install on the straight-run staircase. If you’re concerned about weight capacity, simply ask the question. Most stair lift companies can accommodate higher weight capacity; it’s simply a matter of finding the right model for your needs.
Refurbished stairlifts are a great cost-saving option. These used stair lifts have been carefully removed and fully serviced by the manufacturer or a trusted local dealer. They undergo a thorough inspection and cleaning process, before they are resold at a discounted rate. Because refurbished stair lifts are pre-owned, it’s important to make sure that you’re working with a reputable company.
Buying a Refurbished Stairlift Online
Buying a second-hand stair lift online or at the local flea market comes with no guarantees; but working with a leading manufacturer or a trusted stair lift dealer ensures that you’ll get a functional stairlift that will serve you well for years to come. The best stair lift companies even carry warranties and service plans for their refurbished stair lifts. If you’re not sure if a refurbished stairlift would be right for you, don’t be afraid to ask! Refurbished stair lifts are more common than you might think.
Who Can Use a Stairlift?
So, now that we’ve covered the basics, the question becomes, “who can use a stairlift?” While most people can operate a stairlift, it’s important to make sure that you have the mobility required to get in and out of the chair safely. Let’s look at a few scenarios and see if a stair lift is right for you.
Typically, seniors are the group most associated with stair lifts. And, right enough, they are the leading demographic of stair lift users. It’s only natural that our mobility should decline as we get older and with so many seniors focused on aging in place, stairlifts provide an attractive alternative to moving or remodeling. For many seniors, their home is their castle. Some have even lived in the same house for decades, so, the prospect of picking up and moving can be hard. Stairlifts make aging in place a real possibility for these seniors, and their easy functionality and ergonomic designs help seniors save their physical energy for the rest of the day.
People with limited mobility
Of course, you don’t have to be a senior to use a stair lift, anyone with limited mobility can benefit. Stair lifts can help those with chronic conditions, degenerative injuries or even provide relief during a temporary recovery from surgery. The most important factor is being able to get in and out of the chair safely. Even if you struggle to sit down with your knees bent at 90 degrees, there are standing model or “perch” stair lifts that can accommodate your needs.
A Person Who Uses a Wheelchair
Those living with permanent disabilities and people who use wheelchairs might have a harder time using a stairlift, but it really depends on the situation. A stairlift is not a platform lift and cannot carry a wheelchair upstairs. So, for wheelchair users to operate a stair lift, they will need to have wheelchairs stationed near the top and bottom of the stairs. They’ll also need to be able to transfer from their wheelchair to the stairlift’s seat and back again. This can be done with help, but it’s better if the user can perform this task independently. Everyone’s mobility is different and the best way to find out if a stair lift will work for you is to stop by a local showroom and see for yourself.
Stair lifts are designed specifically for humans, but there’s no reason your pet can’t benefit from taking a ride! Cats and small dogs can easily travel up and downstairs with you on the stairlift’s footrest, while your older dog can save some energy, as he enjoys your stair lift’s comfortable seat. State and local codes prevent pet friendly modifications from being done to the stair lift, so you will likely have to help your pet get in and out of the chair. Still, pets are a part of the family and what dog doesn’t enjoy going for a ride?
Features & Options
Safety Features & Options
In addition to some of the standard features, many stairlifts can be supplied with options to make them even safer and easier to use.
Almost every stairlift on the market is equipped with safety sensors beneath the footrest and on the sides of the motorized carriage. This ensures that the stairlift will come to a gentle, but immediate stop if it encounters an obstruction.
Retractable rails are an optional feature for staircases with limited space at the bottom landing. The rail raises and lowers automatically as the chair rides up and down the stairs, clearing room for a door or walkway. This prevents the rail from becoming a tripping hazard or blocking an emergency exit.
Just about every major stairlift company carries models that fold up to save space on the stairs, when not in use. The seat and armrests usually flip up manually, but the best companies provide powered footrests. These usually include a button on the armrest that folds the footrest up and down, making it easier to get in and out of the chair and avoiding the need to bend over when folding the footrest (especially important at the top of the stairs).
Seat belt types
Quality seatbelt options can make a big difference for stairlift users. While the industry standard is a simplified “center-clasp” seatbelt (similar to a backpack strap), companies, like Stannah, go above and beyond with their seatbelt options. Our retractable seatbelt is mounted to the armrest and easy to grasp and fasten, even with arthritic fingers. The ‘Immobilizer’ seat belt prevents the chair from operating until the seatbelt is engaged. Lap-diagonal and five-point harness seatbelts provide extra restraint over the shoulders and, if needed, between the legs.
The slimline hand control is mounted to the armrest and allows you to use any part of your hand to operate the stairlift. Simply push and hold the control in the direction that you want to go to move your stairlift. If you let go, the stairlift will stop. The hand control is soft and ergonomically designed for those with limited dexterity. An alternative “rudder” style is also available.
The key lock feature prevents unauthorized use of your stairlift. Simply remove the key and no one else will be able to use the stairlift. When you’re ready to go, replace the key. If you aren’t concerned about others using the stairlift, you can leave the key in all the time.
Types of Seats
There are several types of stairlift seats to choose from. While it’s important to find something comfortable, you should also make sure that you select a seat with the practical features that will suit your needs. Wider chair arms provide extra space and have the added benefit of offering more leverage when you’re getting up from the seated position. Perch/standing models are a good solution for those who struggle to bend their knees or have back problems. You can ride upstairs in a semi-standing position and the hydraulic seat will make getting out of the chair much easier.
In addition to these practical features, many stairlifts offer intriguing style options. You can get vinyl or woven upholstery and choose from a variety of colors. Some stairlifts even come with light or dark wood trim. Once you’ve found the seat that will suit your needs, choose the style options that will suit your home!
Prices and the Buying Process
While a stairlift is a much cheaper option than moving, remodeling or entering an assisted living facility, stairlift prices and installation costs are still important factors to consider. The cost of a stairlift is determined by the shape of your stairs and the unique set of options you need, so it’s important to speak to a professional to get pricing for your home. In the meantime, here are some stairlift pricing basics to get you started.
Straight stairlift prices
Straight stairlift prices usually range between $2,800 – $5,000. Because they are housed locally and cut to length on order, they can usually be installed much quicker than curved models. Despite the simple design of the rails, these stairlifts are still highly customizable and many people select options that bring the total closer to $3,500 – $4,500. These options include features like the retractable rail for stairs with a walk way or door at the bottom or the powered swivel seat, which helps the user turn onto the top landing more easily.
Curved Stairlift prices
Curved stairlifts, whether modular or custom-made, usually come in at around $8,500 – $14,000. It’s difficult to give exact figures, as the specifics of your staircase determine much of the cost. Unlike straight stairlifts, curved pricing is more about the shape of your stairs than the options you select. Rail length and the number of turns make the biggest difference, but add-ons, like the powered swivel and custom upholstery, are still available.
Outdoor stairlift prices
Outdoor stairlifts cost approximately $5,000, though pricing may vary in your local area. You should contact your local stairlift dealer for exact pricing. Outdoor stairlifts are built to withstand harsh weather and are usually backed by a strong warranty. Though outdoor stairlifts rarely have additional options, many come with protective covers that prolong the life of the stairlift through inclement weather.
Refurbished stairlift prices
Refurbished stairlifts can cover any of the above stairlift types, though in the case of curved stairlifts, the rails will almost always have to be new. Because of this, refurbished curved stairlifts are usually priced at a fixed percentage of the regular purchase price, with the only difference being a used chair and motorized carriage to compliment the newly fashioned rail. For straight and outdoor stairlifts, refurbished models usually come with a savings of a $500-$800. Not every stairlift company offers refurbished models, so it’s important to ask. But many that do still offer extended warranties and service plans for these stairlifts, making them a solid long-term investment.
Ultimately, the decision to purchase a stairlift is about value. While in some cases, the initial investment can be reasonably high, they’re actually quite low when compared to the prices commonly quoted for a major home remodeling or a month in an assisted living facility. While moving a bedroom down to the ground floor is the cheapest option, is single-story living in a multi-story home really the ideal scenario? A stairlift can help you to enjoy the full use of your home safely. When you factor in that quality stairlifts have been known to last upwards of twenty years, there’s really no better value to be had.
How to Buy a Stairlift
Many people are surprised to find how easy buying a stairlift can be. Despite frequent customer concerns, most staircases are suitable for a stairlift. Logistical questions and other practical concerns can be addressed during a free home visit. During this time, measurements and options are reviewed and a firm price quote is given. When you’re ready, a local team will come and install your stairlift. It’s really as easy as 1, 2, 3.
Whether you conducted some online research or spoke to someone over the phone, the next step in the process is a free, in-home assessment of your stairs. During this time, a stairlift expert will come to your home to take a look at your stairs and determine which stairlift is right for you. That means speaking with you to get a better idea of your physical needs and the unique set of options that will work best. That can mean mounting the hand control on the right-hand side, rather than the left, if one side of your body is weaker than the other, or fitting your stairlift with a powered swivel to make turning at the top easier. For the user, the focus is often on the stairs, but their ability to operate the stairlift is equally important.
Once the stairlift expert has a clearer idea of some of the user’s needs, he or she will get to measuring the stairs. This survey includes determining the staircase width, which type of rail will be needed and how the rail will finish. They’ll also determine which side of the stairs work bests and if any obstructions, like a handrail or a door at the top, need to be removed or factored into the stairlift’s design. Once this piece has been completed, you’ll receive a full price quote, usually with a few different options to choose from.
When you’re ready to move forward, you can schedule your stairlift installation with the company’s local office. At a convenient time, a professional technician will come to your home and install the stairlift to the specifications discussed during the initial home visit. They’ll take their time and make sure everything is done carefully and asnwer any questions you might have. This process usually takes 3-4 hours, depending on the type of stairlift that you need. Once it’s been installed and thoroughly checked over, the technician will show you how to use the stairlift and leave you with a user guide and a contact number, should you have any additional questions. There’s no invasive remodeling or messy construction work. Just a clean, simple solution.
Tips for Choosing the Right Stairlift
Choosing the right stairlift is all about finding the best value for your situation. Often, the cheapest option isn’t the best solution; neither is the most expensive model. Here are few important factors that can help you find the right balance for your needs and for your budget.
Think about how long you want to live in your home.
Renting can be a great temporary solution, especially if you’re expecting to make a full recovery or move in a few months. But, if you plan on living in your home for longer than 18 months, you’re usually better off purchasing the stairlift outright.
Consider how your mobility might change.
People often think about the stairlift process in terms of their current mobility level. Unfortunately, that can change over time. Make sure you choose a stairlift that can adapt to your needs as they change over time, because if it’s a struggle to use now, it’s likely to get harder down the road.
Determine the value of the full package.
Many online realtors offer enticing prices, with little follow through on the back end. There’s a big difference between a stairlift in a box delivered to your door step and a safe, professional installation backed by a multi-year warranty. When choosing a stairlift (and a stairlift company), it’s important to consider the long-term value. Upfront costs are important, but you should always be asking, “What am I getting in the long run?” Whatever factors matter most to you, the answer should include both independence and peace of mind.
Where to Buy a Stairlift
Stannah is recognized as a world leader in the stairlift industry. We’ve helped over 750,000 people get their independence back and our product offerings and customer service are second to none. We’ve been manufacturing stairlifts for over 40 years and continue to improve on our work every day. From our innovative engineers to our knowledgeable sales staff and skilled installation professionals, the Stannah team makes all the difference.
Local Stairlift Service
Stannah and our network of trusted dealers provide stairlift service across the country, so no matter where you live, you can find a Stannah to help you live safer at home. Whether you’re working with us directly or one of our trusted dealers you can count on:
- Honest and professional service
- Professional installation and aftercare
- A Stairlift you can rely on
- A company you can trust
- Greater independence at home
Visiting a stairlift showroom is one of the best ways to determine if a stairlift is right for you. You can try out the various models and perform tasks, like swiveling at the top of the stairs, to get an idea of which features and options will meet your needs and make using a stairlift easier. Most people haven’t tried a stairlift before, so this is a great way to get a feel for operating one. Stannah and many of our distributors have local showrooms. You can find one near you by visiting our directory.
Paying for a Stairlift
As we discussed in the stairlift pricing section, cost is one of the most important factors in the buying process. While it’s important to consider the total value of a stairlift purchase, the upfront cost is a key factor. That’s why many stairlift companies offer payment plans and buying options to help spread out the cost. Options vary, depending on the company you choose, but you can find some examples of payment options below.
Sometimes, stairlift companies will allow you to spread out payment for a stairlift, billing you monthly until your purchase has been paid off. While not a common practice, it’s worth asking your stairlift company about this option.
Stairlift rentals offer a way to spread out costs while you make sure that the stairlift is the right decision for you. Temporary rentals cost a fraction of the purchase price and with all service covered during the rental period, you can take your time, before deciding if you want to keep the stairlift for good.
These offerings will vary, depending on where you live. Many states have local grants and funding opportunities through veterans’ associations and groups, like the Commission for the Blind. Ask your local stairlift company about some of these opportunities and what sorts of grants you might be eligible for.
In some cases, stairlifts can be listed as a tax deduction under the durable medical equipment provision. Additionally, in many states, the sales tax can be eliminated with a simple waiver, signed by your doctor. Contact your local stairlift company or tax professional for more information on stairlifts as a tax deduction.
Medicare & Medicaid support
While most states offer Medicaid programs that cover home modifications, funding for and administration of these benefits is handled on a state by state basis. So, although these are national programs, the situation really depends on where you live. Check out our list of programs and grants that might help you fund a stairlift purchase.
Installation and Maintenance
Stairlift warranties consist of a few different layers of coverage. The principle elements of a stairlift warranty are: Parts Coverage, Labor Coverage, Rail & Motor/Gearbox Coverage. Typically, all three of these will be provided for during an initial warranty period. After that, the availability and strength of the warranty will vary significantly from company to company.
Stannah’s class-Leading warranty
If you’re working with us directly, you’ll have access to Stannah’s class-leading stairlift warranty. Our warranty includes 10 years on the motor, gearbox and rail, two years on parts and a year’s labor coverage. Refurbished warranty includes 5 years on the motor, gearbox and rail, one year parts coverage and one year of labor.
Stannah dealer warranties
If you’re outside of our service area, there’s still a chance that you can get a good stairlift warranty. Many stair lift dealers offer extended warranties. The situation varies from state to state and depends somewhat on the size of the company/dealer. It’s always good to ask to get a sense of warranty availability upfront. Find your local dealer and learn more today.
Stairlift Installation & Maintenance
Once you’ve completed your research, chosen a stairlift company, settled on a set of options and secured funding, it’s time to move forward with your stairlift installation! At Stannah, we make this process as easy as possible. After you’ve placed your order, we’ll schedule an installation date with you. You’ll also get a confirmation call the day before installation.
The Stannah installation experience
Whether you’re working with us or one of our trusted dealers, you’ll be sure to get the full Stannah experience. That means:
- Access to thoroughly trained stairlift technicians.
- A quality installation, done in a neat and timely fashion.
- Thorough product training, with helpful demonstrations.
- Product literature and access to aftercare service.
Stannah dealers are trained to maintain our high installation standards and our company values. We only work with reputable professionals who share in our commitment to quality craftsmanship, exceptional service and honest sales practices. We put our name on our products and our trust in our dealers. So, whether you’re in our backyard or purchasing your Stannah through a distributor, you can put your mind at ease.
Stairlift maintenance and aftercare
We recommend an annual service to ensure that your stairlift is operating at peak condition. Repair services are covered in your initial warranty. But, you can also purchase a service plan to maintain this coverage after the initial warranty has run out. Still, repair services and annual maintenance can be scheduled as needed, even without a service plan or warranty.
Once you’ve mastered the basics, upkeep for your stairlift is fairly simple. The most important thing to remember is to manage your stairlift’s battery-life. Parking your stairlift at its charging point will ensure that your stairlift’s batteries are always at top level. Maintaining a healthy charge level is especially important during a power outage. You should switch your stairlift off if you lose power. Turning off your stairlift preserves the batteries until power is restored. Again, regular maintenance checks will help ensure that you don’t run into battery issues with your stairlift down the line.
You should probably have your stairlift cleaned every few months. Dust, and especially pet dander, can accumulate and impact the operation your stairlift. A light wipe down with non-abrasive cleaning agent, such as Windex, should suffice. If you feel uncomfortable cleaning your stairlift, ask a friend, schedule a service call or book an annual maintenance check-up.
As you’re getting to know your stairlift, you can find troubleshooting and product guidance through our stairlift user manuals (provided after installation). These complementary guides will help you get the hang of your stairlift’s operation and provide assistance, should you have questions. And, of course, you can always call us. We’ll be happy to help!
Well, that about covers it! We’ve talked about the different types of stairlifts. You know how they’re powered, who can use them, the important features, how to buy and how much they cost. We’ve discussed installation, warranties and aftercare. Now, it’s up to you! With the right stairlift, you’ll be able to live independently in the home you love for years to come. If you’re ready to take the next step, get in touch with Stannah today!