Navigating stairs is a common challenge for people with limited mobility. When it comes to stairs, all it takes is one missed step to result in a major injury, so care must be taken if mobility has become as issue for you or a loved one.
In the past, people who struggled with stairs were forced to live entirely on one level of their home, or worse, move out in favor of assisted living. Thankfully, nowadays many accommodations can be made that allow mobility-challenged folks to stay in their homes. A stair lift is one of those innovations.
Stair lifts are basically cushioned seats mounted on a rail that runs the length of a staircase. They transport passengers up and down stairs as needed via electricity. Stair lifts are not for everyone, but for those who can still walk at least a little bit, or are able to stand up from a wheelchair on their own, these handy devices can make all the difference.
If you think a stair lift might be for you, read on to learn how to choose the best one. There are various features and functions that can customize the experience to your specific needs. Following are the factors to consider before making a purchase.
1. The user’s level of mobility
Start here to determine whether a stair lift is even the right option for you or your loved one. If the end user has a wheelchair and needs assistance to get out of it, a stair lift is probably not the right choice. Instead, look for a wheelchair lift. These are more like platforms onto which the chair and its passenger is wheeled for transport.
Another consideration is whether the user can sit upright and hold on safely while the chair is moving up or down the stairs. If the person lacks the stability to sit unsupported in a stationary chair, a stair lift is probably not a safe option. However, some models do have seat belts or harnesses that can protect the rider.
2. Type of staircase
A straight up-and-down staircase is the easiest and most affordable type to equip with a stair lift. But don’t worry if yours is not straight – there are stair lifts made for all different shapes of stairs. There are even stair lifts made specifically for outside stairs. It’s just that the upfront cost and installation fees will be higher the more complex the setup.
If you have a straight staircase that includes one or more landings, it may be possible to save on costs by getting multiple straight-rail stair lifts. However, this does mean that the user will need to get off and switch seats partway up the stairs. His or her level of mobility will determine whether or not this is feasible.
Prices vary considerably for stair lifts, so it is important to set your budget before you shop for one. A new straight-rail model typically starts at about $3,000, while a new curved-rail stair lift is closer to $10,000 for a basic model. Both are a considerable investment, but cost significantly less than assisted living or even moving to a new home.
Keep in mind that some insurance plans will help with the cost. Talk to your insurance company early in your research to determine if yours does. That will greatly affect the budget you have to work with.
4. Weight capacity & seat size
Standard stair lifts generally have a 300 lb. weight capacity. If you need more support than that, or simply prefer a larger seat, optional upgrades are available. Heavy-duty stair lifts need more space for installation, though. You’ll need to make sure the model you want fits on the intended staircase.
For safety, convenience, comfort, and even style, there are many custom options available in stair lifts today. Common options include harnesses and safety belts, foldable chair to make room when the device is not in use, swivel seats, retractable or oversized foot rests, foot controls, and retractable rails (for situations where the rail may block access to a door at the top or bottom). There are also many different colors and finishes available to complement your home’s décor.
6. New or used
If you are willing or able to be flexible about your stair lift, there are often great deals to be had on used models. It’s best to stick to stair lifts that are no more than two years old so that you know it will be relatively energy efficient and have a lot of life left in it. Many dealers offer used lifts, so it’s always worth it to ask about their stock. Choosing a used model can be a very beneficial choice for the environment, too.
7. After sale service
Obviously when you buy a stair lift, you will need it to be installed professionally. Always make sure before you buy that your lift comes with installation by trained technicians. We don’t advise using your regular handyman for this job. It’s also very helpful to have a service package that protects you in case of malfunction, and remember that your lift will need routine maintenance as well.
Some strictly online dealers do not offer service, so be sure to ask up front. The last thing you want when your lift is on the fritz is to have to figure out who to even call about it.
8. Test drive
Even if you ultimately purchase your stair lift online, it can be worthwhile to visit a showroom first and do a few test rides. This allows you to try a few different types of lift and get a feel for what works best for you. If you ultimately decide that a stair lift does not meet your needs, you will have saved yourself a very expensive mistake. And even if you ultimately purchase your stair lift online, you may appreciate the personal service at a showroom when it comes to narrowing your choices to the perfect set-up for you.
A stair lift is certainly a significant investment, but the freedom of movement it offers is priceless. No longer will you need to arrange your day around when someone can help you up or down the stairs. Forgetting something at the top or bottom does not mean you’ll need to go without.
However, a chair lift is a major purchase, so it pays to do your research. Make sure to compare prices, read user reviews, and if possible, visit a showroom before signing on the dotted line. As long as you shop carefully, your new stair lift is sure to be a life-changing addition to your home.