Buying a Stairlift
Which stairlift suits you and your home?
There are different types of stairlifts. Most stairlifts have seats but some are for standing on – they have a slim pad that you lean against. If you have difficulty stepping off the lift, some designs give you level access to the landing. Choosing the right one is a matter of assessing your needs and your home.
If, however, your stairs are too narrow for a stairlift, or you are unable to use one for other reason, you’ll need to consider alternatives, such as
- installing an elevator
- rearranging your house so that you can live on one floor
Types of Stairlifts
Lifts for straight stairs
Lifts for straight flights of stairs are cheaper. However, if you have two or more straight flights separated by landings, you may be able to install one continuous curved stairlift, rather than have two lifts fitted.
Lifts that you stand or ‘perch’ on are the answer if you can’t sit or stand easily – they’re often used by people who have trouble bending their knees. They’re slimmer than lifts with seats, and so can be fitted on narrower stairs.
To use a standing lift, you need to be able to stand for the minute or so it takes the lift to climb the stairs. If you get dizzy or collapse sometimes, a standing lift is probably not for you. There also needs to be enough headroom on the stairway. This is usually worked out as your height when standing plus around 12″ (30cm).
Lifts which can pass a doorway
In some houses, the lift will need to pass in front of a door – this often happens at the foot of the stairs. You can get around this by fitting a hinged track that lifts up when the stairlift is not being used. Check that there’s some mechanism to make lifting the track more easy. Remember to raise it at night, so no one trips over it.
Or go for a powered stairlift that will slot automatically into place and lift out again when you use or park the lift. If you’re very heavy, check with the supplier that the hinge will be strong enough. Some models use a different system – the track extends and withdraws automatically as the seat moves.
Four Steps for Choosing and Buying a Stairlift
You can’t just order a stairlift off the rack – it has to suit you and your home.
Stairlift companies will visit you at home to:
- talk about what you need and how you’ll use the lift
- check your stairs and work out how the lift might be fitted
- either give you a quote during this visit or send it to you soon afterwards
These visits are made without obligation – don’t be put under any pressure to buy.
Use this checklist of key questions below to ask company reps.
Print out and use this checklist as a reminder of some key questions to ask.
- Did the rep carry out a thorough assessment of you and your home?
- Did the rep provide a firm, written quote?
- Could the company arrange for you to avoid VAT?
- Did the rep provide satisfactory answers to all of your questions?
- Does the company have a money-back guarantee?
- Are you able to pay the last installment after the lift is fitted, when you know that you are happy with it?
- For how long is the lift guaranteed?
- Is there a 24-hour repair service?
- How long might it take a repair person to arrive?
- How much would repairs cost?
- Were you able to see and try out the lift locally?
- Are the controls easy enough to use?
- Could you get on and off it easily?
- Is the lift comfortable?
- If things get more difficult, will you still be able to use the lift?
Stairlifts have a number of safety features. Check which of these the lift has, if they are important to you:
- Speed controller – the lift will start and stop without jerking and will move slowly.
- Safety sensors – if the lift meets an obstacle on the stairs, it will stop.
- Safety belt – is one included and, if so, can you fasten it easily?
- Seat locks – swivel seats have a lock so that they don’t move when you are getting in or out of them.
- Locks – lifts can be fitted with locks to stop children or visitors using the lift.
There are four steps to take when you’re deciding on a stairlift:
- Contact a number of companies
- Discuss your options
- Compare costs
- Ask questions
Contact a number of companies
Prices vary a lot, so I recommend trying at least three companies. Different manufacturers offer different ranges of stairlifts, too, so you may have to try more than one to find the lift that works best for you and your home.
It’s best to contact firms that aren’t tied to any one make of stairlift, so you’ll have a wider choice.
Discuss the options
When the manufacturer or supplier visits, the rep will measure your stairs and you. They usually just need to know the length of your leg when sitting, to make sure there’s no danger of you grazing your knees as you go up and down the stairs. If your stairs have a particularly low ceiling, they may measure your height when sitting down.
They’ll also need to know your weight. They should ask you about your mobility. Expect questions that will help you choose the right control, including whether you are left- or right-handed.
The rep should give you full details of their range and tell you about the products that will suit you best. You should think about what you’ll be able to manage in the future, as well as what you find easy now.
Here are some of the main options – make sure you discuss any that are important to you:
Swivel Seats – these let you turn to face the landing to get on and off more easily. The swivel locks in place, so there’s no danger of any movement if you push on the arm rest to stand up. Some swivel seats are powered.
Choice of colors and upholstery – some lifts have a greater choice than others. Some firms will paint the lift any color, and cover the upholstery in any fabric you like.
Easy-to-use controls – you should be able to choose between right- and left-handed controls. They should offer other choices, including levers that are easy to use even if you have little grip or strength. Check that you’ll be able to easily hold the control in place for as long as it takes to get up or down the stairs. Some lifts have remote controls.
A good rep will have a selection of controls for you to try before deciding.
Hand held remote controls and wall controls – you can use these to call the lift or send it back up or down the stairs. This is very useful if more than one person in your household uses the stairlift. Check how many remote controls are supplied – some firms give you two as a matter of course. Remote control and wall controls can also be used by an assistant, who can control the lift for you.
Safety belt – These are fitted on many lifts as standard. Check that you can fasten your belt easily. Can you choose which side it fastens on? If you need more support than a belt will give, many lifts can be supplied with a more elaborate harness.
Lock – if you have children visiting and they want to play on the stairlift, a lock is useful to help avoid accidents.
Comfortable seats – all stairlifts have padded seats. If you can, try them out for comfort before you buy. The manufacturer or supplier should be able to tell you where you can do this – many companies provide local mobility shops with demonstration models for people to try. Check that the lift moves off quietly and smoothly.
Footrest raisers – all lifts have a platform on which you rest your feet. Both the seat and this platform flip up so that the lift doesn’t take up much space when not in use. If you have difficulty bending to lift the footrest up, look for a model which raises the footrest automatically.
Compare Stairlift Costs and Service
You need to think about costs and the service offered. Take into account the after-sales service offered and the length of guarantee, as well as what the lift itself is worth.
Some companies will provide a firm quote – you either take it or leave it. Others may be open to negotiation. It may help you to get a keener price if you tell the company that you’re getting quotes from more than one firm.
Think Carefully About Accepting a Special Offer
You may find that a company can offer you a discount or a cheap deal on a particular model. Usually, you have to sign up quickly to get this discount. You may be told that a ‘cancelled’ order means that a lift has suddenly become available that just happens to fit your home and can be offered to you at a reduced cost.
While you will get the lift for the price promised, the lift may not be the one that suits you best. Consider carefully if it would be a good choice for you.
Here are some questions you may want to ask the rep:
How long would the work take?
You may be surprised by how quickly a lift can be supplied and fitted – often within a week of the first call. Stairlifts usually take only a few hours to fit; one manufacturer claims less than an hour for a straight stairway.
How much mess is caused by installation?
Lifts are attached to the stairs rather than the wall, and do not involve any major building work. You can expect the company to tidy up after the lift is fitted. You shouldn’t have to repaint or redecorate afterwards.
What happens if I no longer need the stairlift?
If you move house or rearrange your home so that you don’t have to use the stairs, you may no longer need the lift. Some companies will buy the lift back – it can be reconditioned and resold. But the costs of removal and refurbishment mean you’ll probably only get a fraction of the price back. Ask them:
- How much the company would offer to buy it back
- What conditions might apply, such as the age of the lift or whether it’s been regularly serviced by them
- If the price depends on the age and condition of the stairlift
- How quickly they would be able to do this
- Would they remove it for free and make good any damage to the walls or stairs?
If you think you’ll only be needing a lift for a short period, you might consider renting a stairlift.
What about after-sales service?
- Guarantee: check the period offered – all lifts will have a year’s guarantee, but some manufacturers give you a more generous two years.
- Repairs: stairlifts are reliable, so these should be rare. Ask when the call center is open and how long it takes before an engineer will visit. Get details of call-out and additional hourly charges.
- Maintenance contract or extended warranty: you can buy these at the time of purchase or when the original guarantee runs out.
- The usual deal is that for an annual fee you’ll get an annual service visit and free repairs. Some manufacturers offer variations such as an annual service plus reduced rates for an engineer’s visit, if the lift needs repair.
- Battery: check that the maintenance contract covers the battery – many don’t.
While maintenance contracts may give you peace of mind, you should think about whether it would be cheaper to pay for repairs as you go.
Stair Lifts FAQs
What is a continuous charge stair lift?
Most stair lifts are battery powered and are charged on the travel rail. A continuous charge stair lift charges the lift along the full length of the rail, rather than just at the top or bottom of the rail.
I am in wheelchair, can I use a stair lift?
In many cases, a stair lift is not the right choice if you are a wheelchair user. But if you can transfer to and from the lift easily, you may be able to use it. If you use a wheelchair, your healthcare professional (such as an occupational therapist) can provide you the best answer about your ability to use a stair lift.
How much does a curved stair lift cost?
A simple curved stair lift, including the installation starts at $7,500 and can cost upwards of $20,000 depending on the complexity of your stairs.
Should I buy a used stair lift?
You may be able to locate a gently used stair lift that can save you money upfront. Reputable dealers selling recycled equipment will sell products they know they can get parts for and may even provide a warranty which reduces the risk of buying used.
I want to sell my stair lift, where can I go?
If you have a unit for sale that was purchased within the last 2 or 3 years, you may find a dealer interested in buying it. The dealer will value the product more if it is a current model with readily available parts.
I need a stair lift for short term, can I rent one?
Some dealers offer short term rentals or rent-to-own programs. Remember that generally a rental fee will include the installation and removal fee as well as the usage fee.
Will insurance pay for my stair lift?
Private health insurance companies may pay for your stair lift and you may qualify for full or partial payment from other funding sources (USA, Canada) depending on your personal financial situation or employment status. Your local dealer is the best resource for assistance with what is available in your region.
Can I get a tax deduction for my stair lift?
You may be able to claim the purchase of the stair lift as a medical expense if your health care provider deems the product necessary for your medical condition.
I need service for my stair lift, who can I call?
The best company to service is usually the company that installed your stair lift so call them first. If your product has a warranty, you likely must use the original installing dealer to service your unit. If you are not sure who installed it, contact the manufacturer to see if they can help you.
What company makes the best stair lift?
The major brands listed below have all been building and selling stair lifts for many years. The major components of this product are very similar among brands.
The best stair lift is the one that fits your needs and is sold to you by your local dealer to ensure that the product is properly installed and can be serviced in the future if any problems arise.
Stair Lift Manufacturers
North America Based Manufacturers
A solid company with a good reputation in home access products. They make stair lifts that are suitable for outdoor applications as well as for inside the home.
Newer to the industry than Savaria and Bruno, they have been in business since the late 90’s and they currently make several models of stair lifts.
Europe Based Manufacturers
Known for selling direct-to-consumers rather than through local dealers, this company’s head office is in the UK. They specialize in stair lifts.
Highly regarded in the UK, Stannah has produced many stair lifts for the European market, but has smaller presence in North America.
Another Europe based company that sells stair lifts under different brand names including Sterling in the USA. This company makes other types of daily living mobility aids.
If you have any experience with purchasing or using a stairlift, please share your thoughts below.
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