Stair lift basics: What you need to know

Jeffrey Anderson | Improvement Center Columnist | May 6, 2015

Are you a member of the Baby Boom generation or perhaps have parents who are members of that very large group? If either is true, you may soon become acquainted with a remodeling trend that has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years. According to a housing study done by Harvard University in 2013, the U.S. Census Bureau projects that the number of people age 65 and older will increase by roughly 15.5 million between 2010 and 2020. Many of these boomers are choosing to remain in their existing homes as they get older rather than relocating to retirement or assisted living communities. The improvements required to make their homes a little more senior-friendly are being called aging in place remodeling - a niche growing so quickly that some contractors are specializing in these types of projects.

Stair lifts: Making aging in place in multi-level homes a little easier

Home improvement projects that might fall under the umbrella of aging in place remodeling can include widening doorways and installing handicapped accessible bathroom fixtures. For many seniors, walk-in tubs that can make bathing a bit safer and more convenient could be on their remodeling list. However, for anyone growing older in a multi-level home who happens to have some mobility issues, there is an improvement that could almost be a necessity: installing a stair-lift to assist in moving between floors. This might be even more important if all of a home's bedrooms are above or below the main level.

So what exactly is a stair lift? Is one the same as another? Well, put simply, it is a motorized system that moves a seat, much like a chair, from one floor to another. The delivery system is attached to the treads of your existing staircase. That means there is normally almost no repair work needed after installation -- in many cases, none at all. The lifts can be added to just about any style of staircase. While most stair lifts are similar, there are options and variances that anyone considering a unit should explore further.

Factors to consider when choosing a stair lift

First and foremost, stair lift safety should always be a high priority when adding a unit to your home. For that reason, unless you have extensive experience with home remodeling, installation as a DIY project is not recommended. Putting a unit in improperly could eventually result in injury to someone using the lift. Even when hiring a company for installation, allow time to thoroughly check their references. There are numerous manufacturers, but here are a few of the industry leaders:

Any of these companies, or others with similar track records, can give you peace of mind when it comes to stair lift safety. When shopping for your lift, here are a few other considerations:

  • Style - There are two primary styles of lifts: straight and curved. A straight lift is used on stairways that have an uninterrupted run in a direct line. They are the simplest type of lifts and as such, the most economical. Curved lifts require a more complicated installation as they have the ability to change direction and go around corners and bends in the stairway. The complexity of the installation usually affects the stair lift cost.
  • Chair - Comfort and safety should be priorities when looking at lift seats. Seat belts, convenient to use braking systems, and easy to reach controls are features that should be present on your chair. Arm and foot rests and seats that fold up or swivel out of the way can make your chair easier to use. Weight capacity should also be a consideration when choosing a chair and stair lift system.
  • Power - Lifts are powered by electricity or battery. Electric lifts are wired into your home's electrical system and operate off AC current. Battery powered lifts charge at their base station or along the track while operating. If you live in an area where power outages are common, choosing a battery powered unit might be a good idea.
  • Location - Most people think of lifts being used inside homes, but there are weatherproof models that can be installed on exterior stairways as well.

Of course, stair lift cost is also going to be a factor when considering a unit for your home. Expect to pay in the range of $4,500 for a straight stair lift and $16,000 for a curved system. Labor costs will vary by state, so if you know you live in a pricier place, be sure to budget in extra.

Once you've made these decisions and budgeted everything out, you'll be ready for installation, and that means you'll be back to enjoying full use of your home in no time at all.

About the Author

Jeffrey Anderson has a Degree in English from V.M.I., and served as an officer in the Marine Corps. He worked in Residential and Commercial construction management for 25 years before retiring to write full time. He spends his time writing, remodeling his old farmhouse, and in animal rescue.