According to the last census, around 10 million Americans have mobility issues related to walking or climbing. This was the most common disability cited. The second most common was ‘difficulty with independent living’, a broad category that encompasses a number of different issues (some of which may include mobility issues).
The fundamental purpose of a stair chair lift is to help a person with reduced mobility climb or descend a set of stairs.
There is a whole host of reasons why someone may need a stair, but the primary reason usually relates to an individual getting older. As balance and mobility decrease, and the capacity for injury increases, stairs provide an intractable danger in the home.
At this stage, it’s worth investigating the possibility of the stair chair lift. Stairlifts range dramatically in price, option, and function. In some cases, it’s even possible to rent stair chair lifts, which helps to offset the cost and hassle of a permanent installation.
THE KEY FACTORS THAT DETERMINE WHAT TYPE OF STAIRLIFT YOU SHOULD INSTALL ARE:
- The specific requirements of the individual who requires it
(in terms of mobility and so on)
- The specific requirements of the location you are installing the stairlift
- Your budget (and the options available in your area)
This guide will walk you through all of the different options, give you an idea of costs, and help to consider what type of stairlift is right for you. After all, a stair chair lift is a safety device that can allow an individual to remain living at home for longer. Knowing which option is best and how to find the best price for that option is crucial in improving the quality of life for those with reduced mobility.
WHAT DO I NEED TO CONSIDER WHEN BUYING A STAIR CHAIR LIFT?
Oftentimes, when making a potentially expensive purchase such as a stairlift, the most daunting part is knowing where to start. Many of the resources available online come from the companies themselves, meaning that it’s often difficult to get clear (unbiased) information.
However, using the three key factors outlined above (user needs, home needs, and budget) we can begin by considering the individual.
The mobility levels and other restrictions should be your primary driver in choosing what type of stairlift to get. In any quote from a company, or throughout your online research, you should think first and foremost about the specific needs of the individual using the lift.
For example, if the user cannot stand up unaided, you will need a different type of stairlift than if the user has adequate mobility, but limited balance.
Note: A stair chair lift will only work for those who can walk – for users in wheelchairs, you will need to consider a wheelchair lift or an elevator.
If you are in doubt of what mobility levels a user has, be sure to speak to your doctor.
A critical question to consider is whether the individual’s condition is likely to change; if a patient is likely to get worse, then it is potentially better to choose a more ‘conservative’ and robust stairlift with additional features. If the condition is likely to be temporary, then you may consider a short-term rental.
USER’S HEIGHT AND WEIGHT
One of the first questions that any stair chair lift company will ask when giving a quote is the height and weight of the user. Most stairlifts have capacities that go up to 400lbs (although the precise limit of each company will vary).
If an individual is particularly tall, short, or weights above 300 lbs, then you may have to take additional steps when it comes to either the safety features or the mechanism of the stairlift. If you don’t have a sense of a user’s weight or height, you can consult with a doctor, who will be able to provide relatively up-to-date information.
WHAT STAIRLIFT OPTIONS ARE AVAILABLE?
Stairlifts come in myriad different styles and you can customize them to fit your specific needs. The determining factor is usually cost, so be sure to shop around to get a variety of quotes.
Most generally, the three variables when it comes to stair chair lifts are the tracks (or rails), the seats, and the different safety features.
Your stairlift’s tracks are the biggest determinant of cost (for a full outline of costs, see the section ‘How much do they cost?’ below). The most basic tracks run in a straight line up a set of stairs.
However, in some homes, a curved stair, or a stair-landing-stair arrangement means that you need a slightly more complex setup. In addition, if you require an outdoor stair chair lift, for example for stairs leading to a backdoor or down into a basement entrance, then the tracks will need to be able to cope with a variety of different weather situations.
Most tracks are configured in a horizontal alignment, with a set of teeth that allow the mechanism to rise up the stair; some options, however, run vertically. Although this is slightly more expensive, it takes up less space on your stairs.
There are other options available, such as folding or sliding tracks, which allow for a track to be moved out of the way when not in use. In heavily-trafficked spaces, this is a common option, although for those with mobility issues, unfolding or sliding out tracks is not always possible.
Straight tracks are by far the cheapest option since they are produced to standard sizes and with standard fittings. Some straight tracks are even designed to be installed by consumers, further reducing the cost (since you don’t have to pay for labor).
A curved stair -or one with a landing – will require a more tailored set of tracks. These will need to be installed by a professional, with the first step being a measurement of your stairs.
The final track option is for those who need an outdoor stairlift. These function in the same way as the other form of tracks, although the components all need to be weather-resistant. Outdoor straight tracks are far more common than curved ones (and the prices reflect this). Overall, outdoor tracks are the most expensive of the three types of track.
The seat is what the user sits on as they rise or descend the stairs. The most common variables when it comes to seats are whether it swivels or collapses, and the different color and upholstery choices.
These are the most common types of seats. They allow the user to rotate at the top and bottom of the stairs. This has the benefit of letting the user exit the chairlift without pushing off the stairs (which ultimately is the major point of a stairlift). Some chairs have a powered swivel, which is optimal for those with very reduced mobility.
ARMRESTS AND FOOTRESTS
These are an individual preference, based on mobility and comfort levels. On some models, the footrests and armrests are motorized to allow them to fold up when not in use.
SEAT THAT RAISES
Some seats also offer help with standing for those with severely reduced mobility. These either raise the user up to allow them to stand and exit the lift or are designed in such a way as to keep the user upright the entire time they are on the lift.
Safety should be the number one priority of any stair chair lift you decide to install. After all, they are, in themselves, safety devices. However, depending on your budget and your specific requirements, there are few options to consider. Be sure to consult with a physician regarding the safety requirements of your stairlift.
Seatbelts are compulsory parts of a stair chair lift, so they will be standard with every option. However, some chairlifts come with more advanced ‘harnesses’ for those who are unable to hold themselves upright.
Most stairlifts come with keys that, when removed, prevent it from being operated. This is a critical safety feature if you share a home with children or other individuals who may not use the stair chair lift as safely as they might.
HOW MUCH DO STAIRLIFTS COST?
The key question when it comes to what type of stairlift to get is that of affordability. As has been outlined in previous sections, there is a great range of options for a stairlift.
The average cost of a stair chair lift is between $2,000-$5,000.
The simplest option is a straight track stair chair lift, running between 12 and 14 steps (the size of the average staircase between floors). Generally, the cost for this type of stairlift falls in the middle of this range (i.e. around $3,500). This includes the cost of installation, as well as a one-year service.
The cheaper end of the range is for a standard model, with no add-ons. Any additional safety features or customizations will increase the cost. Put another way, $2,000 is the lowest amount you will spend on a stair chair lift (unless you can install it yourself).
Many companies offering financing to help with the cost of a stairlift, which will help avoid a large lump-sum payment.
THERE ARE OTHER WAYS YOU CAN REDUCE THE COST OF BUYING A STAIRLIFT:
If you only need a stair chair lift for a short period of time, then rental is a viable option. Again, the price for rental varies, depending on your requirements (and very custom fits may not be possible). However, you can generally expect to pay $250-500 per month.
Pre-Owned stairlifts are often a great option for budget-conscious customers. If your requirements are for a simple straight-track lift, then you can get a second-hand version for less than $1,000 (depending on model). If this is the route you decide to go down, you should be sure to go with a reputable firm that can guarantee that your lift is only lightly used (and can install it for you).
Basic Medicare does not usually cover the cost of a stair chair lift. The only circumstance in which some of the cost is covered is when the lift has an elevating seat.
In this instance, it may be possible to get Medicare to cover a fraction of the cost. However, the models that offer this feature are often far more expensive options.
However, as of 2019, Medicare Advantage plans have a provision that allows for ‘healthcare benefits’ to be covered. In addition, the 2020 MA Plans also offer coverage for supplemental benefits for those with chronic illnesses.
You will need to confirm all the details with Medicare in advance of any purchase, but it is likely that you will be able to get some of the costs covered if you have a Medicare Advantage plan.
BASEMENT STAIR CHAIR LIFTS
The average cost of a basement stairlift is in the same standard range between $2,000 and $5,000, depending on the shape and circumstances of your particular basement. Oftentimes, installing a chair stair char lift in a basement involves drilling into concrete foundation, which can require special tools and increase the price slightly.
However, if it is a finished basement, then installation could be more standard. Flooding in basements is also a risk that can contribute to higher basement stairlift costs, as weatherproofing and raised outlets may be necessary.
CURVED STAIR CHAIR LIFTS
If you require a tailored shape for your stairlift, then the price will rise significantly. The cost of curved stairlifts usually start at $10,000 and can rise from there, depending on factors such as the complexity of the track, the total length, and the number of landings.
OUTDOOR STAIR CHAIR LIFTS
Outdoor stairlifts for simple tracks (i.e. from a patio or a deck) are more expensive than other versions because of the requirement to be weatherproof. Generally, the cost for outdoor stairlift is between $3,500 and $6,500. However if you require a curved outdoor stair chair lift, then you will likely pay at least $12,000.
In most cases, the cost of installing a stairlift will be included in the cost of purchase for a new one. Some companies may not even allow you to install the stair chair lift yourself for safety and insurance reasons. Indeed, if you are not a professional, then it is simply not worth the risk of installing it yourself.
However, an option may be to buy a DIY lift and then pay a laborer to install it for you. This can save you money overall. Generally, to install a straight lift requires four hours’ work for a single carpenter or handyman and, with an average rate of $70 per hour, the cost comes in at $280.
If you have a curved stair lift, they should always be installed by the manufacturer. Stairlifts also require access to an electrical outlet. If you need one of these installed it will cost you around $65-85 an hour for an electrician.
To prevent some mechanical issues for the user, you should also check that your electric panel is up to date and can handle the added energy use in the home.
In all cases (whether buying or installing) you should make sure to get a few quotes from companies in your area. Check companies out online to see their reputation and reviews, and see if your state has a list of registered stairlift companies. After all, a stair chair lift installation is not something you want to be done badly.
SOURCES AND FURTHER READING