STAIRLIFTS: QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

 

What is that thing that goes up the stairs?  What is a stairlift? 

A stairlift, previously called a chairlift or chair lift, is a device used to transport a person up a flight or flights of stairs.  The stairlift consists of a chair and rail running along the length of the staircase.  It is also sometimes called a stair elevator, stair chair lift, stair glide or “That thing that goes up the stairs.”

Difference between a stairlift and wheelchair lift or VPL-Vertical platform lift?

A stairlift is a device with a chair attached to some kind of rail allowing transport of a person sitting on the chair.  A VPL or Wheelchair lift, is an elevator like platform used to transport a person in a wheelchair or scooter vertically like a traditional elevator.  A VPL can only traverse up and down and not side to side. 

Who needs a stairlift?

Stair lifts are designed to assist people who are having difficulties climbing or descending stairs.   Those difficulties can stem from a number of causes; recovery from a surgery, illness, disability, age, etc.

How do I know when it is time for me to get a stairlift?

Each person is different, but, when the stairs become a struggle, or you feel unsafe, it is probably time.  Better safe than sorry.  

What is the average cost of a stairlift

Stairlift costs vary depending on type of staircase, condition of the user, use of the chair (indoor or outdoor).  Generally, the more turns and bends in a staircase, the higher the cost.  Costs range from about $2,995 all the way up to $15,000 or more.  Some reputable companies may offer used stairlifts for straight indoor or outdoor staircase at a discounted price.  

Does insurance cover the cost of a stairlift?

Unfortunately, even with a doctor’s order, standard health insurance policies and Medicare will not cover the purchase or installation of a stair lift.  Insurance considers a stairlift a home modification product versus durable medical equipment.  For veterans, many VA facilities can provide either partial or full funding for the cost of home improvements related to accessibility.

Choosing the right stairlift for You

The first thing you need to figure out is what type of staircase you have. Then consider the options you need based on the condition of the user including weight, prognosis and living situation.  Also factor in cost and timing.  

When considering cost, take into account the reliability of the manufacturer and the maintenance needed to keep the stairlift operational.  Once you choose the manufacturer, it is just as important to choose the right dealer.  Do your research online on both.  The more you know about what you need and want, the better off you will be.

What type of staircase do you have?

Stairlifts are either straight, or not.  Those which are not are custom made.  You can also have indoor or outdoor models for both straight and custom units.  Click this link to see our staircase selection form https://www.gamburd.com/staircase-selection-form

What maintenance does a stairlift require?

Stairlift maintenance is a very important topic to discuss before you buy a stairlift.  All stairlifts require basic maintenance to keep the unit clean of any dust, debris and other obtrusions which can impede smooth operation.  Most will only require a yearly maintenance which should cover a routine multi point inspection.  This should include cleaning of the unit and rail, reapplying lubricants, tightening and realigning the unit, checking the battery.

How much will stairlift Maintenance Cost?

Regular maintenance should cost between $200 to $400 plus any needed parts. Be very careful of companies who charge by the hour or charge for return fees.  As attractive as an hourly fee is, it will usually cost more than a set fee.  With a set fee, the installers will want to get in and out as quickly as possible, and carry extra parts on their trucks to avoid having to come back. If they bill by the hour, less incentive for the installers to carry the part on the trucks or work quickly.

Also, avoid any service contracts or mandatory service.  Clean the unit and only call for service if something doesn’t feel right or has an issue.  Otherwise, just call for service as needed.

How often will the batteries on a stairlift need to be replaced?

The answer is it really depends.  It depends on a number of factors including: how long did the stairlift sit before it was installed?  How often is the stairlift used? What is the weight of the stairlift user?  How steep is the staircase the stairlift is on, etc?  Some will last a year while others could last 7 years.  On average, 2-5 years is a good guideline.  

How is a stairlift powered?

Most stairlifts are powered by a regular house outlet and charge the batteries in the stairlift.   The 110 outlet acts as a trickle charger and maintains the batteries.  Once the chair is used, the charger automatically replenished the lost charge.  In case of a power outage, stairlifts still have the ability to be used for a number of days before the battery is drained.

Can I replace stairlift batteries myself?

Not recommended.  Not only will you have to have specific tools and batteries required for the task, but you will also need to be careful not to short out the motherboard of the unit.  The motherboard is the brain in the unit and is very easy to burn simply by touching the wrong parts.  The cost of a new motherboard far exceeds the cost of the batteries.  A motherboard can cost up to $1,250 while batteries from $50 to $85 each.  

Can I install my own stairlift?

Most reputable manufacturers will not allow dealers to sell units without installation.  Avoid buying a unit online.  This is a very expensive investment which deserves to be installed by professionals who specialize in stairlifts.  Avoid contractors or jack of all trades.  Stick with companies who do this full time and do not outsource their employees.  Improper installation can lead to serious safety issues and even death.

Are my stairs suitable for a stairlift? 

Stairlifts are attached to the stairs and not the wall.  So as long as the stairs are solid and the staircase is wider than 27 inches, you should be able to install a stairlift.

How long will it take before my stairlift can be installed?

Installation of a stairlift should take between 4 to 8 hours.  However, the time it takes to have the unit ready for installation can vary greatly.  In the case of straight staircase, if a dealer has inventory in stock, it is just a matter of cutting the rail to the size of your staircase.  If the unit has to be custom made, the process can take up to 6 weeks.  A custom unit has to be made to the exact specifications of your staircase.  The process starts with a specially trained consultant placing specialized discs on each stair and then uploading the measurements to a specialized software package.  Once the upload is complete, a CAD type rendering is made showing the staircase and measuring angles, slopes, widths, obstructions, etc.  Once this is done, engineers review rendering and make any necessary adjustments or recommendations before sending the unit off to production.  The rail is then hand made with every angle taken into consideration.  This process is extremely cumbersome and requires skilled metal craftsmen to shape and mold the rail.  This process alone can take anywhere from 60 to over 100 hours.  Hence, the longer timelines and higher price.

How is a stairlift powered?

A stairlift gets its power from batteries which are housed inside the unit itself.  The batteries are then replenished with a regular 110V outlet.  In case of power failure, the unit should still have plenty of battery power to run for a few days.  

How will my stairlift be installed?

Stairlifts are attached to the stairs and not the walls.  Therefore, there is no modification of any structural elements.  The unit is secured with bolts which after removed, can be patched leaving little trace of a stairlift ever having been there.

Best Stairlifts of 2018

#1 Bruno Stairlifts

#2 Handicare

#3 Stannah

#4 Savaria

#5 Harmar

#6 Acorn

Most reliable stairlifts

Bruno.  American made and most reliable based on consumer reviews.

Buy back options

Many companies will buy stairlifts.  Unfortunately, even though custom staircases are much more expensive than straight, they have no resale value because they only fit one particular staircase.  Even is someone has a track home that has the same exact layout of a neighbor, the unit will probably not fit.  One small variance in slope and the entire unit is completely off.  A inch might not seem like a big deal at the bottom of the stairs, but by the time you travel all the way to the top of the stairs, that one inch can become 12 inches.

Refurbished stairlifts

Used units are a cost effective way to save money versus a new unit.  However, used units will only work on a straight staircase.  Check the warranty and ask if the units are certified.  Remember, a reliable new unit generally makes for a reliable used units.  

Weight capacities for stairlifts

Most stairlifts have a capacity of between 250 and 400 lbs.

Stairlift seat features

Many stairlifts have different size seats to accommodate different size users.  For an additional cost you can also choose to buy a power swivel seat.

Safety sensors

Make sure your stairlift has safety and obstruction sensors build into the seat, footrest, carriage and any other moving component.

Key switch

Some chairs come standard with a key switch and some you need to pay extra for.  A key will allow you to lock the unit  and prevent it from being used by others.  

Calls and send controls

Most stairlifts have a control button on the armrest of the chair as well as remote controls.  You will want to place the remote controls at the top and bottom of the stairs in case there is a second user.  It is also convenient to have remotes in case you want to use the stairlift to carry laundry or groceries up or down, etc.

How safe is the stairlift?

Stairlifts are relatively safe.  The majority of accidents stem from improper installation, use or maintenance.  Only hire a company who specializes in stairlift installations and has factory certified technicians.

 

ADVICE ON HOW TO PICK THE BEST STAIRLIFT

Know the brands

Research the different brands and read consumer reviews.  Avoid buying online or buying through a dealer that does not service or install the unit.

Know the dealer

Just as important as picking the most reliable manufacturer, also do your research on the dealer.  Make sure the dealer has positive Yelp reviews, has been in business for at least 10 years and has a large service department.  If you pick right, you should not have many issues with your stairlift.  However, if it does break, you do not want to wait for weeks for someone to come out.  Also, stay away from dealers who do not offer a flat rate for service or charge you for return trips for parts they do not stock.  Stay away from dealers who do not service at all.  Many dealers want to sell the units and not worry about having to repair.  If your dealer does not have at least 5 full time repair technicians, move on.  If your dealer outsources employees, move on.  You should pay as much attention to service on the initial appointment as the price itself.  

Dealer certified to perform the installation

Make sure your dealer has factory trained technicians.  For an installer to be factory certified, he/she has to fly out and spend a few days at the factory for training.  He/she must then pass a series of tests.  If your dealer does not have factory trained installers, move on.  That means they are either too small to afford to invest in their team or do not see certification as important.

Make sure dealer understands your specific needs

Look for a dealer who asks questions about the user.  Peoples needs are different and you want a dealer who will sell you what you need and not what they happen to have in stock.  If your dealer has less than 50 units in stock, move on.  You want a dealer who has units in stock and carries replacement parts.  If your stairlift does not function, every minute counts.  You do not want to be stuck up or downstairs waiting for the part to come in.

Dealer warranty and future maintenance of your stairlift

Make sure your dealer has a warranty that cover both labor and parts.  Also stay away from dealers who charge hourly service rates versus a flat fee.  You want a dealer who wants to get in your home and fix the issue quickly and not milk the clock or carry enough parts on their trucks.  Also avoid dealers who charge you for return trips for parts they do not stock.  

Know where stairlifts are made

Buying American is a wise choice not only due to quality control, but also due to proximity and costs associated with shipping parts.  If for some reason a reputable dealer does not have a part in stock, an American manufacturer can overnight the parts in an emergency.  

Where to shop

We recommend doing a Yelp search for a local stairlift dealer, a google search or, contact Bruno directly and ask for a referral.