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Stairlifts Explained: Everything You Need To Know About Buying A Stairlift

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Many older adults who enjoy vital, active lifestyles face challenges to their health and mobility as time passes. Given the choice, many prefer to age in place, instead of moving into expensive residential managed care. Although there can be costs and risks associated with aging in place, it often makes sense for otherwise healthy seniors to delay transitioning to assisted living centers or nursing homes. Fortunately, there are many resources available to help seniors maintain independence and reduce any caregiving burdens on friends and loved ones. Check-in apps and services can preserve privacy and dignity by offering help as needed. Fall-detection devices and home safety modifications help reduce the risk of injury. Good lighting and handrails can help people who have mobility issues. When stairs become difficult to navigate, many residents choose to install a stairlift that carries them safely from floor to floor. Many seniors qualify for subsidies, grants, or financing that will make the investment less onerous.

How A Stairlift Can Help You Age In Place

Can you still climb stairs without fearing for your balance or becoming overly fatigued? If you find yourself feeling frail, breathless, or unsteady on stairs, you may be looking for a solution that will help you stay in the home you love. The right equipment will help you live and move around with ease. Acquiring a stairlift is sometimes an involved process, but it’s not insurmountable. We’ll help you evaluate whether a stairlift is right for you, suggesting what to consider as you buy and offering some tips for using your new device safely.

Preparing for Situational, Periodic, or Future Accommodations

If you have issues with balance, strength, and mobility, you may find it challenging, inconvenient, and time-consuming to climb stairs. People who suffer from progressive, degenerative, chronic, or episodic conditions may get around well most of the time and also experience periods when they need additional support. Even people who move with relative ease on level surfaces can have trouble climbing stairs. Canes, walkers, and walking sticks are not properly proportioned to provide support on stairs, and it’s usually not safe or possible to hold two support devices (like a handrail and a cane) at once.

Reduce Fall Risk & Limited Mobility

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four US adults over 65 years of age will fall within the span of a year. Falls cause the majority of injuries and fatalities for seniors. As you get older, you’re statistically more likely to fall, and deteriorating health increases the risk. Falling downstairs can be particularly dangerous because it can amplify the force of impact. Installing a stair lift is a great way to reduce fall risk.

How a Stair Lift Works

Stair chairs are seats that run along a track or rail that is attached to a stairway. Usually, the base of the seat houses a battery-powered motor that turns a gear that is meshed into the track or rail. An automatic battery charger is attached to the track. As the motor rotates, the gear turns, and the seat moves linearly in the direction the motor rotates. Call/Send switches are used to call or send the stair lift as needed or to place it out of sight. Stair chairs often have backrests, armrests, and footrests for comfort and security.

Straight or Curved Stairlift Options. Which type of stairlift is the right lift for your home?

Straight Stairlifts

The simplest and most affordable chairlifts operate on rails or tracks mounted to the stair treads of straight staircases. The chair may include a swivel mechanism that makes it easier to mount and dismount the lift. This type of stairlift runs on a 24v battery system. All stairlift manufacturers offer straight stair lift models.

Curved Stairlifts

Curved and straight stairlifts have the same features, but curved tracks or railings are fitted to the shape of the staircase. They are needed when a staircase is not straight, when two staircases are separated by a landing, or when you want to park the chair around a corner at the top or bottom of the stairs. Generally, curved stairlifts are built with two motors; one to move the chair and another to adjust the level of the seat as the slope of the track or rail changes.

Outdoor Stairlifts

Patios, backyard decks, front entrances, and garages are all places where stairlifts improve accessibility. Outdoor stairlifts are crafted from heavy-duty materials and weatherproofed to withstand water, salt, sunlight, and other damaging environmental agents. They may also include seat covers and security and anti-vandalism mechanisms.

When Is A Stairlift Unsuitable?

Some stairways may not accommodate a stair lift. A stairway may be too narrow for a person to travel comfortably. If an obstruction or lack of space prevents the user from safely mounting or dismounting the lift, then consider looking for another option, like a ramp or elevator.

You say Stair lift, I say Chair lift

Similar to many other household products, stairlifts are called by many different names, but they are all essentially the same product. There are manufacturers names and industry parlance that have become interchangeable over time such as, stair chair, chair lifts, staircase lift, stairway lift, chair glide, stair glide and lift chair. When you are comparing products and doing research don’t let these different names confuse you. Tomato, tomato!

How is a Stairlift Installed?

A stairlift rail is supported by legs that are spaced a few feet apart. To hold the rail in place, professional installers screw the legs into the treads of the stairs. The seat can be parked at the top or bottom of the stairs, and the railing should be installed where it is safest and easiest to mount and dismount. The location of the landing determines the placement of the railing or track.

How Do I Purchase A Stairlift?

Stairlifts vary in cost, based on the type, length of track or rail, complexity of installation, and the materials used. The price usually reflects the number of features and level of customization you select. Basic chairlift models cost less than more sophisticated equipment. Straight stairlifts usually cost between $2,500 and $5,000, including installation and limited warranty protection. Slimline, heavy duty, custom upholstered, and power-assisted features like auto-folding rails can increase your cost. Curved and outdoor stairlifts may cost over $10,000 because they are customized for your staircase and sometimes require heavy-duty materials.

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For a Short-Term Need, Rent or Lease Your Stairlift

If you are recovering from a medical procedure or need to accommodate disabled visitors for short periods of time, it may be practical and appropriate to rent or lease your lift. Terms vary, but many rentals start at three months. Prices generally range from $175 to $450 per month. Consider how long you may use the lift, then calculate the estimated cost-per-use. Ask about a return policy or additional charges for damage to or normal wear on rented equipment.

Purchase a Pre-owned or Refurbished Stairlift

To save money, you may consider purchasing a lightly used, previously rented, refurbished, or as-new pre-owned stairlift. Used stair lift options can save you $500 to $1000 off retail, but you should always check for warranty and installation details. Be cautious if you are thinking of purchasing second hand equipment from a private owner. Ask about the lift’s age and condition, and consider hiring a professional technician to inspect the equipment.

Be aware that renting, leasing, or buying a pre-owned stair lift may limit your options and my not always be the best solution. Be sure that any equipment you install will meet your needs. If does not fit properly in your space, it isn’t a bargain.

Review All Warranty and Service Policies

It’s important to consider warranty and service policies when choosing your equipment. Most manufacturers offer one- or two-year warranties that may include repairs and annual maintenance services, and some vendors will offer an extended warranty for an additional fee. Try to understand the terms and conditions before you complete the purchase, because you will be responsible for any maintenance, repair, or replacement costs when the warranty period ends.

Choose the Right Stairlift Model for Your Body

An improperly sized stairlift may be uncomfortable and dangerous, so need to select equipment that properly accommodates your height and weight. Every lift will have specifications that detail the maximum load and seat width. Not paying attention to these particulars could lead you to select a unit that is uncomfortable and unsafe. Some lifts are made with extra-wide seats. Depending on where you live, you may be able to visit a showroom to try out different models. Also, consider how your body or circumstances might change in the future.

Consider Adding Extra Features

When you’re considering a stairlift, it’s worth considering features that will make it safe, comfortable, convenient, and attractive. Typically, stairlifts are charged while parked at the top or bottom of the stairs, and many of these devices can be continuously charged anywhere along the rail. A battery backup can keep a stairlift usable during a power outage. Fold-up seats and accessories can keep the stairlift out of sight and prevent it from becoming an obstacle. Upholstered, adjustable-height swivel seats can be aesthetically pleasing and make mounting and dismounting safer and easier. Retractable seat belts and harnesses can be more attractive, comfortable, and secure than standard seat belts. Remote control devices can make using your equipment more convenient, and key switches can keep your device from being misused.

How To Pay For A Stairlift

The up-front cost of a stairlift may seem prohibitive, but it can actually be cost-effective to age in place. Compared to other options, such as transitioning to assisted living or a nursing home, this equipment can be relatively inexpensive. Monthly payment plans can also help shoulder the financial burden of purchasing a lift, and there are many programs and opportunities that can significantly reduce your costs. Veterans and Medicaid recipients are often eligible for financial assistance or reimbursement for equipment that promotes independent living. Some states have assistance programs that offer grants and loans to qualified seniors. It may also be possible to claim stairlifts as a federal tax deduction as a medically necessary home modification. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) can help you claim deductions for operating and maintenance costs. Certain benefits require a doctor’s written recommendation or verification that the stairlift is medically necessary for you, your spouse, or a dependent.

State and Local Assistance Programs

Many community, state, and national assistance programs offer grants and loans to help cover the cost of a stairlift. Nonprofits and foundations may provide service referrals to caregivers or financial assistance for people who suffer from degenerative physical or cognitive conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, or multiple sclerosis. The National Council on Independent Living is an organization that provides information about local funding and referral services for seniors and people with disabilities. Your local government may be able to refer you to low-cost or no-cost community-based adaptive modification and repair programs, or you can search online for leads. Each program has different requirements, so you should check with your county’s Area Agency on Aging for more information.

Assistance for Veterans

The Veterans Administration (VA) or the VA Aid and Attendance benefit may provide stairlifts for wheelchair-bound veterans who were disabled during their military service. Veterans who have access to Veterans Directed Home and Community Based Services (VD-HCBS) may also be able to acquire funding for equipment that enables them to live independently.

Medicare and Medicaid

Generally speaking, Medicare primary and supplemental insurance policies do not pay for stairlifts because they are classified as home modifications, not durable medical equipment (DME). Some Medicare Advantage plans provide supplemental benefits that may help cover the cost of your stairlift if it is deemed medically necessary by a doctor. Coverage may require participation in a care management program. Your case manager can help you determine which costs are eligible. 

Medicaid’s Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) offers a waiver program that may cover the cost of a stairlift. Enrollment may be limited, so applicants should also consider alternative resources.

Private Insurance Policies and Healthcare Plans

The cost of a stairlift may be partially covered by some private medical insurance plans. Worker’s compensation, state catastrophic accident insurance plans, medical trust funds, and long-term care policies may pay for home modifications as an alternative to transitioning to a long-term care facility.

How Do I Buy a Stairlift?

You may only purchase a stairlift once in your lifetime. Start your journey with research. You can speak to friends or visit websites like Modernize, Consumer Affairs, and HomeAdvisor to find testimonials and reviews. You can also request and compare information from highly-regarded, established manufacturers like Bruno, Harmar, Ameriglide, Handicare, and Stannah.

The purchasing process is likely to be highly individualized because each person’s home and situation are unique. Some manufacturers have superior quality, warranty coverage, and customer service than others. It’s important to seek out a balance of quality and service you can afford.

After researching your options, you can start the process of buying a stairlift by arranging an in-home assessment. A representative comes to your home, takes a look at your staircase, discusses your needs and budget, and suggests a solution. These consultations are generally free. Some companies offer interactive design using augmented reality, so you can see what your stairlift will look like in your home before it’s actually in place.

Once you have a model in mind, you can get a quote and review financing options. You should always make sure their quote includes installation and warranty costs.

Some manufacturers may help you seek out financing, but be sure to carefully review the terms before you agree to an arrangement. After you select and pay for the stairlift, technicians will deliver and install the equipment. Choose a reputable local company with trained, in-house installers. It may be tempting to save money by purchasing online, but this could be a dangerous tradeoff if something goes wrong as you install the lift.

Choose A Manufacturer

The last thing you want to do is purchase equipment that will cause you trouble or be costly in the long term. It’s important to choose a reputable manufacturer so that you will not have to worry about maintenance, repair, or unexpected problems or costs. You always want to feel confident, safe, and secure when you use your device. 

Popular, established manufacturers like Bruno, Harmar, Ameriglide, Handicare, Acorn, and Stannah are among the most well-known suppliers of stairlifts. Bruno and Harmar are especially well-regarded for providing value to their customers. Read on to get an idea of what different manufacturers offer.

Bruno Independent Living Aids

Bruno Independent Living Aids is a family-owned business based in Wisconsin that manufactures straight and custom-curved rail stairlifts for indoor and outdoor use. These stairlifts have an excellent reputation for quality and safety. They are relatively inexpensive and have high levels of customer satisfaction. Factory-trained local dealers sell, install, and service the stairlifts. Basic and premium offerings carry 300 to 400 pounds, depending on the model.

All Bruno stairlifts feature a chair attached to a narrow aluminum or steel rail that is secured to the stairs, standard obstruction sensors, and a seatbelt. Two rechargeable twelve-volt batteries power the lift, which can be operated during a power outage. Bruno stairlifts include a limited lifetime warranty. ConsumerAffairs rates Bruno Independent Living Aids at nearly 5 stars with 1,550 reviews. The Better Business Bureau gives Bruno an A+ rating with an average rating of 4.3/5.

Harmar Stairlifts

Harmar is based in Sarasota, FL. Its U.S.-made indoor and outdoor straight and curved stairlifts utilize a proprietary patented helical worm gear drive system. These compact, narrow machines support 300 to 600 pounds and are known for providing a smooth ride. They are weight-tested before leaving the factory. Safety sensors are standard, and many models have multiple color options and optional add-ons like an automatic folding rail. Harmar stair lifts require little to no assembly and are designed to be low-maintenance. Some models operate on standard 115-volt AC household current, while others operate during a power outage. The Better Business Bureau gives Harmar an A+ rating, and customer reviews average five stars. gives Harmar stair lifts 4.1 out of 5 stars.

Acorn Stairlifts

Acorn Stairlifts is based in the United Kingdom. They offer a limited product line of straight, curved, and outdoor stairlifts. The popular brand has a global customer base and sells its products directly to consumers. Acorn manufactures and installs every stairlift using a FastTrack system of modular interlocking rails that follow the perimeter of your staircase. The lift’s batteries continuously charge and serve as a backup if the power goes out. All stairlifts include a seatbelt, carriage safety pads, and footrest safety edges. Options like folding and swivel seats and footrests are also available. If there is an obstruction on the track or if the seat is misaligned, the chair will remain in place. The outdoor stairlift includes a weather-resistant cover. 

Acorn provides a 12-month manufacturer’s guarantee of service plus parts and labor. The company also offers extended warranties and annual service agreements. 

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) gives Acorn Stairlifts an A+ rating, but it also lists sixty-eight complaints. ConsumerAffairs customers have submitted reviews with an average rating of 1.5 out of 5 stars, citing poor customer service and prolonged waits to schedule maintenance and repair calls. Consumer advocates in the United Kingdom have criticized Acorn for high-pressure, predatory sales tactics that take advantage of older adults.

How to Safely Use Your Stairlift

Once your lift is installed and fully operational, you’ll want to ensure that you can use it safely whenever you need it. Your installer should be able to demonstrate safe use and answer your questions. Here are some common-sense guidelines that will help prevent any mishaps.

Use Your Seatbelt. It’s easy to slip or lose your balance when you get on or off of a stairlift. A properly secured seatbelt can prevent a dangerous fall.

Keep Landing Areas Clear. Make sure that there are no obstructions at the end of the rail, and that you have plenty of room to stand and maneuver as you mount or dismount the lift. The chair and rail should not create a trip hazard.

Be Careful. If you are unsteady on your feet, it could be easy to fall down the stairs as you get off the lift. Anyone who has poor balance should consider installing a lift that curves away from the top stairs and leaves plenty of room to exit.

Respect the Weight Limit. Overloading the unit by taking along a heavy package could damage the stairlift motor or railing and create a safety hazard.

Lock Your Lift. Unsupervised use of your stairlift could lead to dangerous accidents or cause unforeseen damage.

Fold Up Your Seat. Folding up your stairlift after you use it keeps it out of the way and reduces the risk of tripping. Folded stairlifts also save space and reduce clutter.

A Stairlift Can Help You Age In Place and Maintain Your Independence

With proper planning and the right modifications, you can stay in the home you love for years to come. A stairlift is a tool to help you age in place so you can maintain your independence as long as possible. If you’re ready to learn more, call us for assistance. We’ll be happy to demonstrate how our stairlifts help our customers’ lead an active, fulfilling life for years to come.

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