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Posted by Steve Graham | Sep 24, 2009

How to Choose a Stair Lift

The second in a series of articles on aging-in-place.

Stairs can be dangerous and difficult to navigate, but a disability or mobility problem should not confine anyone to one floor of a house. A stair lift is a good solution, but a tricky decision. It's an expensive item and a confusing array of choices is available. What are the most important factors in choosing a stair lift?

Design

The most common stair lift design is chair that glides up and down a rail. There are also specialized lifts for wheelchairs and "perching" models with tall, narrow seats for users with knee problems or narrow staircases.

 Within each group are curved and straight designs. The curved models are more expensive but can be custom-fit around spiral staircases or middle landings. Don't limit yourself to the available options at a local store. Ask about other models.

Chair Lift Safety Concerns

Clearly, the most important issue is reliable and safe operation. Check for:

  • An easy-to-use seat belt, if applicable
  • A sturdy design
  • A sensor that safely stops the chair before hitting any obstructions.
  • High safety ratings.

Intertek Listed and Underwriters Laboratories both provide reliable ratings for electric products. Also ask installers for references regarding both their work and the stair lift.

Chair Lift Flexibility

Make sure the chair can swivel away from the top of the stairs to the appropriate angle. Stepping off the stair lift onto the top stair can be dangerous. Some inexpensive lifts do not swivel. Moreover, some swiveling stair lifts only swing to 90 degrees, while others have a wider range of movement that may be more convenient for your home.

Stair Lift Comfort Features to Look For

Look for:

  • A wide, ergonomically designed seat
  • A comfortable backrest
  • A large footrest
  • Adjustable seat and footrest heights.

Also try the controls before buying a stair lift to make sure they are intuitive and easy to manipulate.

Size of Stair Lift

Others need to be able to move around the house, so a stair lift should not block the stairway. Ideally, the chair and footrest will easily fold and unfold into a compact size without much effort. Some new designs curve around the bottom or top of the staircase so the stair lift is always accessible but never blocks the stairway.

How Much Power Does a Stair Lift Use?

Most newer stair lifts use battery power. They can be used during a power outage and don't involve a long and impractical power cord running along the rail. If you choose a battery-operated chair, check how many times you can use the lift between charges. The lifts typically use a 12-volt battery and manufacturers recommend replacing the battery every year.

Stair Lift Style

The hardware and seat covers on stair lifts come in a range of colors. You should be able to find one to match your d├ęcor or tastes. Also look for a dark footrest that will hide footprints and scratches.

Defraying the Cost of a Stair Lift

Stair lifts can cost between $3,000 and $15,000 installed. Some state and Veterans Administration programs may be available to help cover some costs. The stair lift may also be eligible for a tax deduction if it was medically necessary and will improve the value of the house.

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