Page Reviewed / Updated – June 08, 2020

There may be a time, whether temporarily or permanently, when a person can no longer manage to use the stairs in their home. A stairlift provides a senior or individual with disabilities with a way to navigate the stairs in comfort, and it can improve the quality of life for anyone residing in a two-story home. Researching stairlifts can be a daunting task, but finding the right model is worth the effort.

This guide covers the basics about stairlifts, their safety features, optional add-ons, advantages and disadvantages, and other important details to know before comparing brands, models and costs.

1. What is a Stairlift?

A stairlift is a powered chair that moves a person from one floor to another via a set of stairs. A person sits in the chair while being raised or lowered between floors, and the chair usually folds flat against the stair railing when not in use. There’s a place for the feet to rest and a restraint to keep the user from falling out of the chair while it’s in motion. Standing stairlifts equipped with a platform are also available for those who have trouble sitting.

The chair or platform moves on a rail that’s attached to the stair tread. The weight limits vary for models from different manufacturers, but most stairlifts will support at least 300 pounds.

2. How Does a Stairlift Operate?

A stairlift is operated by either a hand-held remote control, or push-buttons or a joystick installed beside the seat, depending on the model. The chair can also be moved between floors using call and send buttons installed at the top and bottom, a convenience when more than one person is using the lift. Stairlifts can be electric or battery-powered, and battery-powered models are plugged into an outlet so they can automatically recharge when the chair isn’t being used.

3. What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of a Battery-Powered Stairlift?

The advantage of a battery-powered stairlift is that, when the electricity goes out, the batteries can still power a chair up and down a few times before they’re drained. In an area with regular disruptions in electric service, having a battery-powered stairlift can be invaluable.

A disadvantage of battery-powered systems is that they’re more fragile because the power has to be converted from a 110-volt wall outlet current to a 12-volt battery current. If one of the many wires inside the converter wears out or becomes loose, a repair call will be necessary. There’s also an extra service charge for battery replacements, since this should only be done by a professional.

4. What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of an Electric-Powered Stairlift?

One advantage is that an electric stairlift uses very little power under normal operating conditions, so the difference in a monthly electric bill is often negligible. Two other advantages are the easier maintenance compared to a battery-operated stairlift, and the lower cost of some electric models.

The only real disadvantage of purchasing an electric lift is that it will be out of commission if the power supply to the home is disrupted by an outage. For those who rarely experience this inconvenience, however, an electric model may be a good choice.

5. Will a Stairlift Work on Any Kind of Stairs?

Stairlifts can be installed on just about any staircase. Straight rails are the easiest and least expensive option, but curved rails are also available. Curved stairlifts are more expensive because each set of stairs requires a custom installation job.

6. Are There Any Ways to Spend Less Money on a Stairlift?

Yes, several companies rent stairlifts, and this can be a money-saving alternative if it will only be needed for a short time. Only straight stairlifts are available to rent, though, since curved rails have to be custom fitted. Buying a second-hand or refurbished stairlift is also more economical than purchasing a brand new model.

In some cases, Medicaid or Medicare Advantage will pay part or all of the cost of a stairlift. The benefit varies according to the state where the user lives and their individual health plan. If a stairlift is designated as medically necessary equipment, the cost may also be an approved deduction on a person’s income tax return.

7. What are Some Extra Features That Can be Added to a Stairlift?

The standard features of a stairlift usually include:

  • Safety belt or harness
  • Controls
  • Emergency brake
  • Folding seat
  • Adjustable seat height
  • Smooth start and stop

Safety restraints protect a user from falling out of the chair, a folding seat keeps the chair from blocking the staircase and the adjustable seat height allows a user to configure the chair for their personal comfort. The smooth start and stop prevent sudden movements that can be jarring to the person using the lift.

Here are some extra features to consider:

Powered Swivel Seat

A swivel seat makes it easier to sit down in and get up from a stairlift chair, and a seat that rotates with the touch of a button doesn’t require physical effort to turn.

Folding Rail

Part of the rail that allows the chair to glide up and down extends past the bottom of the staircase, presenting a possible tripping hazard. With a folding rail, this protruding flips up onto the rail above it, clearing the obstruction. The folding section is hinged and easy to operate, but powered folding rails are also available.

Battery Backup

When electricity is unavailable, a backup battery will kick in to allow an electric stairlift to work as usual. The number of trips a lift can make depends on the size of the battery.


When researching the cost of a stairlift, the length and quality of the warranty should be taken into consideration. Companies may offer up to a 10-year warranty on the operation and materials of a stairlift, but coverage for service calls and the cost of labor and maintenance can vary.

8. Are Stairlifts Safe to Use?

Yes, a stairlift is a safe way to get up and down the stairs. Each chair includes motion sensors that cause the chair to stop if something is blocking its path, and the motor is enclosed to prevent contact with working parts. Safety restraints should always be used, and a stairlift should be built by a professional installer working for a licensed company. Regular maintenance will also keep a stairlift in optimal working order.

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