Stairlift Buying Guide
The first thing you need to do is be sure that having a stairlift installed will make life easier for you. If getting up and down the stairs has become too much of a daily struggle, then you may wish to consider living downstairs, or moving into a bungalow or ground floor flat. If you are thinking about changing to a ground floor living space, then one major concern to take into account is the availability of bathroom facilities.
Installing a stairlift is often a more practical and cost effective option, and it means less of a change to your lifestyle, allowing you to carry on living independently in your own home. Once you have decided that a stairlift is the right option for you, it is important to choose the stairlift which will best suit your requirements.
What is the best stairlift for you?
Think about your personal needs and which stairlift features you feel you would benefit from. Also consider how your situation might change over the long term. Your stairs will need to be assessed by an expert.
There are various types of stairlift, and it is vital that you choose the one which best suits your needs.
Seated Stairlifts are the most popular model of stairlift, where the user can sit comfortably on a reasonably sized seat, which swivels at the top of the stairs to make it easier to get off. While it is possible to carry a walking stick on a seated stairlift, the same does not apply to larger walking aids, so it would be recommended to have two aids, one downstairs and one upstairs.
Straight Stairlifts will only travel up a straight staircase, and they tend to be the cheaper option, with installation usually complete in just a few hours. Straight stairlifts are fitted to the stair tread rather than the wall of the staircase, so you needn't worry about it clashing with the decor of your home. Straight stairlifts are powered from the mains, and are available with a battery backup option in case of power failures, for your peace of mind.
Curved Stairlifts are able to go round bends in the staircase, as well as glide across landings or half landings. They operate on a rail that fits very closely to the wall, even on tight bends, freeing up more space on the staircase. Most curved stairlifts run from rechargeable batteries, which are constantly topped up from charging points at the top and bottom of the stairs. The seat needs to be in the right place to charge, and there is a warning beep if it is in the wrong place.
Things to consider before buying a stairlift:
Are you able to bend your knees and travel in a seated position? Will it be best for you to travel in a seated or standing position? If you prefer a standing stairlift, will there be enough headroom? Do you have the dexterity in your hands to operate a standard stairlift remote control, or is an alternative method required, such as a joystick or toggle?
Are there doors, thresholds, banister rails, radiators, or any other potential obstructions near the staircase? If this is the case, you may require a hinged track. A stairlift track must extend beyond the staircase to the hall floor for the user to alight. A hinged track means that the track can be folded away from any arches or doorways, giving clear access.
Thinking of buying a stairlift on ebay?
Be aware of buying a second hand stairlift which may not be all it seems.
Straight Rail Stairlifts there are indeed a couple of makes that are pretty straight forward to fit, but even those need to be installed carefully. Points to consider:
- Are all the various parts included in the purchase
- Ensure the rail is long enough. If your steps are not all in line and of similar tread and riser dimensions be careful, there is not a lot of adjustment on the stair fixing brackets, if you think you can miss a bracket out, think again. If you do then the seat will lean forward and, if the rail is jointed at the middle, the joint will deform and you will end up with a seat drive unit that bangs or sticks in the middle.
- Modern units have a safety brake and overspeed governor (OSG). If the unit is removed or transported with the drive still mounted to the rail there is a good chance one of these will be activated causing the lift to malfunction. Some units out there do NOT have an overspeed governor (OSG), if so it does not comply with British Standards. This is not a legal requirement; however it is a cost cutting exercise by some manufacturers when selling to "private" buyers (local authority buyers will only buy B.S. compliant lifts for insurance purposes).
- Older units will be driven by a 240 volt mains supply and will have a trailing cable from the control box to the seat, avoid these like the plague. Even stairlift engineers hate working on them, if the cable is damaged you are looking at several hundred pounds for a replacement, many are fitted to a sprung cable drum which you cannot buy separately and fault finding can be a nightmare. A battery driven unit is the better option which either recharges automatically at the top and bottom of the rail or in some cases can be charged anywhere on the track. Plus you can get new batteries from third parties at sensible prices, when the need arises.
- Beware of stairlifts that have not been used for some time, if the batteries are allowed to fully discharge then they might not charge back up properly, and if they do then their operating life will be reduced substantially. The good news is that competition between stairlift manufacturers in the U.K. is very keen (most of the worlds big names are U.K. companies) so this in turn means that modern units are extremely reliable and there are some good prices available to cash buyers.
- Also remember, if you are buying a stairlift for personal domestic use you should not pay VAT, your supplier should have a VAT exemption certificate for you to sign. It's not complicated, just your name, address, and the nature of your illness or disability.
Curved Rail Stairlifts are a completely different product; the chances of taking a curved rail out of one house and refitting it in another are extremely thin, even if the houses are in the same street with "identical" stairs.
- If the dimensions of the new staircase varies by as little as 25mm then you have a potential problem, if the angles of each flight don’t match exactly then forget it, even if the rail can be forced and packed into place, the seat will lean one way or the other. Also many modern units run on a memory chip or flash card that is programmed to make the lift change speeds on corners and tell it when to stop. If you cut the rail the lift doesn't know you have, and it will continue to operate as if it was on the original shape and size rail. You can get the manufacturer to change the program (if you are lucky) but it will cost you, charges can be around £250 upwards for this service, as the manufacturer sees this as a potential lost sale of a new lift.
- Servicing and spare parts for any Stairlift can be daunting, manufacturers will often only supply parts to Authorised Dealers who have been product trained, this is quite understandable as an untrained amateur can cause hundreds of pounds worth of damage just by touching the circuit boards (many don’t like everyday static). Most Dealers will often only agree to repair a lift if they have fitted it, or if they service and inspect it first.
- Finally, remember, you get what you pay for. If you pay a couple of hundred pounds on eBay for a stairlift don't expect a repair, service or warranty from the seller, it isn't going to happen even if promised.
BE AWARE: The older the lift, the more difficult to find spare parts & someone who remembers how to actually fix them. Many stairlift manufacturers have now replaced / updated their models with the result that spare parts will be phased out for the older units; a good example is the Cumbria, from LiftAble. This has been replaced by the Homeglide, parts for the Cumbria are becoming harder to obtain, and therefore more expensive. Another example is the Acorn 120 model. The current model is the Slimline 120, you can recognise this by looking for flat sides to the "round" tubes at each side of the rail, the older "fat track" without the flat sides is very old & parts are fast becoming obsolete.