You can call them chairlifts, stair chairs, stair lifts, stair glides, or stairway lifts. Whatever you refer to them as, they are all the same thing - a mobility device that attaches to a flight of stairs and allows the rider to sit on a chair and be lifted up the stairs. The Mobility and Medical Industry refers to them most often as stair lifts.
There are over 7 main stair lift manufacturers with over 32 different models available on the market today in the United States. Whether for inside or outside use, curved or straight stairs, or residential versus commercial use these lifts consistently meet the needs of the consumer by transporting between floors without the use of an elevator, escalator or vertical wheelchair lift system.
However, consumers often get bogged down by industry terminology as well as industry bias. With that many models available it can be a bit overwhelming, especially if the lift is an immediate necessity. The key thing to consider when researching and purchasing stair lifts is what is the intended outcome. Since a stair lift is such a large investment, you want to be as informed as possible.
Once you have established that a loved one has the ability to use the stair lift, it is key to consider the home and which model will best serve the needs and work within the structure. Homecare Suppliers, LLC has detailed some of these common questions and factors on their Daily Living Blog with "Understanding Stair Lifts".
Cost should not be your primary factor. While it is important to understand the market and work within your budget, it is most important to get the lift that meets the users specifications.
Things to consider:
Can the user access the lift easily? Will they need a transfer board if they are in a wheelchair? If this is the case - the lift they use must have movable armrests.
Does the user have use of their right arm and hand? This is important as the controls to make the unit run are usually mounted on the right armrest. Some models allow you to put these controls on the left armrest.
Fear Factor - Does the unit swivel at the top of the steps, at the bottom, or both? Some riders are uncomfortable getting on a unit if it does not swivel at the top of the landing as they fear they will fall down the steps.
Is there a weight or height concern? Some units have a maximum lifting capacity of 300lbs. Additionally, the individuals over 6 ft sometimes need additional leg room space and thus the width of the staircase is important.
Understanding key features is also important as you make your decision.
Electric versus battery. There are a few manufacturers that sell an electric stair lift. However, most manufacturers sell battery run units. To clarify - battery units are not a battery back-up unit but a battery-run unit. Simply stated, a battery run unit is a unit that utilizes a battery to run and gets its recharge from an electrical outlet. These units are plugged into an outlet so that the unit is constantly receiving a trickle of electricity which keeps the battery charged. When the unit is in use, it is drawing its current from the battery, not the outlet. Should a power outage occur the unit can be used for duration of 24 - 78 hours depending upon the model purchased.
Worm-Drive versus Gear Driven versus Cable Driven. Each has their benefits. However one is not necessarily better than the other. Unfortunately, there is a lot of hype about one over the other, which is mostly manufacturer-driven commentaries and has little to do with functionality or durability. They are all pretty comparable when technically compared for function, safety and durability.
Aesthetics - Bells and Whistles. Price is often defined by the bells and whistles of the unit. Beauty, leather and upgraded features affect the price of the unit. Understand your price parameter and work from there to ensure that you are getting the best product for your particular situation.
Warranty. Warranties are pretty consistent in the industry with slight variables. Most units have 5 year warranty on the motor and between 1-3 years on parts and components. This is pretty standard. However, something to note is that most manufacturers do not offer a labor warranty. As a result, most dealers do not offer a labor warranty for the stair lift. To equate this to an everyday situation - if the heating element were to go out in your oven - even if it is under warranty - you still have to pay for someone to come out and diagnose the problem and do the work. The manufacturer will provide the new part, but the labor to do the repair is paid by the homeowner.
Self-Installation. Some manufacturers will not sell their unit uninstalled while others have designed a unit that is less complicated and can be installed by a handy individual. These manufacturers typically provide technical support via telephone to assist with trouble-shooting. A consumer can request installation manuals prior to purchase in order to ensure that they are capable of completing the installation. It is very important to find out what support is available to the consumer regarding self-installation and trouble-shooting, prior to purchasing. Further, it is important to take into consideration that some of these calls are not toll-free or within the United States.
Installation - Local Dealers - To find a local dealer that can both provide installation as well as sales, it is best to look in your local yellow pages book under medical supply or stair lifts. Although, purchasing local may not be the most competitive price, you often get a free consultation prior to purchase as well as a 90 day installation warranty if they install the unit for you.
Installation - Internet Dealers - Many internet dealers can provide the unit as well as assist with installation, however, the installation is a separate cost and may be coordinated through another company.
Financial Assistance - Medicare and Medicaid as well as most private insurances do not reimburse for stair lifts. A stair lift is a non-reimbursable item and is not even coded by the insurance industry with a HCPCS ('hix-pix'). Beware of dealers who state that they can get you reimbursed. Contact directly your insurance provider for written verification. Additionally, when you speak with your provider, make sure that they understand that you are inquiring about a Stair Lift not a LIFTCHAIR. Medicare and Medicaid do provide some reimbursement for the mechanical components that go into the reclining chair that also lifts an occupant - this is the stationary chair that you sit in. It is not a stair lift or chair lift.
While we know that a stair chair is a stair lift is a chair lift and a rose is a rose is a rose...it is still important that you get the exact one that best suits your needs. Every manufacturer and model is unique in their design, style and cost. We recommend comparing available models and then compiling a list of needs, financial capability and then expectations. At that point, you can then reach out to dealers and begin your comparison process and find the provider that meets your needs.
Suzanne is a freelance writer for Homecare Suppliers, LLC as well as several non-profit organizations. Homecare Suppliers, LLC is a national provider of mobility products including stair lifts, bath lifts, ramps, vertical lifts and daily living products. They also maintain an informational blog that features information for Living Life Unlimited despite mobility and accessibility limitations. A link to their blog is located on their website at http://www.buyastairlift.com