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Stair lifts – what are they and how can they make life better

Stair lifts – what are they and how can they make life better
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A stair lift is designed for one purpose and that is to lift people up or down a flight of stairs. It is a mechanical device that can help disabled individuals or the sick to ascend or descend the stairs. The device can only be used on the stairs if a lifting platform is also attached to the rail. Stair lifts can be fitted at time of property construction or retro fitted. The individual to be lifted up or down the stairs will sit on the chair or on the lifting platform and the mechanical device carries the person up or down moving along the rail.

You may want to move from living areas on the ground floor to bedrooms and bath lift areas in the bathroom.

Stair lifts are called different names, some of which are:

  • Stair gliders

  • Chair lifts

  • Stair-lifts

  • Stairlifts

However, there is a difference between the stairlift and the chairlift used by skiers. The first set of stair lifts was made in the 1930’s. This was made by the Inclinator Company of America and was intended for those who were suffering from polio. These days, they are used by disabled individuals, people prone to falling and the elderly that cannot navigate stairs safely

Stair lift history

Though the first set of stair lifts ever made came to the fore in the 1930s, the idea of a stair lift first came about in the 1920’s from an idea that was birthed by C. C. Crispen, an entrepreneur from Pennsylvania. He designed the first form of stair lifts to help his ailing friend to move from one floor to another. He came up with the idea of designing a seat that could climb along a flight of stairs. Crispen built the first prototype of the inclining chair even though he was a self-taught engineer. He named this design as Inclin-ator. Something similar was invented by Fredrick Muffet from Royal Tunbridge Wells, England. He patented his creation and called it “An Invalid Chair with Tramway for use on Staircases”.

However, there is evidence that the first stair lifts were invented by King Henry VIII; this revelation was made in 2009 by Doctor David Starkey, a TV Historian. The monarch was injured via jousting and this prompted the invention of this form of the stair lift. It comprises of a chair hauled up and down the stairs by servants using a block and tackle system at the ancient Whitehall Palace in London.

Stair lift common features

Stair lifts have gone through quite a lot of phases since the first type was built in ancient times. Some of the features are highlighted below:

  • Battery isolation switches

  • Adjustable seat height

  • ‘Flip-up’ rail

  • Call stations

  • Folding step

  • Key switch

  • Seatbelt

  • Speed governor

  • Soft stop

  • Soft start

Types of rail

There are different types of rail and they will be discussed one by one below

Straight rails

The rails used along the stairs are usually made from steel and aluminum, especially those that are used on domestic staircases. The design comes in different cross-sectional shapes, depending on the preference of the manufacturer. In most instances, the rails are attached to the flight of stairs using metal brackets; the metal brackets are sometimes called “cleats”.

If a rail causes an obstruction or crosses a doorway at the lower end of the stairs, a hinge can be fitted to ensure that the rail is easily folded back and removed from the way whenever it is not being used.

Curved rails

They are also made from the same type of materials used in making the straight rails, which are aluminum and steel. They are equally presented in different cross-sectional shapes based on what the designer wants. Different designers adopt different strategies in making theirs and the main focus is to use the smallest possible radius while making the curves. As a result, they can wrap tightly around newel posts and other objects.

The designers always package the sections of the curved rails very well towards preventing any form of damage while the rail is in transit from the manufacturing plant to the site where they are to be used. They can then be unwrapped before being assembled once they reach the site.

If the rails are made for wheelchair platforms, they can be secured to the wall and step fixings.


The carriage is the component of the stair lift responsible for moving along the rail and can run on a small diameter roller. The carriage is usually moved by gear wheel on track or cable in many of the designs being made today. It can equally be driven using a rack and pinion system along the inclined rail. At other times, other driving arrangements can be used in moving the carriage. Stair lifts are often an excellent addition to the home helping gain access to bathrooms particularly if you have a bath lift fitted.

Many of the domestic carriages being designed these days come with a footrest and arms. Also, some special models are being made featuring a stand-on platform also called “perch” seat. If you have short legs, you can have a low seat attached to the platform so that you can sit more comfortably. This means the seats can be designed to fit individual sizes of people.

Conventionally, many of the stair lifts used for domestic purposes come with a typical layout that has the seat and the rail arranged in a right angle to each other; this arrangement ensures that the end users can travel sidesaddle. The seat can also be swiveled at the top end of the stairs and the swiveling is usually between 45 and 90 degrees, depending on the brand of stair lift in question. After swiveling, it can then be locked in position so that you can alight from the stair lift to the landing. The stair lifts are designed in different forms; some come with powered swivel, while some other ones come with a manual swivel. The ability of the end user can equally determine which one to buy.

There is a safety ‘turn off’ switch that can be used in an emergency which is fitted to many of the seats being made today. As a result, the stair lifts will not move from a spot until the seat is securely locked into the determined travel position. Some special models are also being made with their seats facing the bottom part of the flight of stairs and this works perfectly for end users that have health conditions like spinal injury, which is preventing them from using the conventional seat layout. This special seat, however, requires more room on the landing.

Popular types of stairlifts

In this section of the write-up, the most popular varieties of stair lifts being developed today will be discussed.

Straight-rail stairlifts

These are the most common of all the varieties of stair lifts being made today. They are used mostly in private homes and work with straight stairs. They equally have a straight rail or track securely attached to steps of the staircase. The installation will usually be completed in less than a day as the rail is cut to length from a stock part, which makes this type one of the most affordable stair lifts.

Curved-rail stairlifts

These types of stair lifts are made in line with the shape of the particular staircase to which it is to be fitted; it is made for curved stairs. This type of stair lift completely removes the problem of multiple straight stir lifts on staircases that have intermediate flat landings; it does so by providing a continuous lift up the entire length of the staircase. The rail in this type of stair lift is designed to follow the curved stairs. The chair fitted to it is also more complex than that fitted to a straight-rail stair lift. There is a need for this type to maintain a level position in relation to the traveling direction along the track while changing angle and direction. The design of this type of stair rail is more complex than the other and this makes it more expensive than the straight-rail stair lift. Buying the curved-rail stair lift can, therefore, add to the stair lift cost.

Before a curved-rail stair lift can be designed, there is a need for a very careful measurement, a detailed design and attention to manufacturing. The straight-rail type requires only a short time for installation, but the case is completely different with the curved-rail stair lift, which takes a long time to install; this is mostly due to its unique complexity.

Some of the manufacturers of stair lifts make curved-rail stair lifts using modular parts. The modular part is advantageous in that the delivery time is quick; the person to install it will bring all the parts required and fit them together on site. The only difference between this type and the ones manufactured directly from the factory is that the rail may not perfectly follow the same shape of the curved stairs like the factory-made one will. It requires a long time to install the modular stair lifts compared to the ones made at the factory. As a result, the price tends to be close to the custom-made type.

Wheelchair vertical platform stairlifts

This type is very heavy, heavier than the other types of stair lifts already mentioned; this is especially due to the fact that they are made to transport a scooter or wheelchair and the person sitting on it. In most instances, they are fitted to private homes and public access buildings.

The wheelchair vertical platform stair lifts are accompanied by relatively large platforms so that it can accommodate the scooter or wheelchair and the end user. They can equally have folding edge flaps that can drop down and function as ramps so that they can permit variation in floor levels. The flaps can equally prevent the wheelchair from tilting over the edge when on the platform.

The rails in this type of stair lift are made of very heavy construction so that they can conveniently support the load of the wheelchair. Also, the drive system is accommodated usually in a tubular aluminum extrusion or section rail.

Some models of this type of stair lifts come with steel cables in the tube, while some other ones have chains. On the other hand, some designs are made to use a rack and pinion system.

Many of this type are built to order. Some other ones may also comprise a carriage and a standard platform, while the length of the tracks or rails remains the only special requirement. Bear in mind that the stair lifts are not made only for indoor uses; they can also be fitted outdoors.

Outdoor stairlifts

This type features perches, footplate, seats or platforms and is available globally. They look similar to indoor stair lifts but the weatherproofing is improved.

Previously owned stairlifts

Most of these stair lifts will be with straight rails as they are designed for simple straight staircases. If the rail is too long, it can be easily cut to length. It can also be extended using a jointing kit. In most models, the carriage can be re-handed so that it can be adapted to the right or left side of the staircase.

Due to the many differences in curved staircase design in properties it is very difficult to match the rails to different layouts and has made it impracticable in the past.

However the components of some present-day curved-rail stair lifts are made using modular design so that they can be unbolted and then installed in another location. However, it is usually a difficult task and a lot of consideration must be put in place as regards safety and design.

Commercial stairlifts

This type of stair lift has a platform in place of seats and is used for lifting goods from one level to another. They are specially designed for industrial and commercial buildings. Some normal domestic stair lifts are also used for this purpose by some companies. They put items like boxes on the seat and works as perfectly as any good stair lift would.

How can a stair lift benefit life?

Being confined to a wheelchair is not an easy experience and this can limit the movements and activities of the affected person. Unexpected tragedies, aging years and diseases can confine one to a wheelchair and change the course of the lifetime plan of the person. The limited mobility can be challenging as one may have to depend on others to get things done. At times, the wheelchair may struggle to move through corridors if they are too narrow. The places you want to visit in your wheelchair may have an uneven surface and be difficult to navigate and it may become difficult to travel on public transit.

People using wheelchairs will have to make adjustments to their lifestyles. The frustration will be undeniable in the early stages of using a wheelchair. As part of making changes to your life, you may have to install a stair lift in your residence specifically for wheelchairs. The installation will make it easy for you to move from one floor level to another.

With the aid of a stair lift, you will never have to depend on your friends or relatives again for easy movement. The benefits of installing a vertical platform lift, wheelchair platform lift or an elevator in the form of a stair lift cannot be overemphasized.

See below for the various benefits of a wheelchair stair lift.

Complete independence

With a stair lift installed in your home, never again will you have to depend on others to move around. You can move up or down the stairs without assistance and get things done by yourself around the home. Also, the installation removes the need to hire a carer and can help you to save money.


With the aid of the stair lifts, you can move up or down stairs without the fear of falling or getting injured. Many disabled individuals end up being injured severely when climbing or descending the stairs. The installation of stair lifts will put an end to such accidents and improve safety for you at home. Bath lift chairs, for example, come with several safety features that make them perfect for home use.


Another benefit of installing a stair lift in the home is the flexibility it offers. They can be installed on any type of staircase, and this makes them unique. As a result, it can be fitted to your home irrespective of whether you have straight or curved stairs. It will even work perfectly if the staircase has several landings.

Practical and economical

One other benefit of installing a stair lift is the practicality that it offers. It can help you to live longer since domestic accidents in the home can be life changing. The installation of a stair lift will allow you to continue living in your home with no need to move to a new property with all the upheaval that would entail.

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