Ease of use, simple maintenance, and being able to fit into a narrow space are all desirable attributes for any stairlift. Based on those criteria and many hours of research and evaluation, we chose the Harmar SL600 Pinnacle Premium stairlift as our overall best pick. This comfortable option boasts a unique gear drive system that is more power-efficient than conventional systems and is easy to maintain. While sturdy, it is also light, with a slim profile that is less obtrusive than many other offerings on the market.
Overall Best Pick
Harmar’s premium straight stairlift offerings are the SL600 Pinnacle Premium and its heavy-duty version, the SL600HD Pinnacle Premium. The stairlift’s advantages include a slim profile and an efficient and easy-to-maintain drive system. The SL600 carries up to 350 pounds and can move at a speed of 20 feet per minute. The SL600HD carries up to 600 pounds and moves at 14 feet per minute.
Best Curved Stairlift
A curved stairlift is generally used in a stairwell with bends, turns or partial landings. The Stannah Sadler provides an excellent curved stairlift option, particularly for people with limited mobility and flexibility. The Sadler’s perch-style, tilting seat allows the occupant to ride fully supported in a near-standing position – helpful if you have back problems or difficulty bending your knees.
Many straight stairlifts will run $3,000 to $5,000 installed, but the AmeriGlide Horizon stairlift offers versatility and ease of use – particularly for steep staircases – for about half as much. It is available in two models: an indoor stair elevator and a weatherproof, outdoor version, which comes with a waterproof cover and foot mat.
How do stairlifts work?
A stairlift is a motorized platform with a chair that is installed into a stairwell along a stair-tread-mounted rail and can transport an individual, who is usually seated, from one story of a home to another. Most stairlifts are battery-powered, although there are ones that are wired directly into a home’s electrical system.
Who is a good candidate to use a stairlift?
A stairlift is best-suited for a senior whose mobility disability is minor-to-moderate. Mike Carter, an instructor with the University of Southern California’s National Resource Center on Supportive Housing and Home Modification, suggests that a candidate for a stairlift be able to do the following:
- Transfer themselves in and out of the chair – or able to always have someone on hand who can assist them without hurting themselves
- Have sufficient balance and torso control to remain in the chair until it reaches the top and it is time to transfer out of it
- Have the physical and cognitive ability to manage the controls on the stairlift
- Have the cognitive ability to handle the unexpected, such as being able to use a cellphone or medical alert device to summon help if an emergency, malfunction or power outage causes the lift to stop in progress
Are there alternatives to stairlifts?
If there is a need to transport a wheelchair or mobility scooter between floors along with the passenger, you could opt for a wheelchair platform. Wheelchair platforms come in vertical and inclined designs. A vertical platform is similar to an elevator and includes a safety enclosure large enough to fit the passenger in their wheelchair. It can extend up to 14 feet and requires a 6-foot square area of space for installation. An inclined platform is typically located in a stairwell and travels between floors along a rail, similar to the way that a stairlift does. It can extend 164 feet and requires at least 36 inches of space for installation, so it is not a good option for narrow stairs.
Design & Style
What types of stairlifts are there?
Stairlifts come in straight and curved designs to accommodate the two main stairwell designs.
- A straight stairlift is used for a straight stairwell without any bends, turns or partial landings.
- A curved stairlift is used in a stairwell with bends, turns or partial landings.
While two straight stairlifts could be used with a stairwell that has a partial landing or switchback, it would require a seat transfer between the first and second stairlift. That is why a curved rail is generally recommended for that type of stairwell.
How is a stairlift installed?
The stairlift rail along which the chair travels is installed into the stair treads, not the wall. The process creates small holes which can be repaired after de-installation; depending on the level of customization, more may be involved. Many companies urge you to have them professionally installed to ensure that it is done safely, although some companies, such as Ameriglide, encourage do-it-yourself installation.
What are the standard features of a stairlift?
Standard features include:
- Padded seats that swivel to make getting into and out of the chair easier
- Adjustable armrests and footrests that fold up out of the way
- Push-button, rocker-switch or tiller controls located on the armrest
- “Call send” controls which allow you to call or send the unit to the other end of the stairs (handy if the stairlift will have more than one user)
- Safety features (listed below)
What safety features should I look for?
Look for features that keep the passenger safely in place on the chair and will not allow movement that could harm her or him. These include:
- Seatbelts to keep the passenger in the chair
- Seat sensors to prevent the stairlift from operating unless the passenger is seated properly in the chair
- Footrest sensors to stop the stairlift if there is an obstruction in the stairwell
- Mechanical and electrical braking systems to stop the stairlift from moving too fast or in an uncontrolled manner in case of mechanical failure
- A key lockable switch so that children and other unauthorized users cannot operate it when locked
What are popular added features for a stairlift?
Perch models are available for people who have trouble bending their knees to sit or have very narrow stairwells. People lean or perch on a padded seat with their legs more or less straight, and are strapped in with a seatbelt.
Other added features include:
- Remote controls for the “call send” controls to make it easier to send a chairlift back downstairs after using it
- Power swivel seats to make transfers easier at the end of the stairlift ride
How much weight will a stairlift carry?
Most straight stairlifts can carry at least 300 pounds, while curved units carry at least 265 pounds. However, many models carry more weight, up to 600 pounds, in the case of the Harmar Pinnacle SL600HD.
How much does a stairlift cost?
A stairlift can cost between $1,000 and $15,000, with straight stairlifts typically at the lower end of that range and curved stairlifts at the upper end. Custom installation adds to the price. Will government or private insurance pay for the cost of the stairlift?
Typically Medicare does not pay for the cost of a stairlift. A stairlift is classified as a “home modification” by Medicare instead of “durable medical equipment,” which would be covered.
In the case of Medicaid, many states have waiver programs that provide some funding for home modifications. Paying for Senior Care has compiled a list of states with such programs.
Through the U.S.Veteran’s Administration some veterans and their surviving spouses are eligible for a Veteran’s Aid and Attendance benefit that can help to defray the cost.
Some private insurance policies, such as long-term care policies, will pay for at least part of the cost of buying and installing a stairlift, though typically not maintenance or repair costs.
Can I rent a stairlift?
If you need a stairlift due to an injury or surgery from which recovery is likely, you may consider renting a stairlift instead of buying one. The same companies that sell them frequently rent them out as well. Typically, you have to pay fees for installation, de-installation and a monthly maintenance fee with a three-month minimum. If your need for the stairlift is expected to last less than a year, then do the math and figure out if renting would be less expensive than buying.
What do I do when it’s time to de-install the stairlift?
Some stairlift sellers have a buyback program for used stairlifts that includes de-installation. Handling it on your own involves the costs to repair the holes drilled in the stair treads to mount the stairlift rail, among other damage, depending on the scope of the installation.
Can I buy a used stairlift?
The flip side of the buyback program is that the stairlift sellers usually refurbish them and resell them at a discount. This option typically works best if you need a standard straight stairlift without modifications.
Do stairlifts come with warranties?
Most stairlifts come with a 12-month standard warranty that covers parts and labor, though the types of repairs they cover may be limited, so check the warranty before you make your purchase. Some companies offer lifetime guarantees on the motor and gearbox. For an extra cost stairlift companies generally offer extended warranties, as well as maintenance and service contracts.
Special thanks to Williams Lift Co. for making its showroom avalible to us to take the photos featured in this article.