‘The Get Wise to Buying a Stairlift Guide’ was produced by the British Healthcare Trade Association (BHTA) as an independent guide to buying a stairlift, from choosing your stairlift to looking after it.
The BHTA represent almost 500 companies throughout Britain. Each company agrees to follow and comply with the BHTA Code of Practice, approved by The Chartered Trading Standards Institute. As a BHTA member, Halton Stairlifts operates to higher standards of customer protection and service.
The First Steps to Choosing a Stairlift
If you’re thinking about buying a stairlift, but aren’t sure where to begin, here we highlight some important considerations when buying a stairlift, in line with BHTA guidance:
Step 1: Get an independent assessment.
Getting independent advice is important. This way you’ll receive honest impartial recommendations on the best way to solve your stair problems. There’ll also be no ‘up-selling’ of more expensive or unsuitable stairlift options. You can get an independent assessment from:
- A BHTA stairlift member, like Halton Stairlifts
- Occupational Therapists (OTs) and other healthcare professionals
Step 2: Weigh up your options
If you’re struggling with the stairs, you’ve got a couple of options. You could choose a stairlift or even opt for a through-the-floor lift. Your decision will depend on your particular needs and situation.
- Stairlifts are fixed to the stairs, NOT the wall, and follow the line of the stairwell, so they can be either ‘straight’ or ‘curved’.
- Mostly used by people who can walk, but find stairs a problem; the user is normally seated during transfer, although some models allow you to perch or stand, which might be preferable if you have difficulty bending your knees.
- There are also fixed stairlifts with a wheelchair platform, but although the platform usually folds up against the wall, they do take up a lot of room and many domestic stairwells may not be broad enough.
Home Lift Advantages
- They’re ideal for wheelchair users if you have sufficient space
- Short rise lifts are ideal for coping with small changes in floor level – at a front step or in a split-level hallway – where there is insufficient space to put a ramp.
Home Lift Disadvantages
- They involve major structural alterations
- They cost more than stairlifts
Step 3: Making your choice
A professional assessment carried out by a local BHTA stairlift member means you’ll be asked questions you might not have thought to ask. This way the stairlift company can recommend your ideal stairlift with all the necessary features for safety, comfort, and usability. Your stairlift surveyor will ask things like:
- Will you prefer to sit, perch, or stand on the stairlift?
- Do you need lift-up armrests and a swivel seat to ease access?
- How wide and steep are your stairs?
- Do you find it easier to use joysticks and toggle controls as opposed to buttons and switches?
Step 4: Other Things to Think About
Because your stairlift is likely to be a one-time purchase, you’ll need to think long-term. If your physical condition could deteriorate, you may want to consider installing a through-the-floor lift to accommodate a wheelchair instead.
If you’re buying a second-hand stairlift, you’ll need to make sure it covers the whole length of the staircase, and the installation should be carried out by a manufacturer trained engineer only. It is advisable not to used untrained staff for installation.
Check whether the company you’re dealing with is a member of the BHTA – all BHTA members commit to a Code of Practice, overseen by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute. The code sets out the levels of service you can expect from the company.
Finding a Stairlift to Suit Your Needs
You might ask ‘how do I know which type of stairlift I need?‘, here are some things to consider to narrow down your choice:
Your House & Stairs
You’ll get the most value from your stairlift when you feel comfortable and confident using it. Here are a few things that can influence the type of stairlift you choose:
- Your house | Stairlifts can be fitted to most properties. If you have a curved, spiral or unusually shaped staircase it may be possible to install a more specialist product.
- The shape of your stairs | You’re going to need a straight stairlift if you have straight stairs, or a curved stairlift if you have stairs that curve, turn, or have a half-landing and are made bespoke to the stairs. Always seek advice from your BHTA stairlift installer if you are unsure.
- The size of your stairs | You always have to think about how much room you need for your knees or feet when riding a stairlift in a seated position. It is worth talking to a specialist BHTA member like Halton Stairlifts as there are variations between models.
- Doorways – If there is a door close to the bottom of the stairs, the stairlift may have to travel across it. To avoid stepping over a fixed rail, most lifts have hinged rails as an optional extra. These fold to lift the rail up and out of the way. Changing the stairlift to the opposite side of the staircase may be an alternative.
- The top of your stairs – In most houses there is enough space at the top and bottom of the stairs for getting on and off the lift comfortably. In some houses you have to be careful not to bang your knees on radiators or other obstructions. Consider removing any obstructions (radiators may be re-sited or replaced with smaller models for convenience). Seek advice from your stairlift installer. You can park the lift at the top or the bottom because you can send it back up or down the stairs once you have got off. Some curved lifts can also have intermediate park points.
- You – If you use a wheelchair you need to be able to transfer on and off a stairlift seat and to sit in it safely. If you cannot transfer you will need to think about a stairlift with a wheelchair platform, or a vertical through-the-floor lift.
Most of these features come as standard with most stairlifts. But you may have options to upgrade from manual to automated options to make your stairlift even easier to use. Here are just a few stairlift features worth thinking about:
- Comfort | Stairlifts need to be comfortable to sit on. If you have stiff limbs or difficulty bending your knees, it may be easier to choose a lift with a footrest you stand on and a perching stairlift, which has a small, high seat or ledge to give support during travel. You may consider a downward facing seat.
- Folding the stairlift | If other people use the stairs, and you have a narrow hall and landing, you will probably need to fold the lift up when you are not using it. The armrests and footrests fold on all models with seats. The seats fold too on most models, although on some only the front section of the seat flips up.
- Getting on and off | How easy it will be to get on and off a stairlift is affected by the height of the seat and the amount of space in your hall and landing, so seek advice from your BHTA stairlift member, who will recommend the best solution for you and your stairs. As a guide, your minimum seat height should be the distance from the crease at the back of your knee to the floor. Some models have adjustable seat heights and some will have a one size fits all.
- Armrests | All stairlift chairs with a seat have two armrests. All armrests lift up to fold back. These can be raised separately to assist you when transferring or standing up. This is particularly helpful if you are transferring across from a wheelchair. Your BHTA specialist will give you helpful advice and user tips when carrying out an assessment.
- Swivel seats | Swivel seats help, because you can swing round to face away from the stairs and towards the landing. The swivel is operated by levers which are usually on the side and just below the seat cushion. The size and shape of these varies. Some manufacturers offer a powered swivel option.
- Controls | Stairlifts usually have two controls, usually found on the armrest. one to switch the power on and off, and one to make the lift move up or down. Most up/down controls are either operated by a joystick or pushbutton, dependent on the model. Make sure the controls are not where you might accidentally switch them on. On standing and perching lifts, the controls are on the guard rail or on the armrest, you can reach them when the seat is folded up. You do have to keep pressing down the up/down control while the lift is moving, if you don’t it will stop. Most lifts are supplied with wall mounted ‘call and send’ switches at the top and bottom of the stairs. Some manufacturers and suppliers provide hand-held and remote call and send switches with their lifts.
- Safety belts | All the models come with a safety belt which you should always use. Some are retractable belts and some are lap straps. Most manufacturers also offer a harness option.
As BHTA members, we’re always on hand to give unbiased advice on a range of stairlift makes and models. If you have any questions about choosing your stairlift or would like to arrange a stairlift survey, call us on 0800 644 7766 for a chat. Or take a look at our blog post on ‘how do I choose a stairlift?‘