There are currently over 25 million households in the UK, with plenty of buildings over fifty years old, many of which contain stairs. This is not a problem when you have no difficulty climbing stairs but if – for whatever reason – even a couple of steps becomes a major barrier or physical hazard, your own home can suddenly quite seriously disable you.
When this happens, you are left with four choices: do nothing and lose the ability to live independently in your own home; reorganise the house to live and sleep downstairs; move to a bungalow or ground floor flat; or install some form of domestic lift. The last option is likely to be the least distressing, and the most practical and financially prudent means of ensuring you retain as much independence as possible.
Who to turn to?
When installing a domestic lift, it’s advisable to get an independent assessment of your daily living needs. This will help you to decide how best to solve your problems and you’ll be in a much better position to get the support and facilities you need.
Fixed stairlifts are powered mechanisms mounted on stair-fixed tracks, which follow the line of the stairwell. They can either be ‘straight’ or ‘curved’. The majority of stairlifts are used by people who can walk, but find stairs a problem.
If you opt for a stairlift, would you prefer to sit, perch or stand (if you can’t bend your knees)? Would you find it easier to use joysticks and toggle controls, or buttons and switches on the end of the armrest, or on a remote control unit?
You need to take into consideration the home environment, not just in relation to the physical things like doors, bulkheads and radiators, but also family members, pets and visitors.
What to look for
Choosing the right stairlift will make a great deal of difference to your comfort and confidence in using it. There are various aspects to consider and products designed to suit different needs. Stairlifts can be fitted in most houses,
All manufacturers make lifts for straight stairs giving you many models to choose from. With stairways that turn at the top for a few steps, you might feel able to get off the lift and walk up the last few steps, but you need to decide if you are likely to be able to go on doing this in the future.
Think about how much room you need for your knees or feet. Perching and standing lifts can be installed on narrower stairs, which means there is no danger of bumping your knees or feet. But if you are going to stand, check you have enough headroom all the way up. Narrower stairways may mean the lift gets in the way of the other people using the stairs.
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. On stairlifts with seats, the
All the stairlifts with a seat are supplied with a seat belt, usually a lap strap or a diagonal chest strap. Some are retractable. Most manufacturers also offer a harness option.
Installation itself is usually done in a day. You might not be able to use the stairs while the work is being done.
What is involved?
If you buy a stairlift direct from the manufacturer or distributor, they will deliver and install it. This will include all electrical work and the removal of any obstructions on the stairway, such as a banister. Ask the installer what alterations will be needed, and who will be responsible for them, including any ‘making good’.
All manufacturers guarantee their new stairlifts for one year. This covers the cost of parts, labour and call outs. Most firms supplying second hand lifts provide a six or twelve month guarantee. Beyond those timeframes, the main types of cover for your stairlift include:
■ Fully comprehensive extended warranty
This is generally an extension of the guarantee. The cost varies between companies and is dependent on how many years’ cover you opt for.
■ Service only
This maybe the only option available for lifts bought second hand. Services are booked usually once a year. The cost covers labour, but you will have to pay for any replacement parts.
■ Emergency call outs
If the lift breaks down and you don’t have a maintenance contract, you will need to call out the manufacturer, retailer, or a repair firm. Before taking on any type of maintenance contract, check when the firm is ‘on call’ and that engineers are always available, not just office staff.
The warranties offered by stairlift firms cover the lift only for mechanical failure. If you want cover against accidental damage, fire, theft or flooding, you will need to take out insurance on the lift. Insurance companies vary in whether they insure stairlifts under contents or buildings policies, or indeed at all. Always tell your insurance company when you are having a stairlift installed. Specialist insurers are able to give specific policies for stairlifts. Information on these can be acquired from your local agent.