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Stair Lift & Railing Cost Guide

We discuss stair lift and railing cost, the best tips when it comes to materials to choose and contractors’ prices. Free contractor quotes included.

There comes a time in everyone’s life when they become too ill, too frail or too weak to manage a flight of stairs. There are many reasons why this problem might arise and often the sufferer thinks that the only ways around this are to:

  • Move your bedroom downstairs
  • Move home into a dwelling with only one level

While these solutions will help you get around the problem of not being able to cope with stairs, they are a bit drastic and really they are not the best way around the problem. Most accessibility problems can be overcome by having a stair-lift and rail installed in your home. This allows you to be carried in a sitting position up and down your stairs by means of a seat attached to a rail. The seat is moved using an electric motor and allows you to mount and dismount at the top or the bottom of the stairs.

Modern stair-lifts are very affordable, reliable and practical. Their rails are supported directly on the stair treads so there is no major construction work involved. They fold out of the way when not being used so the stairway is always safe for people walking up and down the stairs.

Why would I need a stair-lift?

Buying a stair-lift is a big decision. You should consider the following facts and incorporate them into your decision making.

  1. If you have loved ones who have problems managing stairs, a stair-lift will help relieve you of the concern for their safety and comfort.
  2. Gives you piece of mind that your family member will not fall down the stairs. They can enjoy both upstairs and downstairs of their home, which they have lived in for years.
  3. A stair-lift will help make the life of your loved one easier and safer for many years.
  4. Compared to the costs of adding a ground floor addition to your home, moving to an assisted living centre or nursing home, or purchasing a one storey home, the price of a stair-lift is the most economic choice.
  5. It is not only people that can ride on a stair-lift. Luggage, groceries and laundry can all hitch a ride.
  6. One of the most common causes of accidents in the home is falling down stairs.
  7. Saves wear and tear on ankles, knees and hips.

Factors determining the cost of a stair-lift

The cost of installation is often the deciding factor as to whether someone chooses to have a stair-lift or not. Prospective purchasers are often wary of having one fitted because they think that their stairway will need a great deal of alteration to fit a stair-lift. They couldn’t be further from the truth. Most modern stairways and many older ones are compatible with commercially available systems.

The main factors involved are as follows:

  • Are the stairs straight, curved or ‘dog-leg’?
  • What is the width of your stairwell?
  • What is the minimum headroom along the stairs?
  • How long is your stairway?
  • Have you landings at the top and bottom of the stairs?
  • Will any radiators have to be moved?

Minor factors that will affect the design and cost include:

  • Do you want a customised stair-lift?
  • What type of upholstery would you like?
  • Would you prefer a footrest fold control button?
  • Would a raised seat be beneficial for your condition?

Most, if not all stair lift manufacturers offer not only a wide range of standard stair-lift models but also are able to customise these to suit your condition or your preferences. In fact most manufacturers pride themselves on being the company that can give you exactly what you need.

Can I get a stair-lift to suit my particular stairs?

Yes you can. All modern stair-lifts manufactured by well-known companies are individually designed to suit your particular stairway. They also have many different available designs to suit your budget and your own accessibility problems.

You can have a stair-lift designed and manufactured to suit the exact dimensions of your stairway. Even if your stairs are straight, curved or have landings part way up, a lift can be produced to suit your conditions.

Even if your budget is limited, most companies have a supply of reconditioned stair-lifts that will come with the usual manufacturer’s parts and labour warranty.

Straight staircases

These are the easiest stairways to cater for and there are many thousands of homes with straight staircases who have had stair-lifts successfully fitted. All seats can fold up out of the way when not in use and they use minimal electrical power. They run on electricity supplied by continuously charged, heavy duty DC batteries so can be used during a power cut. They usually require no construction work as the rail fits directly to the stair treads.

Straight stair-lifts can be fitted with optional extras such as:

  • Powered swivel seats to help with mounting and dismounting the lift.
  • Larger weight capacities for oversize passengers. Capacities available up to 400 lbs.
  • Powered footrests.
  • Retractable lower rail sections where the rail runs past the bottom step, potentially causing an obstruction for foot traffic.

Curved stair lifts

Curved stair-lifts can be designed to fit almost any staircase that has a curve, one or many landings part way up or even spiral staircases. Like the single flight stair-lifts, they fit to the stair treads and run on batteries. If you are worried in case you have a narrow stairway or need access at top or bottom then a curved stair-lift gives you the ability to turn and park the chair out of the way either at the foot of the stairs or on the landing.

I might need special controls as my movement is not very good

This is no problem. Because stair-lifts are designed for people who have accessibility problems the manufacturers take great care in ensuring all controls are accessible and comply with all the applicable regulations and codes.

Footrests always require controls. The most straightforward lifts have a connected footrest allowing you to fold or unfold the footrest without bending or leaning over the stairs. The footrest may be mechanically linked to an arm, the seat or an independent lever. Some models have a push button control on the chair arm which controls the footrest independently of the chair. This is targeted specifically at wheelchair or walker users who need to back up to the seat before sitting.

People with accessibility problems always need to have clear walkways for unimpeded access (able-bodied walkers need this too). This can sometimes be a problem when the stair-lift needs a rail extension for parking on the lower landing. Some models have automatically retracting rails that fold out of the way ensuring the walkway is clear. Some models need an attendant to fold the rail out of the way.

At the top and bottom of the stairway, the chair needs to be turned for easy access to wheelchair or walker. A power swivel seat is ideal for this problem. It automatically turns the chair so users have access to safe areas of landings.

If the user has problems bending their knees then an oversize footrest is available. This allows legs extra room in front of the seat.

Safety harnesses and ankle restraints are available for those users who have very limited mobility or who need to remain seated at all times.

What about access to my garden?

Manufacturers also provide stair-lifts suitable for outside use allowing access to your garden, pool or other outdoor area. The exterior grade chair-lifts have weatherproof paint, upholstery and sealed motors.

So how much do they cost?

This one is a difficult question because every home is different and every user’s condition is different. Therefore a ‘one size fits all’ approach is very rarely helpful. The following costs might give you an indication of how much to budget for.

TypeRangeMost common choice
Straight stairway$2,500 to $5,500$3,000 to $4,500
Curved stairway$10,000 minimum
Additional electrical work$70 per hour
Additional waterproofing for exterior location$3,500 extra
Replacement battery$50 to $100
Yearly inspection & maintenance$150 to $300

Bear in mind that the cost will include full installation, permit and inspections (in area where these are required) and warranty.

If you consider that the average costs of assisted living is more than $3,000 per month and nursing homes are a minimum of $9,000 per month, these costs to install a chair-lift are very cost effective.

Can I install one myself?

Most reputable manufacturers insist on having their own installation team fit their own stair-lifts. Some states even require it by law. This is because of the high safety regulations that a stair-lift must comply with.

You can buy used equipment online, but how do you know whether it is in good working order or not? It may need new batteries or the problem may be something more serious. All reputable dealers always need to certify and have permits for the seat before it is used. How will you go about having this done?

Lastly, how will you get working spares if the stair-lift requires them? No reputable dealer is allowed to sell spare parts to the end user for self-repair.

For safety’s sake, never try to install a stair-lift yourself. Someone else’s life may be in your hands.

How do I know if the company I am purchasing from is reputable?

All reputable companies will be members of The Accessibility Equipment Manufacturer’s Association (AEMA). They will have showrooms where you can go and try out various models. Their representatives will be knowledgeable and fully trained in all aspects of the company’s products. Their installation engineers will be fully trained and have all the required tools and parts needed to give a working stair-lift. They will be fully certified and insured for the work they carry out.

Contact the Better Business Bureau to check if the company is accredited.

What about permits and inspections?

Depending on where you live, you may need a permit and an inspection when you have a stair-lift installed. These are there to protect you from hazards and risks potentially inherent in stair-lifts. A reputable manufacturer and supplier will know how to go about applying for a permit and will be fully insured for all accidents and problems with their machinery.

Some states require by law that all stair-lift installations are permitted and inspected. If in doubt contact your local stair-lift supplier or City hall. In addition to the permit and inspection, most states require the stair-lift to have special safety equipment and power sources installed if they are installed on a commercial property.

How do I go about getting a quotation?

Although purchasing a stair-lift is one of the less expensive options when it comes to accessibility problems, you will still be spending a lot of money, possibly at a time when you haven’t much money coming in. You therefore need to know that you are getting the best deal you possible can. The following might be a help in giving you some ideas to make sure you get value for money.

  • Contact a reputable company (a member of the AEMA) and ask for a list of their licensed providers near where you live.
  • Look online or in the local directory for AEMA member companies.
  • Visit the provider’s showroom and discuss your requirements with the representative.
  • Have a try on one of the lifts in the showroom. It is no use buying one before you are sure you feel safe.
  • Discuss your mobility requirements with a member of the sales team.
  • Invite the surveyor to visit your home to see what kind of stairway you have. The surveyor will measure and photograph your stairs to understand which stair-lift is suitable for your specific needs.

The surveyor may also come with samples of rail, control buttons and other additional key components so you can see exactly what you are getting.

From the information of your requirements and the stair measurements, the surveyor will be able to supply you with a detailed quotation. A quote from a reputable provider will contain no hidden extras and will be the amount you pay. Usually the quotation will be valid for 12 months.

Once you have made a decision and agreed the contract, your stair-lift will be installed within a few days.

Where can I get help with funding the stair-lift?

There are many ways that a customer can fund the installation of a stair-lift besides having cash up-front. These include loans, grants, dealer’s financing and home equity loans among others.

Look online for information of charities that help with the cost of funding.

Below are a few ideas that might get you thinking. Please bear in mind that these organisations provided help at the time of writing but may not do so in the future.

Area Agency on Aging. Some groups supply funding to modify homes.

Banks and Lenders. Some lenders offer loans to fund home improvements or modification projects to install ramps, lifts, widening doors. Contact your local branch for details.

Department of Housing and Community Development. Many towns and cities use Community development grants to help maintain and upgrade homes within their jurisdiction. Contact your local department for help.

Federal Housing Administration (FHA). This organisation helps homebuyers to apply for and secure loans for home modifications.

Health Insurance. Some health insurance companies provide funds for some home modifications. Check with your insurance company.

Internal Revenue Service (IRS). If your project meets certain criteria, the cost of financing it may be tax deductible. Contact a tax professional for advice or look on the IRS website.

Rural Housing Services (RHS). This agency offers various loans and grants for low income, rural, elderly people to modify their homes for rehabilitation, repair and improvement.

Veterans Administration. This organisation provides resources and programs to help with purchase of lifts.

What safety codes do stair-lifts comply with?

The following safety features are fitted to most modern stair-lifts to ensure compliance with the applicable safety codes.

‘Cut-out’ switches. Stair-lifts are usually fitted with switches which will turn off the power if something goes wrong.

‘Safety edges’. To prevent damage to people and property, ‘safety edges’ detect whether there are any obstructions on the stairs. The power is disconnected and movement is only allowed away from the obstruction.

Child seats. Car safety seats for children can be fitted to a standard stair-lift chair so people of all ages can use them.

Isolator key. Most stair-lifts are fitted with an ‘on/off’ key to prevent unauthorised use.

Starting & stopping. Stair-lifts normally have a soft start and stop. This means that the speed is gradually varied between stationary and full speed so there are no jerky movements.

Top speed. Usually the top speed for domestic straight stair-lifts is between 13.78 ft per minute and 29.53 ft per minute (0.07m/s to 0.15m/s, 0.34 mph). Top speed on curved rail stair-lifts will vary depending on inclines and bends.

In North America the following safety codes might be relevant to the manufacture and use of stair-lifts.

  1. ASME A17.1 -1900.
  2. ASME A18.1 – 2005.

In UK the equivalent standard is:

  1. British Standard BS 5776: 1996 Specification for Powered Stair lifts.

You must be aware that technical specifications and codes of practice are updated occasionally and these standards may be out of date.

To conclude

Today we looked at the domestic stair-lift specifically designed for people with accessibility problems. We talked about the history of the stair-lift and the different types available. We discussed the factors affecting the cost of a stair-lift.

We discussed the types of controls that stair-lifts often have as well as the safety cut-outs commonly incorporated in their design.

The costs to have a stair-lift installed vary so much depending on the user’s mobility problems and the design of the staircase that we found that each stair-lift’s cost was unique. However we talked about an average price range for the two types of lift.

We now understand that it is not recommended to install a stair-lift as a DIY project and in fact in some states it is illegal to do so.

We talked about reputable manufacturers and suppliers and how to recognise them.

We talked about how to try to get help with funding and finally what safety equipment has been found necessary to be installed on a stair-lift.

I hope this short guide has been useful for you.

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