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How to buy the best stairlift

Different types of stairlifts

By Joanna Pearl

Article 2 of 4

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Different types of stairlifts

Discover the different types of stairlift available, from the most common - 'straight' and 'curved' - to those that are a little more unusual.

Although there are lots of different types available, stairlifts basically fall into two main categories: straight and curved. The latter are the more bespoke - and, by definition, more expensive - products, with the stairlift rail having to fit around the shape of your stairs. You're unlikely to find a reconditioned stairlift that will be suitable for a curved staircase.

Most stairlift controls are easy to use, and can be set up on either side of the lift, depending on whether you are right or left-handed. The best way of familiarising yourself with the different types, and how they work, is to arrange to try one out at a disabled living centre, local mobility centre or a manufacturer showroom. The Disabled Living Foundation's Living Made Easy website has a list of these.

If you know someone with a stairlift, ask them if you can use it and talk to them about their experience. Their requirements won't be the same as yours, but you'll get an idea of what the pros and cons might be.

We've surveyed 754 stairlift owners, and used their experiences to rate stairlift providers and sellers. Discover the best and worst stairlift brands and the best places to buy stairlifts.

Seated stairlifts for straight staircases

If you have a straight staircase, it should be fairly straightforward to install a stairlift that runs along a straight rail. These most commonly have seats (fixed or drop-down) attached. Because straight stairlifts are the easiest type to install, they are also the cheapest.

Possible issues:

  • Narrow staircases
  • Doors at the top of the staircase that could be obstructive – although this doesn't normally pose a serious problem.

If the layout of your staircase is straight for the most part, but curves right at the top, you may be able to buy a straight stairlift plus a ‘bridging platform’ to enable the lift to reach the landing.

You'll need to decide where your stairlift 'parks' – ie at the top or the bottom of the staircase. Stairlifts normally run on batteries that recharge automatically, but this will only happen if the stairlift returns to its parking spot and charger.

Seated stairlifts for curved staircases

If a stairlift goes round a corner, it's classified as curved. Curved stairlifts require bespoke curved rails to fit the exact shape of your staircase, so they are more expensive. As a rough guide, each extra corner doubles the initial price.

Other types of stairlift

These are less common, and are usually used where a straight or curved stairlift isn't suitable for some reason.

Standing / perching stairlifts

Often used for particularly narrow staircases that won’t fit a seated lift. The headroom of the staircase has to be high enough to fit your whole standing body.

They can also be good if you have problems bending your knees, for example due to severe osteoarthritis. Some have a small ledge to help you keep your balance.

Standing lifts aren't appropriate for everyone, however. If you sometimes get dizzy spells, or don’t have the physical strength to stand for a few minutes, then it could be dangerous to use one (even though most have grab rails attached).

Vertical ‘through-floor’ lifts

These take you from one floor of your house to another via a hole in the ceiling/floor – for instance, moving directly from the living room up to the bedroom. The track of the stairlift attaches to the wall.

Again, these are normally only installed if your staircase isn’t suitable for an ordinary stairlift – for instance if it’s too narrow, or if it’s a spiral staircase. They are more common for wheelchair users who are not able to transfer safely to a stairlift seat.

Vertical lifts are the most expensive type to install as they usually require building work to create a suitable hole.

Outdoor stairlifts

These are essentially the same as indoor straight and curved stairlifts, but are made of weather-resistant materials so they can be used outside, for example on the outdoor steps leading to the front door of a property, or down to the garden. 

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