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How to buy the best stairlift

Different types of stairlift

By Joanna Pearl

Article 2 of 5

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Different types of stairlifts

Discover the different types of stairlift available, including those for straight and curved stairs as well as more unusual options

Although there are lots of different types of stairlift available, most fall into two main categories: straight and curved. The latter are the more bespoke, as the stairlift rail has to be made to fit around the shape of your stairs. This makes them more expensive and means you're unlikely to find a reconditioned stairlift suitable for your particular 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.

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

We surveyed 888 stairlift owners including Which? members and members of the public in May 2020, and used their experiences to rate stairlift providers and sellers. Discover the best and worst stairlift brands and where to buy your stairlift.

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 may not be suitable
  • 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 when 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're 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 in circumstances where a straight or curved stairlift isn't suitable for some reason.

Standing or perching stairlifts

These can be used for particularly narrow staircases that don't have room for 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. Most have grab rails attached, but 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.

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.

They are more common for wheelchair users who are not able to transfer safely to a stairlift seat. They could also be an option if your staircase isn’t suitable for an ordinary stairlift – for instance, if it’s too narrow or if it’s a spiral staircase. 

Vertical lifts are the most expensive type to install as they will require considerable building work to create a suitable hole, install the lift and make it good again afterwards.

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. They might be used on outdoor steps leading to the front door of a property or down to a garden. 

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