Wednesday, 1 October 2008

An Introduction to Stair Lifts

A stair lift (also known as chair lift) is a mechanical device that is used to assist an elderly or disabled person in climbing the stairs of a building. The principle of operation is very simple; a chair slides along a rail using through the use of a rack-and-pinion system. In the early days, a stair lift was regarded as an expensive commodity, only affordable by private daycare institutions. In recent years however, prices have dropped significantly, allowing 'ordinary' citizens to have one installed in their home. The advantages of having a stair lift are many. The most obvious and primary advantage is that a stair lift allows easy access to those areas of the home that were previously considered out of bounds. Secondly, a stair lift can be used to carry goods (such as laundry and groceries) up the stairs, which may be useful to those with back problems. Indeed, a stair lift has allowed many disabled or elderly persons to retain their independence whilst staying in their own trusted home.

Stair lift classes and varieties

Stair lifts come in two major classes: AC-powered (AC stands for 'alternating current' or mains electricity) and DC-powered (DC stands for 'Direct Current'). AC-powered stair lifts are connected to mains grid electricity through a common wall plug and require some wiring to allow this. DC-operated stair lifts operate through rechargeable battery packs. Though not immediately obvious, a DC-powered stair lift is always recommended over an AC-powered one. The reasons for this are threefold:

  • A DC-operated stair lift offers a smoother ride
  • A DC-operated stair lift offers a quieter ride
  • A DC-operated stair lift will continue to function during blackouts or times of disaster

You should keep in mind that electrical short-circuits are an exceedingly common cause of fire. In such a case, an AC-powered stair lift will likely not function, with potentially lethal consequences for those left upstairs. It is in these life-threatening situations that a DC-powered unit will still be able to transport you down to safety. So for the sake of comfort and safety, a slightly more expensive DC-lift is strongly recommended.

Depending on your staircase, you might either need a curved stair lift or a straight stair lift. Due to the more complex demands on material and installation, a curved stair lift is usually more expensive than a straight one. Additional alterations might be needed depending on your specific situation, for example in case of a too narrow staircase. To prevent nasty surprises, it is recommended to consult your dealer and have him or her evaluate your home before ordering a lift. During such an evaluation, an engineer can identify any special challenges posed by your house. Remember that stair lifts to not have to be the bland, industrial-style machines they always used to be. Modern stair lifts can be outfitted with many types of chairs and seat coverings to perfectly match both your comfort wishes and interior style.

Seven points to consider

Even though the price has fallen dramatically in recent years, stair lifts remain a hefty investment. It is therefore wise to plan your purchase well. When planning a purchase, take the following factors in careful consideration:

  • Safety sensors: a safety sensor will halt stair lift operation if an obstruction is encountered. This will prevent potentially dangerous accidents from happening.
  • Ride smoothness ('glide'): the glide determines how comfortable your ride will be.
  • Soft start/stop: this will determine whether the lift will start and end its journey in a smooth, comfortable manner.
  • Power type: AC or DC power. DC is generally recommended (see above for reasons)
  • Remote control: remove control allows you to call and send the lift without having to hold down buttons.
  • Joystick control: a joystick control is easier to operate for persons suffering from e.g. Arthritis.

For more information, be sure to visit this extensive resource about the stair lift, home elevator and wheelchair lift.

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