What is a Stair Lift?

A stair lift is a chair that is on a rail that travels up the length of your staircase. It is motorized, so all the user has to do is get in the chair and press a button. Some people confuse a stair lift and a lift chair, but they are very different. A lift chair is a recliner that has the ability to tilt forward, in order to aid the user up and out of the seat. A stair lift is a chair on a motorized rail that is attached to the wall.

Stair lifts are ideal for the elderly, disabled, or injured. Anyone with balance issues or poor lower body strength should consider a stair lift in order to be safer in their own home. Those who have poor mobility have a huge risk of falling in the home, and trying to go up or down stairs, especially if they are trying to carry something by themselves as well, can be very dangerous. Using a stair lift can make it so much safer for them and can give them much greater independence in the home.


How does a stair lift work?

A rail lined with a gear rack (a rail with evenly spaced teeth) is attached to the wall next to the staircase. A chair is equipped with gears that fit onto the gear rack, and as the gears turn on the rack, they propel the chair up or down along the rack. Many stair lifts are battery powered, so even in case of a blackout they will still work for a while. They can be plugged in and the outlet will charge the batteries until they are needed, so it is a good idea to just always keep the lift connected to a power source, so you will only rely on the batteries when you have to.


Straight stair lift versus curved stair lift


Straight stair lift

A straight stair lift will only move up and down, parallel to your stairs. These only work for staircases that are straight. As the name suggests, a straight rail is attached to the wall along the staircase, and the chair will move in one direction. Some straight chair lifts also have a swivel seat, to allow the user to sit in the chair facing away from the stairs, then they can turn the chair sideways to ride up or down, and then turn the chair away from the stairs again to stand up out of it. Chairs that dont have a swivel seat can be dangerous to get in or out of, especially at the top of the stairs. Having to get in or out of a chair that is perpendicular, on a staircase, can pose a pretty serious fall risk, especially for someone with joint mobility issues.

Curved stair lift

A curved stairlift is what it sounds like, a stairlift on a curved rail. This will still follow the staircase, but is for staircases that have landings and turns, curved stairways, or if you want the lift to wrap around the base of the staircase to provide a safer mount and dismount area. Using a curved stair lift rather than multiple straight stair lifts allows for a smoother lift, and if you had multiple straight stairlifts, you would have to get off of one chair and onto another, in the middle of the staircase. For the elderly and disabled, that is just not safe. The point of a stairlift is to make it easier and safer for those with limited mobility to have independence in the home. Having one, smooth stairlift is the safest way for them to get up the stairs.


How much does a stair lift cost? Will insurance cover it?

Stairlifts can cost anywhere between $2,000 and well over $10,000, depending on brand, quality, and features, and installation can be a couple thousand dollars more. Straight stair lifts are a little cheaper, since they are simpler, but if you have a curved staircase or turns on your stairs, the safe option of a curved stair lift will be worth the extra money.

Whether or not insurance covers your lift chair, depends on what insurance company you use. Medicare, unfortuantely, classifies stair lifts as “home modification”, and not “durable medical equipment”, and therefore won’t cover the cost or installation. Medicaid will sometimes cover the cost, through third party merchants who have a cooperation agreement with Medicaid. 

The good news is lots of smaller, private insurance companies cover at least some cost of a stairlift, or some of the installation, so it’s a good idea to always check with your insurance company to see what they can cover. And there are other third party organizations that offer help to the elderly that need extra help in the home.


Features of Stair Lifts


Seat belt

Some stair lifts come with a seat belt, for added safety. In order to prevent the user from falling out of a chair while it’s moving up or down the staircase, some lifts are equipped with a seat belt. This can be anything from a simple strap across the lap, or a more traditional 3 point seat belt like in a car, or even a full on harness. Depending on how unsteady you feel in the chair, especially while it’s moving, you can have a more secure seat belt to keep you secure.


Some stair lift chairs will have a basket or attachment where the person using it can set whatever they’re carrying down. For those that have to go up and down stairs to do laundry, or to transport groceries, or in any case where they need to carry something with them up the stairs, having a basket or something to place the items in can make using the chair much safer. Some chairs can even have a pocket for medical equipment, in case of an accident on the stairs.

Swivel seat

Lots of chairs are equipped with a swivel seat, to allow for easier mounting and dismounting of the chair, and curved stair lifts will often have a swivel seat as well to make turns smoother. Some even have power swivel seats, so they don’t need leverage to push the seat.

Folding footrest

Having a folding footrest can be very helpful for those in the house who don’t use the lift. A chair lift can take up a lot of space in a stairway, and being able to fold in the footrest can give a couple much needed inches of room, as well as just looking nicer when it’s “put away”. Some folding footrests are electrically powered, so you don’t have to bend down to open or close it, you can just press a button.


Stair lift brands


Bruno stair lifts

Bruno is a large, well known stairlift company. Most of their chairs include a folding footrest and a seat belt. Some of their most popular indoor stairlifts are the Elan, the Elite, and the Elite Curved. The Elan stair lift has a 300 lb weight capacity, and has a narrow, vertical rail. This is a good option for homes with some people who will not be using the lift, as it does not take up much space on the staircase. The Elite has a 400 lb lift capacity, and is a bit bulkier and stronger. It is also a vertical straight rail, and has a power swivel seat as well as a powered folding footrest. The Elite Curved has the same features as the straight Elite, but it is on a curved rail.

Their outdoor stair lifts are also very good quality, very similar to the Elite and the Elite Curved stairlifts, only made with weatherproof materials.


AmeriGlide is another well known stairlift company. The Plus stairlift is one of their straight lifts. It prioritizes safety, featuring armrests and footrests that can be folded away to provide more room for others who don’t use the lift. It also has a swivel seat, a seat belt, and safety sensors that will stop the lift if you leave the seat. Their Rave Curved HD stair lift is custom designed and installed to fit your staircase perfectly. It also has many of the same safety features as the Plus. It has a seatbelt, a retractable footrest and armrests. Their Horizon Plus- outdoor stair lift is very similar to their curved stairlift, but made with weatherproof materials. It also features a joystick for easy movement, a display screen for information, a security key switch, so only authorized people can use the lift, and a swivel seat for easier mounts and safer dismounts.

Acorn stair lifts 

Acorn is another company that deals in stair lifts. Their go to straight staircase is the Acorn 130 stairlift. The Acorn 130 sports a folding footrest for extra room, a seat belt for added safety, a display screen, a backup battery in case of emergency, and a remote control. This stairlif differs from the earlier ones in that it attaches to the actual stairs, not the wall, and therefore requires no serious structural changes to your home. The Acorn 180 is their curved stairlift. It has the same features as the 130, except the straight rail, of course. Their outdoor stairlifts are a similar model, but with weatherproof materials.


Other options


Wheelchair lift or vertical platform lift

A wheelchair lift is different from a stair lift because rather than having a separate chair that you would have to transfer into, a wheelchair lift is a platform that you manuver the wheelchair onto and the whole thing is raised like an elevator. Those who are in wheelchairs should consider a vertical platform lift, because a stairlift cannot transfer their wheelchair up and down stairs.


Another option is simply installing an elevator in your home or building. This is the most expensive, but least risky option. Even stairlifts with seat belts can be fallen out of, and while most wheelchair lifts have little “walls” or gates on the sides, they are still fairly open. An elevator would be a safe, closed space, and also provides the most room for transporting other things with them.



Stair lifts can be very beneficial, and can help the elderly and disabled feel more independent and safe in their home. While they can get pricey, they can be worth it and finding the right aid in your home can make it a much better place for everyone involved.