Stair lifts offer a unique combination of simplicity and complexity. While their machinery and safety mechanisms operate similarly to elevators, making them intricate from an engineering perspective, most users find them easy to use after receiving a brief demonstration from a qualified Lift Technician.
One advantage of hiring a professional lift company like Arrow Lift to install your stair lift is we will teach you the dos and don’ts of operation as part of our comprehensive installation service.
So, how do stair lifts work? Well, there are two ways to answer that question — and we will address both. First and most importantly, for anyone who intends to use a stair lift (also referred to as stairway chairlifts, stair chairs, and stair-glides), we’ll explain how they operate. Second, we’ll break down the components that make a stair lift move.
How Do You Use a Stair Lift?
Stair lifts are designed with ease of use in mind. Here are the basics of how to operate a stair chair lift:
1. Get on the stair lift
- Sit down on the stair chair – unless you’re using a standing stair lift.
- Use the seat belt – always recommended, but usually not required.
2. Travel to the desired floor
- Press the “up” or “down” direction and HOLD the button. Don’t worry if you let go of the control while operating the stair chair. It will stop moving, but don’t panic! Just press and hold the button again to make it move.
- When you get to the end of the stair lift rail, the chair will stop automatically. Every modern stair chair will slow down before it stops. This is to avoid a sudden halt for the comfort of the person using the stair lift.
3. Exit the stair lift
- At the Bottom Landing: If you are at the bottom of the stairs, simply undo the seatbelt and exit the chair as you would get out of any armchair.
- At the Top Landing: If you are at the top of the stairs, you must swivel the seat toward the top landing using the lever on either side of the stair lift seat and make sure it locks into place before standing up from the chair. Then, exit the chair like you would step out of any other chair with armrests onto the top landing. Swiveling the seat at the top of the stairs to face the landing and not the stairs is the most essential safety feature of any modern stairlift. This must be done manually unless your stair chair has an upgraded power-swivel feature.
Once you have operated a stair lift a few times, it is very, very easy for most people to do. However, if you have questions about whether you or a loved one will be comfortable using a stairway lift, consider visiting a local stair lift showroom. In our experience, this is the best way to address any worries about how difficult it is to use a stair lift and discuss any safety concerns with a knowledgeable Stair Lift Expert.
Frequently Asked Stair Lift Questions
Beyond the basics of how to use a stair lift, here are some common questions and answers regarding how a stairway chairlift works:
Q: Do I have to use the stair lift seatbelt?
A: Generally, no. While it is always recommended to use a stair lift seatbelt, it is rarely required. However, if there are specific concerns about the security of the person using the stairway lift, we can help! For example, some stair lift models have different safety devices so the lift will only move if someone sits on the seat and/or engages the seatbelt. Additionally, some stairlifts can be upgraded to include a five-point harness seatbelt and ankle restraints. However, for most users, the seatbelt is optional but recommended.
Q: Is it difficult to swivel the seat at the top landing?
A: For most people who benefit from a stair lift, swiveling the seat can be done easily. However, it is not uncommon for us to add a power swivel function that allows the seat to turn automatically with the touch of a button. So, if you are looking for the absolute easiest-to-use stair lift available, combine an automatic swivel seat with an automatic folding footrest, and you are all set!
Q: Do stair chairs come with remote controls?
A: Yes! Each stair chair lift comes with two remote controls. If desired, your Arrow Lift Installation Technician will mount the remote controls on your wall, like a light switch. The purpose of these remote controls is to call the lift back to where you are if, for some reason, the lift is at the other end of the staircase. Also, if the person using the stair lift needs assistance operating it, a caregiver can simply push the button on the remote control to move the lift.
Q: What happens if my stair lift won’t move when I want it to?
A: Professionally installed stair lifts are generally very reliable. However, they have more moving parts than appear at first glance (see the next section for more information). Even so, if you find the stairway lift is not operating correctly, there is a chance that you can resolve the issue yourself. Here are some common stair chair troubleshooting issues. Or you can contact Arrow Lift’s professional Service Team directly. We’re always happy to help!
Now that we have covered how to use a stairway chairlift let’s address the related question: What powers a stair lift?
Stair Lift Components and Parts – What’s ‘Under the Hood?’
To understand how a stair lift works, let’s first look at how a stairway lift is built. In other words, what are the main components and parts? What’s under the hood of a stair chair?
The main parts of a stair lift include:
- Structural parts
- Mechanical parts
- Electrical/electronic parts
- Aesthetic/design components
The structural parts of a stair lift include:
- The rail
- The rail supports
- The carriage
- The chair frame
People often think the rail attaches to the adjacent wall, but this is incorrect. Instead, the rail is attached to the staircase itself using rail supports. These rail supports are like metal clamps screwed into the stair treads below and attached securely to the stair lift rail above.
The heaviest piece of the stair lift is the carriage, which houses the motor, batteries, and main circuit board. The carriage glides up and down the stair lift rail (see below for more info on the drive mechanism).
Finally, a metal or plastic chair frame sits on top of the stair lift carriage. The chair frame is attached to the carriage using heavy-duty bolts engineered and tested to hold the rated load of the stair chair lift.
Mechanical Stair Lift Parts
Beyond the structure, the mechanical parts of a stair lift are also known as the stair lift drive system. In almost every modern stair lift, the drive system is made from a steel rack-and-pinion system.
The rack part of a rack-and-pinion drive system is a toothed gear rack, similar to a cog-wheel railroad track.
The pinion is like a cog wheel, several inches across, attached to the stair lift carriage. This pinion wheel turns when the motor is powered and commanded to move. A mechanical gearbox is also located between the motor and the pinion wheel.
Both the rack and the pinion are typically made of heavy-duty steel. A high-quality, professionally installed stair lift can last more than 10 years if properly maintained. Additionally, most top-of-the-line stair lifts come with a lifetime motor and gearbox warranty.
The last major mechanical part of a stair chair lift is the chassis or trolley. This is a solid block of heavy-duty steel with wheels attached to each side. These wheels (or rollers) are plastic on economy model stair lifts. On higher-quality stair lifts, the rollers are made of heavy-duty, vulcanized rubber, similar to the rollers on commercial elevators.
Other minor mechanical parts include the hinges on armrests and footrests and the swivel mechanism of the chair. High-quality stair lifts, such as Bruno and Stannah Stairlifts, typically have more parts made out of metal. In comparison, some “budget” stair lift brands contain more plastic components, which are less durable.
Electrical and Electronic Stair Lift Parts
What powers an electric stairway chairlift? An electric motor turns a gear wheel (pinion wheel) that enables the chair to climb up a gear rack on the stair lift rail. Although the stair lift only requires being plugged into a regular 120V AC outlet, the motor itself is actually powered by two 12V DC batteries.
“Why do you have to plug in a stair lift if it is battery-powered?” you might ask. Excellent question! A trickle charging system constantly recharges the 12V DC batteries that power the stair lift motor. This trickle charging system, in turn, gets plugged into the wall and is powered by a regular 120V AC outlet.
Decades of Innovation at Work
It took the stair lift industry several decades to arrive at the safest, most reliable way to move a stair chair lift. Decades ago, older stair lifts used a cable and drum system, which was very heavy, more costly, and challenging to maintain and repair. These older stair lifts also used hard-wired AC power. This meant you were out of luck in a power outage. In contrast, modern stair lifts can still be used in a power outage, thanks to their battery power. And they are robust enough to carry 300 or more pounds up the stairs reliably.
Another important difference between older and newer stair lifts is the electronics. Modern stair chair lifts have advanced circuit boards, enhancing safety and reliability. In addition, the circuit boards often enable technology that tells you when something is wrong, helping you avoid unnecessary service calls. For example, a series of beeps can indicate the batteries are low, or a digital diagnostic screen displaying the number “3” can communicate an issue with the footrest.
Other electronic components of the stair lift include the remote controls, the armrest controls, and the various safety devices built into each stair climber lift.
Safe and Secure
Safety devices on a stair chair start with the abovementioned seatbelt, armrests, and swiveling seat. But there is much more to stair lift safety! Modern, high-quality stair chairs also have:
- Safety panels anywhere there is a possible pinch point.
- Key switch to prevent unwanted use (for example, by a toddler).
- Automatic slowdown switches and final limit switches at each end of the rail.
Lifts for stairs are not only engineered to last, but they are also engineered to enhance safety at every step.
Aesthetic and Design Components of a Stair Lift
Finally, the stairway chairlift includes several aesthetic components to make the chair and the rail more visually appealing. Depending on the stair lift model, these parts may have:
- Stair chair upholstery.
- Plastic covers for the stair lift motor housing or carriage.
- Rail covers to conceal the gear rack or make certain parts of the stair lift rail more visually appealing.
- Paint options for the stair lift rail.
Some stairway lifts have one choice of upholstery (usually either tan or gray), while others give you a range of colors. Some stair lift models even offer wood trim or leather upholstery. Similarly, some lifts have only one choice of rail color, while others can be powder-coated in the factory to match your home décor or staircase design.
Lastly, official documentation should come with the stair lift you purchase. This should include a user manual, written warranty, and a few labels/stickers stating the stair lift manufacturer and who to call for service. After all, while it may be easy to work a stair lift, it is not so easy to work ON a stair lift — this job is best left to trained professionals!
Where to Buy a Stair Lift
Now that you know how to use a stairway lift and what makes it move, do not overlook the qualifications of the person installing the lift and the experience of the company that will continue to service it.
While good-quality stair lifts are safe and reliable, they will require maintenance if installed for a significant length of time. We encourage you to play it safe and consider buying your stair lift from a family-owned stair lift company, like Arrow Lift, with a local showroom and a professionally trained Team. Request a free stair lift consultation today!