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Aging in Place at Home: The Definitive Guide Part 3


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Climbing Stairs

Ascending & Descending Stairs Section Banner

On the surface, climbing stairs may not seem to differ much from walking in general; after all, both actions engage the same body parts and produce the same basic motion.

What makes navigating stairs unique, though, is the greater degree to which travelers must rely on these body functions to guarantee safe passage. For those who need mobility assistance, climbing stairs may be a very physically challenging, and even insurmountable, task.

Ascending stairs requires stronger muscles and joints than walking on level ground because the feet must be lifted higher to clear each stair. Raising one’s feet over each step can be taxing, and climbing up stairs may be too arduous for those who experience shortness of breath. A better sense of balance is needed to remain stable on two stairs of different levels versus simply walking on one plane.

Obviously, traversing stairs also presents a greater risk of falling and injury than single-level walking, so this section provides practical solutions that make negotiating stairs both easier and safer.


Handrails


Purpose

Handrails prevent falls and enable independence by giving users stability and support while climbing stairs. Anyone with an irregular gait, poor balance, lower body injury, respiratory issues, or general fatigue can benefit from using stair handrails.

The vast majority of homes already have handrails in place at stairways, but many of those handrails are in disrepair. Some rails may simply be loose and need to be reinforced; others may not offer much support due to being the wrong height or shape for the user’s grasp. And for a small portion of the population, there may be no handrail at all.

For safety and mobility, it is hugely important that every home has capable handrails to help with ascending and descending stairs.


What to know before installing

Most local residential building codes specify the circumstances in which a stair handrail is required as well as construction details for handrails such as:

  • The correct handrail height
  • The proper length the rail can project beyond the top and bottom stairs
  • The maximum allowable diameter (if circular) or perimeter (if non-circular) of the top rail to ensure graspability
  • Minimum required clearance between the handrail and the adjacent wall
  • Maximum allowed space between handrail posts and balusters

In addition to local residential building codes, consider the latest Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines regarding stair handrails:

The top of the handrail should be between 34 and 38 inches above the stair surface.

Handrail Height

The handrail grip should be between 1.25 and 1.5 inches wide. Furthermore, there should be at least 1.5 inches between the handrail and the adjacent wall.

Handrail Detail

The handrail should extend at least 12 inches beyond the top stair nosing.

Handrail Length at Top of Stairs

The handrail should extend beyond the bottom stair nosing at the appropriate slope by at least the length of the stair tread.

Handrail Length at Bottom of Stairs

The A.D.A.A.G. specifications are intended for commercial settings, so in most cases they will be more extensive than local building codes. Sometimes the A.D.A.A.G. recommendations may be excessive for a particular user.

On the other hand, sometimes the local residential building codes may not be adequate. A stairway may only require one handrail by code, but a user may decide to follow the A.D.A.A.G. standards and opt for handrails on both sides of the stairs for adequate support. The codes may not call for a handrail where there is only two steps, but the user might decide to install a handrail anyway as an extra precaution.

Follow the recommendations of the local building and national accessibility codes, but also be sure to consider the user’s unique needs when installing handrails for interior and exterior stairways.


Whether indoors or outdoors, the best building materials with which to construct a stair handrail are wood and metal. Pine, cedar, cypress, and any other species resistant to rot and insects all are great options as far as wood is concerned. Stainless steel and wrought iron are the top choices for metal. Whatever the material, be sure to seal or paint the handrail for protection and longevity.


Generally, top rails made of wood can take on a wide variety of shapes and feature notches that act as finger grips.

Wooden handrail 1
Wooden handrail 3
Wooden handrail 5

Stainless steel top rails are usually square or circular with a brushed or smooth finish.

Square stainless steel handrail
Round stainless steel handrail

Wrought iron top rails are typically flat with a grooved decorative surface.

Wrought iron handrail

Keep these qualities in mind when deciding which material to select for the top rail.


Before selecting a handrail, measure the width of the stairway and check to see what the new effective width will be with the handrail installed. Verify that this reduced clearance measurement is adequate for the user before proceeding.

If the user needs more space, then consider reducing the top rail diameter and decreasing the clearance between the handrail and the adjacent wall, if possible.


Recommended supplementary products and home modifications


Close riser-less staircases


Purpose

Open Riser StaircaseStaircases with open risers are a fall risk that should be remedied by closing the space behind each tread. Users with vision deficiencies and dementia may find seeing through riser-less stairs to be disorienting, even to the point of throwing off their balance and leading to falls.

Furthermore, users may can very easily step too far beyond the tread and get caught on the front nosing of the next stair when ascending a staircase.

Those who walk with a cane need only make a slight miscalculation to miss the step and accidentally send the cane tip through the gap in the staircase. Not only does the cane get stuck between the stairs, but even worse, the user sustains a fall.

Closing in a staircase with risers is an important safety precaution that prevents potentially dangerous spills while climbing stairs.


What to know before renovating

Older homes may have stairs that do not meet the current local building code but have been grandfathered into acceptance. If such is the case, then making any modifications to the stairs sets in motion a requirement that the stairs be brought up to the current local building code standards. This can become a very expensive endeavor.

The best workaround is to simply install the stair risers temporarily and have them removed when no longer needed. The local building codes enforcement agency may not need to be involved due to the impermanent nature of the work.


An experienced carpenter or handyman is more than capable to install risers onto a staircase. Before commissioning the work, though, discuss the plan the tradesperson intends to implement for the project. Request that supportive cleats be installed to the bottom of each tread to serve as a backstop for the new risers.

These cleats will help to reinforce the staircase and keep the new risers from moving when they are accidentally kicked.

Also, be sure to verify that the risers will be attached using some sort of blind fastening method, such as pocket holes, to guarantee a well-finished appearance.


Consider using wooden risers on stairways with carpeted treads to avoid having to remove and recarpet the entire staircase. The face of the wooden risers can be stained or painted first and then attached to the stairs once dry. Using wooden risers offers a clean look without requiring as much time, effort, and money as recarpeting altogether.


Always keep stairs clean and clear of clutter to avoid trips and falls. Do not use stairs as shelves on which to leave shoes and other items that only serve as obstacles and safety hazards.


Recommended supplementary products and home modifications


Use non-slip adhesive strips on stairs


Purpose

Unfortunately, slipping on a step can happen to even the most sure-footed and can result in serious injuries. Users with debilities that affect balance and stability face the greatest risk when negotiating stairs. And a set of slippery stairs only increases the possibility of falling, so taking the proper precautions to make them slip-proof should not be overlooked.


What to know before installing

Stairs may be slippery because they have worn down and smoothed over time. This can happen to wood and even carpet, too. Also, the type of finish on wooden stairs can make them extra slippery. Outdoor steps may be slick in certain conditions, such as when wet or icy. Examine the stairs inside and outside of the home to see if they stand out as a safety concern.


The most straightforward and economical solution for increasing the traction on steps is by applying non-slip tread adhesive strips.

Non-slip adhesive tape roll

These strips come in a small variety of colors, stick to any flooring material, and work both indoors and outdoors. Use the heavy duty strips for outside and use the light duty strips for inside.

Click here to see the highest recommended outdoor heavy duty stair traction strips.

Click here to see the highest recommended indoor light duty stair traction strips.


Non-slip adhesive tape on hardwoodThere is a possibility that the adhesive may take off the finish on steps, so be careful not to reposition the strips after they are initially placed.

Keep in mind that the stairs may need to be refinished if the traction strips are removed.


Those with worn down and low pile carpeted steps can still use safety traction tape. There are adhesive strips available that are strong enough to stick to carpeting.


A set of stairs may not be particularly slick, but it still may be wise to apply non-slip strips to the treads as a safeguard.


Recommended supplementary products and home modifications


Ramp


Purpose

A ramp allows those who use a wheeled mobility aid to access parts of the home that are otherwise only accessible by stairs. Even those who use non-wheeled mobility aids or no mobility aid at all can benefit from ramps because they are easier to traverse than stairs and can reduce the risk of trips and falls.


Must-have Features

Proper slope – The ramp absolutely must be pitched at such an angle that the user can easily ascend and descend without difficulty.

Slope is a ratio that shows how many inches the ramp rises for every inch of ramp length (ramp rise to ramp run).
Wheelchair ramp slope

The A.D.A.A.G. indicates that a 1 to 12 slope is the maximum allowed because anything steeper may make ascent too challenging and descent unsafe due to too much speed. So, the ramp can rise 1 inch for every 12 inches of length.

Users who fatigue easily should opt for a gentler slope like 1 to 16 or even 1 to 20 if space allows. The A.D.A.A.G. also specifies that the maximum rise for any continuous stretch of run is 30 inches. Assuming a 1 to 12 slope, this means that the ramp can extend for 30 feet before it must either terminate or come to a level resting platform.

Those who tire quickly should consider reducing continuous stretches by inserting flat rest stops to break up long runs. The goal is to keep the distance a user must travel on a ramp to a manageable length.


Proper width – The ramp must be wide enough to allow the user to easily navigate with the mobility aid. According to A.D.A.A.G., the minimum clear width requirement for a ramp is 36 inches. In most cases, 36 inches of clear width space is adequate, but those who use a mobility aid equipment with an extra wide seat may need more room.

Take the overall width of the mobility aid into consideration when deciding how wide the ramp must be to comfortably accommodate the user. A general rule of thumb is to give about 5 inches of space on both sides of the user.


Edge protection – For safety purposes, all ramps must have some form of protection to keep users from accidentally falling off the edge. Ramps with handrails can use the bottom rail to serve as a guard rail. Ramps without handrails can add a 2 inch tall curb on both sides.

Wheelchair Ramp Railing Edge Protection

Ramp with guard rail

Wheelchair Ramp Curb Edge Protection

Ramp with at least 2 inch tall curb

Although A.D.A.A.G. does not require edge protection for step ramps, it is in the user’s best interest to find step ramps with curbed edges.

Threshold ramps are short enough that edge protection is not necessary.


Base plate for wooden ramp postsPermanent – The ramp should be permanent in nature. The structural posts of full size wooden ramps should feature concrete footings or bolt onto an existing concrete path. Ramps that are built into the landscaping as a sloping berm with hardscape pavers are obviously permanent. And, of course, ramps of solid concrete are permanent.

The reason ramps should be permanent is simply so that they are secure for the user. Temporary ramps that are not affixed to the ground can jostle unexpectedly while in use and potentially throw users off balance. Without a solid foundation, the feet and legs of a temporary ramp can give way under the user’s weight and sink into the ground below, causing the ramp to become uneven.

Make sure the ramp is well-built and capable to support long-term use.


Non-slip surface – The ramp’s surface material may not provide enough traction or may be slippery in rainy and icy conditions, so it is important to evaluate the surface material to see if it needs improvement to its slip-resistance.

Stone and brick pavers typically have a high enough coefficient of friction on their own, but a grip additive can be mixed with a clear sealant and applied to the pavers to increase traction, if needed. The same grip additive can be mixed into paint or stain and applied to ramps with wood decking.

In addition to the grip additive, grip tape adhesive strips can be laid down onto the ramp platform.

Non-slip adhesive tape roll

The grip tape adhesive strips are effective on wood and metal surfaces. Whatever non-slip method is employed, just be sure that it provides enough traction without making it too difficult for users to roll wheeled mobility aids up and down the ramp.


Features to consider

Threshold ramp – A threshold ramp is a pre-built ramp meant to help users surmount barriers that are only a few inches high. Threshold ramps are intended to be used at entry door sills, sliding glass door tracks, and short level changes that are about half the height of a typical step.


Generally, there are two kinds of threshold ramps:

Rubber – Threshold ramps made of solid rubber are best for level changes inside the home, such as a sunken living room. The benefit of a rubber threshold ramp is that no fastening is necessary because its weight and non-slip quality work together to keep the ramp in place.

Since no fastening is necessary, users can avoid causing any damage to their floors.

Rubber threshold ramp indoors


Metal – Threshold ramps made of metal are ideal for entries and outdoor settings.

Find a metal threshold ramp that has pre-drilled holes along the edges so that bolts can be used to securely fasten the threshold ramp to the ground and threshold.

Metal threshold ramp outdoors


The risk of falling off the edge of a threshold ramp is very low since the rise and run are so short. Therefore, edge protection in the form of side railings or curbs is not needed. Finally, because threshold ramps are typically needed in locations where space is limited, the A.D.A.A.G. allows for a steeper slope that’s between 1 to 8 and 1 to 10 for a maximum rise of 3 inches.


Step ramp – A step ramp is longer than a threshold ramp, and thus, meant for slightly taller barriers. Home entrances with a single step and a full step height level change in the home are situations in which a step ramp can be useful.


There are two kinds of step ramps:

Rubber – Manufacturers do not make rubber step ramps, per se, but users can stack rubber threshold ramps to effectively create a taller step ramp.

Stacked Rubber Threshold Ramps
Rubber threshold ramp

Depending on the height of the step, several rubber ramp sections may be required. While the stacked rubber sections will likely stay put because of their natural non-slip qualities, it may be wise to use rubber cement to secure the pieces together. The major appeal of a rubber step ramp is that it does not involve any fastening to the floor, so a rubber step ramp is great for indoor use.


Metal – While rubber step ramps are best suited for indoors, metal ramps are ideal for entries and outdoor settings.

Look for a metal step ramp with pre-drilled holes along the edges so that bolts can be used to securely fasten the step ramp to the ground and top stair.

Metal threshold ramp


According to A.D.A.A.G., a ramp that has a rise greater than 6 inches or a run longer than 72 inches must have handrails on both sides. Even if a step ramp does not require this safety protocol, some may deem it best to include handrails or a curb based on the needs of the user.

Step ramp with railing

As is the case with threshold ramps, step ramps are usually needed in spaces where room is limited, so the A.D.A.A.G. states that a slope between 1 to 10 and 1 to 12 is allowed for a maximum rise of 6 inches.


Full ramp – A full ramp is any custom-made ramp intended to provide access over barriers taller than a threshold or single step. So when faced with a set of stairs or a porch landing, a full-size ramp is one possible option to explore. A ramp can be built with several different construction methods and materials.


Consider the various ramp options outlined below:

Paver rampStone or brick pavers – Users who need access to an exterior door of the home should consider building a ramp into the landscaping with stone or brick pavers. This type of solution is typically more expensive than other ramps, but it is unique in that it can actually add value to the home if done beautifully. Furthermore, a sloping landscape that serves as a ramp is completely inconspicuous, which may be important for users who do not like the appearance of a typical ramp.

In most cases, the ground level around a home is several inches below its exterior doors, so fill needs to be laid to build up the ground level outside of the home entrance. The fill must be graded according to the A.D.A.A.G.’s 1 to 12 slope standards and create an accessible pathway to the entrance. This fill creates the supporting substructure for the ramp and must be securely tamped into place with a plate compactor. Smooth pavers are placed on top of the tamped fill to make the path navigable by wheeled mobility aids.

Those who need guards to prevent rolling off the path can use pavers to create curbs on both sides of the ramp.


Wood – Wooden ramps are the most common ramp option because of their affordability and versatility.

If the home has an attached garage, then a wooden ramp can be built inside the garage. Placing the ramp inside a garage protects the user from outdoor elements while also maintaining the home’s curb appeal. And if the home doesn’t have an attached garage, a wooden ramp can always be built outside.

The substructure and posts are integral parts of a ramp, so it is important to always use pressure-treated lumber for these components.

The chemical mixture in the treatment helps wood stand up better to weather, pests, and decay than untreated wood.

Ramp framing

Ramp substructure and posts

When it comes to the ramp’s decking and railing, natural wood and composite wood are both possibilities.

Exercise scrutiny when selecting a composite wood product because not all brands boast high quality; take the time to consult with a local professional who is well-versed in composite wood products. The right composite products can outlast natural wood and require less maintenance.


Vinyl – With pressure-treated lumber making up the substructure, solid vinyl can be used for both the decking and railing of a ramp. Vinyl sleeves are available to cover pressure-treated wooden posts to match the decking and railing.

Vinyl decking

Vinyl decking

Vinyl Railing

Vinyl railing

Vinyl post sleeve

Sleeve

The advantages of solid vinyl is that it does not need as much maintenance as wood materials and can be very durable. But just like composite wood, it is important to consult with a professional who is very familiar with which vinyl products offer the best performance.


Modular ramp – A modular ramp is comprised of several metal parts that users assemble together to build a full ramp onsite. The idea behind modular ramps is that users can disassemble the ramp when no longer needed and sell the parts to recoup some of the expense.

When installing a modular ramp it is absolutely necessary to ensure that each of the supporting legs are anchored in place. Legs that rest on an existing concrete slab should be bolted down. Legs that rest on grassy areas should be anchored to a large, level paver stone or concrete block that has been tamped into the ground.

Modular metal ramp

Modular ramp with mounting footplates

Look for modular ramps that already have mounting footplates at the bottom of the legs. If the modular ramp doesn’t have built-in bottom mounting plates, then make sure that there are floor flanges available that is compatible with the modular ramp legs’ size and shape.

The challenge with modular ramps is trying to assemble the ramp on sloped ground. All the legs of the ramp must be level in order for the ramp to be level, and leveling the legs may require some landscaping changes. Be sure the modular ramp measures level before mounting the legs and securing the ramp.


Corrosion-resistant aluminum – For users who like a mixed material look, the ramp spindles, handrails, and posts can each individually be made out of aluminum, so users can employ the metal in any combination:

Aluminum posts and railing

Aluminum posts, rails, & spindles

Aluminum railing

Aluminum rails & spindles with wooden posts

Aluminum spindles

Aluminum spindles with wooden rails & posts


Corrosion-resistant steel – Similar to aluminum, steel can be used to create a clean, mixed-material appearance. in the ramp design for the handrails. The spindles, handrails, and posts can each be made of steel, so users can select the look they prefer:

Steel railing

Steel posts, handrails, & balusters

Steel handrail with vinyl posts

Steel handrails with vinyl posts & glass railings

Steel cable balusters with aluminum posts

Steel railings, aluminum posts, & wooden handrails


Handrails – Handrails offer a support to grab hold of while traveling up and down a ramp. A.D.A.A.G. classifies any route with a slope steeper than 1 to 20 as a ramp. And any ramp with a rise greater than 6 inches and/or a run longer than 72 inches requires handrails on both sides.

Although A.D.A.A.G. is meant for public and commercial settings, it is nonetheless in the interest of safety to consider the A.D.A.A.G. handrail standards when building a ramp. And if the local jurisdiction requires more stringent accessibility building codes in relation to handrails for ramps, then be sure to follow the regulations that supersede the above A.D.A.A.G. standards. In most cases, though, the local code will either lack such specific accessibility requirements or simply refer to the A.D.A.A.G.

Ramp with steel handrailsDepending on the ramp’s construction method and the user’s desires concerning appearance, the handrails atop the side railings may not necessarily meet A.D.A.A.G.’s size requirements for handrails.

For example, the top rail on a wooden handrail may be wider than the maximum allowable width/diameter of 1.5 inches.

In such an instance, a second handrail can be mounted onto the inside of the railings so that the ramp meets A.D.A.A.G. standards.

Users who choose to build their ramp in this manner must account for how much of the ramp’s width is reduced as a result of mounting the additional handrails onto the inside of the railing.

Ramp handrail lessens clear width

Although handrails are very helpful, some users may want to avoid them because of the negative impact they can have on a home’s front elevation.

Those who worry about obtrusive handrails ruining curb appeal should explore building a ramp that falls outside of the rules that require handrails. If local building codes refer to A.D.A.A.G. standards, then that means either building a “ramp” with a slope no greater than 1 to 20 or building a ramp with an overall rise and run no greater than 6 inches and 72 inches, respectively.

If local building codes have stricter definitions for what constitutes a ramp, then use those definitions. For the sake of this guide, assume A.D.A.A.G. standards are applicable.

So, if there is room to build a ramp with a slope no greater than 1 to 20, then handrails are not required. Those who want edge protection can use curbs at least 2 inches high on the sides of the ramp instead of the much taller railings that are used to support handrails.

Usually the most inconspicuous way to create such a gradual slope is through landscaping a path with pavers, as mentioned earlier. If only a threshold ramp or step ramp is needed to create access for a rise that is 6 inches or less, then no handrails are necessary.


Ramp lightingLighting – Consider installing lighting along the ramp to ensure the path is properly illuminated in the dark. Ramps that are in the garage may not need additional lighting if there is already adequate overhead lighting.


Features to avoid

Foldable threshold ramps – When shopping for a threshold ramp, avoid the kinds that can fold. These foldable threshold ramps are usually made of thinner, lighter materials to make for easier transportation, and as a result, they are much less durable and steady as permanent threshold ramps.

Foldable wheelchair rampFurthermore, the joints that allow the ramp to fold lessen the overall integrity of the ramp. Perhaps the biggest drawback of foldable threshold ramps is their impermanent nature; since foldable threshold ramps are meant to be transported, they are not fastened in place.

As a result, foldable threshold ramps can jostle about or even fall off the threshold while the user is on the ramp: a serious injury risk that should be avoided.


Plywood – When building the ramp decking, use dimensional lumber rather than plywood. Although exterior-graded plywood is meant for outside, in this application plywood doesn’t allow for proper drainage during rainy conditions and can make the ramp particularly slippery.

Also, the small gaps between dimensional wood decking give extra traction while one continuous sheet of plywood doesn’t assist with traction at all.


Concrete – Ramps made of poured concrete are not recommended because they are too permanent. Future modifications to the ramp like adding a level resting platform are not feasible with a concrete ramp. Also, removing the ramp when it is no longer needed or when selling the home is expensive and time-consuming.

The restrictions and costs that come along with building a concrete ramp should be avoided; the other ramp solutions outlined above are more economical and just as effective.


What to know before installing

Ramps can be built over an existing set of stairs or connect to the stair landing from a separate path. Discuss possible locations for the ramp with a contractor and consider which location best satisfies budgetary and aesthetic concerns.


Some users may not like how a ramp impacts the look of the home. If such is the case, explore the option of building the ramp inside an attached garage or at a back entrance that is hidden from view.


If none of the possible locations work because there isn’t enough room for a proper ramp or the ramp length is too long for the user to easily navigate, then consider installing a vertical platform lift instead.


Recommended supplementary products and home modifications


Vertical Platform Lift


Purpose

A vertical platform lift gives users access to home entrances that are on elevated landings such as porches and decks. If there isn’t enough room on the property to build a proper ramp, then a vertical platform lift may be the next best option.

Even if there is adequate space for a ramp, the length of the ramp may be so long that the user doesn’t have the stamina to climb it. And some users may prefer a vertical platform lift over a ramp for aesthetic reasons.

Vertical platform lifts can be very expensive, but they are a great solution for addressing accessibility needs.


Must-have Features

Correct lifting height – The first step in shopping for a vertical platform lift is determining its location (more on this below).

After deciding on the lift’s location, users must then see if the porch or landing area outside of the entrance needs to be expanded for accessibility (details on this process are discussed below).

With a plan for the lift and entrance in place, the next step is to measure the distance from the top lift landing area down to the ground where the bottom landing area will be. This distance is the minimum height that the vertical platform lift must be capable of reaching.

Vertical Platform Lift - Measure First

Measure – Before

Vertical Platform Lift - After Installation

Installation – After

If the ground is severely sloping, then significant regrading may be required to ensure that the vertical platform lift is installed on a solid, level base. Consult with a residential grading contractor to determine the best solution.


Adequate weight capacity – Vertical platform lifts vary in the total weight they can carry, but most can support at least 250 pounds. Find a lift that can accommodate the user’s weight plus the weight of the mobility aid.

Keep potential future mobility aids in mind when deciding on the necessary weight capacity. Power wheelchairs and other heavy-duty mobility aids are very heavy pieces of equipment, so users who are planning to eventually switch to a more substantial mobility aid should take this extra weight into consideration.


Proper platform size – The lift’s platform must be spacious enough to comfortably fit users and their mobility aids. To determine the proper platform size, measure the overall depth and width of the user and mobility aid together.

Compare these measurements to the platform dimensions and make sure there are a few inches of clearance on all sides so that the user has adequate room.


Vertical Platform Lift with Grab BarGrab bar – A grab bar on the lift allows users to keep balance while riding and brace themselves for stops. Most, if not all, vertical platform lifts feature a grab bar on one of the guard rails or offer the option to add a grab bar at an added cost if one isn’t already included.

Help prevent falls and accidents by selecting a lift that includes a grab bar.


Interlock door system – An interlock door system is a safety feature included in many vertical platform lifts that prevent the platform doors from opening unless the lift has reached a designated entry/exit point and come to a complete stop.

Vertical Platform Lift with Interlock DoorUsers may make the mistake of thinking that the lift has reached the intended destination and attempt to mount or dismount when the platform isn’t level with the landing area.

This height difference can cause the user to trip and fall when transitioning onto and off of the platform.

Furthermore, users may try to open the top landing gate and enter the lift when the platform is actually at the bottom level, which could result in a very serious fall and injury.

An interlocking system keeps all doors shut until it is safe for users to enter and exit the lift.


Vertical Platform Lift with Safety Pan SensorSafety pan sensor – Should the vertical platform lift encounter an obstruction as it is lowering, it is very important that there is a safety feature in place that stops the lift. Most vertical platform lifts are equipped with a safety pan sensor on the bottom of the platform that triggers the lift to stop when the pan hits a certain amount of resistance.

A safety sensor like this not only keeps users safe but also protects the lift from damage.


Vertical Platform Lift - Emergency stop buttonEmergency stop control – A vertical platform lift absolutely must have an onboard emergency stop control that enables users to immediately stop the lift at the push of a button. Even with other safety measures in place, an emergency stop control is an important failsafe way to halt the lift for whatever reason.


Backup battery power – In the event of a power outage, it is important that a vertical platform lift still be able to function and give users the access they need. Look for a lift that includes a backup battery that automatically kicks in when power is lost.


Folding ramp – Vertical platform lifts installed on grade level are a few inches above the surrounding ground because of the support base legs that secure the lift to the ground. Therefore, a small ramp is needed to seamlessly roll from the ground onto the lift platform. Rather than purchasing a standalone threshold ramp to place at the lift landing area, look for a vertical platform lift that includes a built-in, automatic folding ramp.

Vertical Platform Lift - On-boarding

Boarding

Vertical Platform Lift - Automatic Ramp

Riding

When the lift is positioned at the bottom landing area, the ramp is folded out so the user can roll up onto the platform. As the lift ascends toward the upper landing area the ramp gradually folds up to serve as a short safety rail. And as the lift descends toward the lower landing area the short guard rail automatically folds back out into a ramp so that users can exit the lift.


Features to consider

Vertical Platform Lift Call & Send ButtonCall/send controls – Call/send controls are needed to raise and lower the vertical platform lift without the user having to ride along. Call/send button controls can be installed at both the upper and lower landing areas.

If there are multiple accessible entrances into the home, then call/send controls can be particularly helpful because the vertical platform lift may not always be at the landing area that the user needs.

Furthermore, call/send controls are convenient if the vertical platform lift has multiple users. Single users who always enter and exit the home with the vertical platform lift don’t necessarily need call/send controls but may find them to be helpful in certain situations, nonetheless.


Power source requirements – Many vertical platform lifts need a 120 volt outlet on a dedicated 15 amp grounded circuit. Almost just as many need a 120 volt outlet on a dedicated 20 amp grounded circuit. Lifts that are installed outdoors must have a G.F.I. (ground fault interrupter) protected circuit.

Ask the retailer or manufacturer for details on the power source requirements so that proper planning can be done to make the necessary accommodations. Be sure to consider the cost of any electrical work that must be completed in preparation for the lift installation.


Access configurations – Vertical platform lifts have two access configurations: adjacent access and straight through access. With an adjacent access configuration, the user enters the lift platform and makes a 90 degree turn to the right or left to exit. With a straight through access configuration, the user enters the lift platform and continues straight ahead to exit.

Vertical Platform Lift with Straight Through Access

Straight Through Access

Vertical Platform Lift with Adjacent Access

Adjacent Access

The ideal configuration depends on the home entrance the lift will serve and the route that connects to that entrance. It’s worth mentioning that typically straight through access is the standard configuration and adjacent access can be provided for a significant extra charge.


Vertical Platform Lift with Keyed ControlsKeyed controls – The main platform controls and the send/call controls can be restricted to keyed access only. Keyed controls limit lift usage to only those with keys, which may assuage important safety and security concerns.

The major drawback to keyed controls is that the lift cannot operate without a key. Users who forget or misplace their keys are stuck without access to their homes.

Therefore, it’s best practice to keep several copies of the key in various accessible locations in and around the home.


Cold weather protection – Users who live in climates where the temperature can dip below freezing should consider adding on a cold weather protection package for the vertical platform lift. These packages help prevent frigid temperatures from taking a toll on the lift equipment and the malfunctions that ensue.


What to know before buying and installing

Vertical Platform Lift Dimensions & ApproachThe lifting height, weight capacity, and platform size requirements of the user have a direct impact on the amount of space the vertical platform lift needs for correct installation and operation. After determining the user’s unique requirements, contact the retailer or manufacturer of the vertical platform lift to take note of the following dimensions:

  • The overall footprint needed (width and depth)
  • The overhead space needed above the lift
  • Approach space needed in front of the platform to give users adequate space to maneuver into and out of the lift

Use these installation dimensions to verify that the intended location for the vertical platform lift is sufficient.

Vertical Platform Lift - GarageMany times the existing porch, stair landing, or deck that the lift is servicing must be expanded or modified so that users have adequate maneuverable space at the lift entry and exit points. Landings and ground-level pathways may need to be expanded to accommodate the user’s accessibility needs.

Sometimes the cost to modify an area is too expensive and makes that lift location infeasible. In such instances, users must find an alternative location to place the vertical platform lift that accommodates the necessary installation dimensions.

Consider the A.D.A.A.G.’s door clearance requirements to determine the approximate space needed at a lift’s entrances and exits.


A vertical platform lift’s access configuration also has implications for the intended location. Take the time to consider all of the possible access configurations at a potential lift location to see the different ways that the lift could be integrated.

A location that does not permit a straight through configuration may be able to work with an adjacent access configuration or vice versa.


The height of a lift’s base support legs cause the platform to sit above the surrounding ground level. Therefore, lifts include an automatic, self-lowering ramp at the entrance side of the platform so than users can easily roll up onto the platform. Those who wish to avoid the height difference between the platform and the ground must dig a pit for the lift to sit inside so that the platform height is flush with the ground level.

Vertical Platform Lift Floor Mount

Floor mount

Vertical Platform Lift Pit Mount

Pit mount

Pit-mounting should only be done outside where it is more practical to dig further below grade.

Contact the vertical platform lift’s retailer or manufacturer to find out how deep the pit must be for the platform to be level with the ground. Also, check local building codes to verify that pit-mounting the vertical platform lift is permissible since not all authorities allow it.


A vertical platform lift is a very heavy piece of machinery, so the ground below the lift must be strong enough to support this weight.

If the vertical platform lift is placed outside, then a concrete pad should be poured to serve as the foundation. Garages built on a concrete slab can typically support a vertical platform lift without any additional reinforcement. Pit-mount installations will require the slab foundation to be below the ground level, so be sure to account for the extra depth when digging the pit for the concrete.

It is best to install the vertical platform lift at grade level in a garage that already has a concrete foundation rather than breaking up the slab and excavating out a spot for the lift.

Contact the retailer or manufacturer for details regarding the foundation requirements necessary to support the lift.


Before making a purchase, ask the retailer and manufacturer what warranties they offer on the vertical platform lift. Get a copy of the warranty and compare to the warranties included for other potential vertical platform lifts.

Warranties typically cover the original parts and labor for either 1 or 2 years. Some warranties include a periodic (usually every 6 months) service visit from a technician to ensure the lift is operating properly and perform any needed maintenance. If a regularly scheduled technician visit isn’t included in the warranty, then ask the retailer and manufacturer for pricing on this service. Depending on the cost, adding scheduled maintenance appointments may be worth the expense, especially considering that it can help extend the life of the vertical platform lift.

Furthermore, taking care of the vertical platform lift in this way can fend off potential accusations of neglect in the event the warrantor is hesitant to fix the lift within the warranty time frame. Be sure to factor the warranty into the decision-making process.


Recommended supplementary products and home modifications


Stair Lift


Purpose

A stair lift allows users to access different levels in the home by riding the lift up and down staircases. Those who cannot safely climb stairs due to poor balance, limited mobility, and/or fatigue are great candidates for a stair lift. If a particular level in the home is inaccessible via an outdoor ramp or vertical platform lift, then a stair lift installed inside the home may be the best solution.


Must-have Features

Appropriate track system – The shape of the existing staircase impacts which type of stair lift track system is required.

Stairlift on Straight Stairway

Straight track

Stairlift on Curved Stairway

Curved track

Staircases without any curves and bends use a standard straight track system. Straight tracks are the least expensive because the parts do not have to be custom-built to match the staircase. Staircases that curve, turn, and spiral need a custom track system that exactly corresponds with the shape of the staircase and, therefore, are more expensive than straight tracks.


Armrest controls – The controls that operate the stair lift are typically located on or around the chair armrest. Sometimes the controls are only on one side; sometimes the controls are on both sides.

Stairlift armrest controlUsers who only have one capable hand should make certain that the controls are located on that side.

Those who can use both hands should consider finding a stair lift with controls on both armrests; this guarantees that the stair lift will still be easy to operate should one hand become injured.


Stairlift batteryBattery powered – Battery powered stair lifts typically offer a smoother ride compared to models that draw power from the home’s supply. Furthermore, stair lifts with batteries can still operate in the event of a power outage whereas stair lifts that use the home’s power supply would be rendered inoperable.

Many stair lifts are battery powered so finding a suitable model shouldn’t be difficult.


Proper seat size and height – The stair lift’s seat should be large enough to safely accommodate the user. Stair lifts usually have a standard seat size that is suitable for a wide range of users and optional larger-sized seats that are available at an added cost.

Stairlift seat dimensionsA stair lift ride doesn’t last very long, so seat comfort isn’t as high of a priority as with other mobility solutions. What’s most important is that the seat is large enough for the user to safely ride without any concern of possibly sliding off or losing balance.

It is of utmost importance that the stair lift’s seat height is appropriate for the user to ensure safe transfers on and off the seat.

Some stair lifts have fixed seat heights that are not adjustable in any way, but these lifts can still work as long as the seat height matches what the user needs.

There are also stair lift models that allow the seat to adjust in height, although it has to be set at the time of installation. To change the seat height after installation requires some disassembly and retooling of the lift, so it is not something that users can do themselves.

Whether the seat height is fixed or adjustable, just be sure that it is the appropriate height for the user.


Adequate weight capacity – As a matter of safety, the stair lift must be able to support the user’s weight. Find a stair lift that has a sufficient weight-rating for the user.

Some stair lift models feature a standard weight capacity rating but can be upgraded to a heavy-duty version that is more suitable for bariatric users. So, if a particular stair lift has all the right features but has too low of a weight capacity, ask the retailer or manufacturer if the model has a heavy-duty version available.


Stairlift with power swivel seatPower swivel seat – The footrest for the stair lift chair can make it difficult for users to get in position to safely transfer onto and off of the seat. To make transferring easier, find a stair lift with a power swivel seat that rotates at least 90 degrees and clears the footrest.

With a power swivel seat, users only need to press a button and the seat automatically turns on its own power.

Stair lifts with manual swivel seats, on the other hand, require users to depress a level under the seat and twist their trunk to rotate the seat. These actions may sound simple, but many users may not have enough hand and core strength to swivel the seat on their own. And those who are capable now may not be able to manage the task later on.

A power swivel seat is a must-have feature that guarantees users will be able to transfer onto and off of the stair lift safely and easily.


Safety sensor – If there is something on the stairs in the path of the stair lift, it is very important that the stair lift has a built-in safety sensor that automatically stops the lift to avoid a collision that could injure the rider and damage the stair lift.

Typically a safety sensor like this is on the footrest so that it can detect even the shortest of obstructions. Make sure to find a stair lift with a safety sensor.


Stairlift with accessible seat beltSeat belt – The stair lift must absolutely have a seat belt to secure the user in the chair. The seat belt should be close by and not dangle down low where the user must bend to reach. Also, the seat belt should be simple to operate and not require significant hand strength to buckle or unbuckle.


Features to consider

Stairlift with power folding footrestPower folding footrest – In homes that have non-stair lift users, it may be wise to find a model with a power folding footrest that moves out of the way and gives non-users more space to navigate around the stair lift. Having this additional room is particularly helpful at stair landings and in hallways where things can get tight.

A power footrest folds up automatically when the user raises the seat. This is much more convenient than manual footrests that require users to bend down and fold up the footrest themselves.

If the extra walking space is need, then be sure to choose a stair lift model that features a power folding footrest.


Send/call controls – If there are accessible outdoor entrances on each level of the home, then it is convenient to have send/call controls that can bring the stair lift to the user in the event the user enters the home on a different level than where the lift is parked. Furthermore, households that have multiple stair lift users need send/call controls so that the lift can go wherever is needed and no one is left stranded.

Send/call controls can come in the form of wall-mounted controls placed at each landing area or wireless remote controls.

Stairlift send & call remote
Stairlift send & call wall-mount

The advantage of wall-mounted controls is their permanence: the controls are always in the same place and cannot be misplaced. The advantage of remote controls is users can limit who can operate the stair lift since it isn’t mounted out in the open.

Unless there are children in the home who might abuse the call/send controls, the wall-mounted controls placed on each landing level is the better option.


Mid-park location – Those who live in homes that have a middle landing area that splits the top and bottom of a staircase may want to consider a stair lift with a mid-park feature.

The mid-park feature allows users to stop and park the stair lift at this middle landing area in addition to the parking spots at the very top and bottom of the staircase.

Stairlift with mid-park feature

Users who need access to rooms and parts of the home that connect to this middle landing of the staircase should find a stair lift that can mid-park.


Automatic power hinged rail – Since stair lifts drop riders off on the landing areas right after the last step of a staircase, the track rail system must also extend into the landing areas. And if these landing areas share space with a hallway or doorway, then the track rail system may be an unwanted protrusion and a potential tripping hazard.

Stairlift with power folding hinge trackTo save space in the landing areas, look for a stair lift that features an automatic power hinged rail. The last section of the track rail at the top and bottom can be modified so that when the stair lift is parked at one end of the rail, the other end automatically folds up to clear room on that landing. Manual hinged rails are available, but these require users to bend down and fold up the hinged rail. Those who find that folding away the ends of the rail system would be helpful should opt for lifts with an automatic power hinged rail.


Stairlift with automatic slide trackAutomatic power slide track – As an alternative to an automatic power hinged rail, there are some stair lifts that include an automatic power slide track. An automatic power slide track moves the protruding section of the track rail system out of the way by sliding the entire track in the same direction as the lift.


Features to avoid

Perch stair lifts – In an effort to make stair lifts more user-friendly for those who struggle with sitting due to knee and hip problems, manufacturers developed perch models that allow users to stand while riding on the stair lift. Although a perch lift is successful at bringing relief to knees and hips, it is a shortsighted solution.

Perch stairliftSerious immobility in the knees and hips is usually temporary and occurs in those who are either in need of surgery or are recovering from surgery. Living with hip and knee problems so severe that one cannot sit down is unsustainable; eventually hips and knees with such issues must be resolved. And once a user’s knees and hips have been addressed, the benefit of a perch stair lift is no longer needed.

Also, the farther along in the aging process, the less likely a person is able to stay balanced while standing on a moving stair lift platform.

Knee and hip troubles aside, sitting is easier than standing. Therefore, the better long-term solution is a standard seated stair lift instead of a perch stair lift.


What to know before buying and installing

Proper sitting postureThe first step before shopping for a stair lift is to determine the seat size that the user needs.

Have the user wear the shoes that will most likely be warn during stair lift usage.

Next, have the user sit in a back chair with hips, knees, and ankles all bending at 90 degrees. To establish these 90 degree angles, the chair must be at just the right height for the user.

If such a chair is not available, consider using a pneumatic office chair and adjusting its height to make 90 degree angles. Otherwise, use a chair that is too tall and place something flat under the user’s feet to serve as an elevated floor.

Pneumatic office chair for measuring user's ideal seat dimensions

Adjust the height of a pneumatic office chair for correct sitting posture

Place feet on a prop for correct sitting posture

Place feet on a prop for correct sitting posture

Once the user is seated properly, record the following measurements:

How to measure seat height

Seat height (floor to bottom of thigh where it meets the knee at 90 degrees)

How to measure seat width

Seat width (outermost parts of back of butt)

As discussed earlier in the must-have features section, it is vital that the stair lift seat be positioned at a height that allows the user to safely and easily transfer onto and off of the chair. A correct seat height is of highest priority.

There is more wiggle room when it comes to finding a seat with the right width; the width dimensions should be close, but they do not have to exactly match. Users who are concerned about the width of a particular stair lift seat should, as best as possible, simulate the seat and test it out for themselves.

A seat that is slightly oversized or undersized may be less comfortably but can still be acceptable as long as the user can safely sit in the chair for the duration of the ride. Keep in mind that stair lifts can typically climb a flight of stairs in under a minute, so users don’t have to sit in the lift for very long.


If there are non-stair lift users in the home, then see how much space the lift takes up on the staircase and make sure that there is enough room for non-users to safely climb the stairs. The sizes of the seat and footrest play a big factor in how much space the lift occupies. Many stair lifts have folding seats and footrests, though, so this can help to reduce the overall footprint of the lift.

Another factor that affects the stairway space is how close the track rail can be installed to the wall or the stair railing. Ask the retailer or manufacturer for this specification when shopping. In some cases, figuring out the exact footprint of a stair lift may require a site visit from the manufacturer’s technician.


In most cases, installing a stair lift does not require any modifications to the home other than mounting the lift. Sometimes, though, users may have to undertake a minor to moderate remodeling project before a stair lift can be correctly installed.

If the stair lift is going on the wall-side of the staircase, then any existing handrail must be removed. A window along the staircase wall may need the sill to be cut back if it protrudes into the path of the stair lift. Electrical outlets may need to be added to service the charging stations that are positioned at the ends of the track where the lift parks. Finally, any oversized newel posts that obstruct the path of the stair lift and its track must be reduced appropriately.

Before addressing any of these home modifications, invite a stair lift technician for a home site visit to measure the stairs and determine exactly what changes, if any, are necessary.


When a stair lift is not in use, the chair parks at either the top or the bottom stair landing (or possibly at a middle stair landing for those with a stair lift that has a mid-park feature). Therefore, every landing area must have enough room for the lift to park without it being in the way of anything.

The parked stair lift shouldn’t obstruct any walkways or doorways that the user may need to access. Those who have a lift with send/call controls only need one landing area to have enough room for the lift to park without being in the way of anything. After riding the lift to a level with limited room, the user can send the lift to park at a more spacious landing so it is not in the way.

If there is only one suitable landing for parking the lift, then send/call controls is an important feature to consider.


Recommended supplementary products and home modifications


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