Stairlifts: A Beginner’s Guide

A stairlift is a basic device built to transport individuals safely up and down stairs. All stairlifts have two main components: a track and a motorized chair. But when you’re ready to consider a stairlift, things get a bit more complicated. 

The Tracks

Stairlift tracks represent the largest portion of the cost of the system. The tracks you choose depend on the location and configuration of your stairs. Let’s take a closer look at some of the choices:

Straight Tracks

Straight tracks are installed on staircases that have no bends, curves, or landings; it’s one straight shot from top to bottom. Straight tracks are the easiest to install, and they are mass-produced in standard sizes, so they are also the least expensive option. 

Curved Tracks

Curved refers to the track shape, not the staircase shape. Curved tracks are needed for stairways that bend, curve, have landings, or continue beyond one floor. The curved track allows the rider to travel from bottom to top in one smooth, continuous motion. Curved rails are fully customized and, as a result, are more expensive than straight tracks. 

Outdoor Tracks

Stairlifts can be installed on outdoor stairways. They can be straight or curved, but outdoor rails are made from weatherproof materials. 

Folding Tracks

Folding tracks or rails feature sections at the end that can be automatically or manually folded up and out of the way when not in use. This capability serves to keep the track ends out of the way. Depending on the location, you may need to install a folding track to prevent a tripping hazard. 

The Chair

The chair or seat is where the action happens. On most systems, the chair is what moves the rider up and down, and it’s the component that the rider interacts with the most. With that in mind, there are a number of things to consider, including the following:


With rare exception, stairlift systems work using a motor that moves the chair along a toothed track. In some lifts, a rack and pinion system is used, while in others, the mechanism is a cylindrical gear called a worm gear. Both are good systems with equal durability and life spans. Talk to your dealer for specifics about the mechanics of their systems.


You can choose any of the design aesthetics of your chair, including fabric and color, to help the lift blend into your décor. Beyond appearance, you can also consider these features:

  • Swivel Seat. These chairs swivel at the start and end of the track to put you in a position to rise out of the chair with your feet on an even surface rather than the stairs. 
  • Angled Seats. A slight tilt back of the chair helps riders feel more secure when the lift is in motion.
  • Arm and Footrests. Armrests and footrests make the ride safe and more comfortable. You might also have the option of a lighted footrest that makes it easier to secure your feet in low light. 
  • Collapsible Seats. Many seats will fold up when not in use to keep the device out of the way. 

Ready to Shop?

Your local mobility device dealer has stairlifts for sale. Talk to them today about a lift system that’s right for you.