How a stairlift works

By Chris Clayton

Although it's not necessary to know how a stairlift works to use one, I believe that if you are going to be buying one you should at least have a basic understanding of how they work. By doing so, it will help you to use it appropriately, avoid damaging the machine by accident and make you able to quickly identify any possible issue.

Stairlifts are basically quite simple machines which are comprised of two main parts:

  • The Carriage

  • The Rail/Track

The carriage is the part where you sit (or stand if you have a perch stairlift). It is has two main parts. The first is comprised of a seat, armrests, a foot rest/plate and a seat belt. The second part of the carriage is located underneath these and it is what makes the stairlift move (the motor and the battery).

The rail/track is the part which is attached to the stairs (never to the wall) and this is what the carriage moves on when it goes either up or down the stairs.

How does it move?

As I mentioned above, the carriage moves up and down the stairs on the rail/track. Inside the rail/track is a fixed length of track of metal teeth. This track is connected to a cog with metal teeth on it within the carriage. The stairlift moves by the motor inside the carriage turning this cog.

Movement of the stairlift is controlled by pressing down on buttons (for up and down) or small joy-stick on either the armrest on the actual stairlift or by a remote control.

How is it powered?

The vast majority of modern stairlifts are powered by a rechargeable battery inside the carriage. This ensures that it will continue to run even if there is a power cut/outage.

This battery is automatically recharged from mains electricity when the carriage reaches its parking position (where you get on or off) at both the top and bottom of the stairs. These recharge points are contained within the rail/track.

How do you get on or off the stairlift safely?

To ensure that you can safely get on or off the stairlift, all stairlifts have a seat which can be swiveled/pivoted 90 degrees away from the staircase at both the top and bottom of the stairs. To swivel the seat of the stairlift, there is a lever on one side of the stairlift which is pushed down. When the seat reaches the 90 degrees, it is automatically locked in the new position.

The vast majority of modern stairlifts have sensors in them which prevents the seat from being swiveled/pivoted whilst it is moving.

How does it stop from colliding with things on the stairs?

The vast majority of modern stairlifts contain sensors in them in the foot rest/plate which detect any obstructions (anything in the way of the stairlift) on the stairs whilst moving. Once an object is detected, the stairlift will automatically stop so the obstruction can be moved out of the way.

So that's it. That's how a stairlift works.