What an outdoor stairlift is and does

By Chris Clayton

If you are looking at installing a stairlift to gain access to either your home from the street or to the garden, most companies manufacturer and install stairlifts specifically for outdoor use.

But before you decide to buy one or start contacting companies there are a few things you need to know about them.

The basics

They are basically the same as a stairlift used to move up and down a staircase indoors, but specially adapted for outdoor weather conditions (the rain, cold, heat etc...).

an outdoor stairlift

When you start looking at different models of outdoor stairlifts, you'll notice how similar they look to stairlifts which are installed on indoor staircases. For most companies, the design of the outdoor stairlifts they sell is the same as one of their indoor stairlifts they sell. But each part of the outdoor stairlift (the rail/track, the carriage (the seat, the footrest/plate, the armrests, the motor and the battery)) is specially adapted/modified to deal with the conditions it will face with being outside.

To learn more about what a stairlift does (both indoors and outdoors) and how it is used safely, read my article on What's a stairlift: The basics.

Types of stairlifts available

As I mentioned above, they are adapted versions of stairlifts which are used for indoors. As a result, you can get fitted outside a straight stairlift, a curved stairlift or a wheelchair platform stairlift. The only type of stairlift you can't get fitted outdoors is a perch stairlift.

They are safe and secure

As long as the whole stairlift (the carriage and rail/track) is made for outdoor use, it will be perfectly safe (they wouldn't be sold and installed if they weren't).

Unlike an indoor stairlift, when an outdoor stairlift is not in use, it is advisable to cover the carriage for protection against the rain. This cover will come with the stairlift when it is installed.

In the past, some people have tried to install an indoor stairlift they have bought themselves outdoors. For obvious reasons, this is a very bad idea. It will break down after it rains and because they use electricity, it could be lethal to anyone touching or using the machine.

In addition to this, to operate the stairlift you need to insert a key. This will prevent others (i.e. children) from using it for fun.

Risk of theft

Although there have been cases of outdoor stairlifts being stolen in the past, they are fortunately not very common (it takes time to dismantle a stairlift and you need to have some technical knowledge about how to do it). So, I wouldn't worry too much about it being stolen.

Where they can be installed

As long as it is your own private land and there is an electricity supply near for it to be connected to, they can be installed in most places outside.

Even so, some people may require permission to have one installed on their property. This can happen on certain housing estates/complexes which have rules and regulations governing changes which residents are permitted to make on their property. If you believe this is the case for you, I would strongly urge you check if you are allowed to install an outdoor stairlift before you buy one.

The cost

Because there is both less demand for this type of stairlift and it (both the rail and the carriage) has to be specially adapted/modified to deal with outdoor weather conditions, outdoor stairlifts are unsurprisingly more expensive than an equivalent one for indoors use. You are looking at paying around $1,000 (£800) more than you would for an indoor stairlift.

Although they are modified for being outdoors, due to the weather conditions they will face (changes in temperatures, rain, snow and moisture etc...) they are more likely to suffer problems than indoor stairlifts. As a result, it will also be both more expensive to extend the warranty and there is a higher probability that parts will have to replaced than for an indoor stairlift.

Other options

Although outdoor stairlifts are very useful, because of their cost you may want to examine other solutions before deciding to buy one. If there are only a few steps, it will probably be a lot cheaper to convert the steps into a ramp and/or fit an handrail. But this depends on the condition (both current and future) of the person it will be used by.

If there are a lot of steps and/or they are steep, I'm afraid that you will little option but to install an outdoor stairlift.

In conclusion

Although a outdoor stairlift is a safe and good solution for people with walking difficulties for either leaving or entering a house (or garden) which has steps outside, they are not cheap. Before you buy one, consider if there are any other cheaper alternatives you can use (e.g. a ramp and/or handrail) which is suitable for the person it will be used by.