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The dangers and pitfalls of stairlift self-installation, don’t be like Burt!

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

We think we have seen it all, then we go out on a job and we see it again and again and again, what am I talking about? I’m talking about some of the absolutely shambolic stairlift self-installations performed by members of the public that have a “self-confessed” degree in bicycle tyre changing or filling a salt and pepper shaker without spilling it all over the table, this gives them the personal belief that they are a fully qualified stairlift or home lift engineer, you may be saving some cost, but you are also putting lives at risk, the lives of your own family and friends.

This may come across a little harsh but I have been in the stairlift industry for almost quarter of a century, I am passionate about quality and more importantly safety. I have seen some things that would turn the stomach the most hardened horror film boffin. Self installations are dangerous, careless and a damn right silly thing to do unless you know exactly what you are doing.

You love your relatives right?

Would you put them in an aeroplane that was checked over by Burt who usually loads the luggage but can just about wire a plug? I didn’t think so.

Just a quick search on the internet will bring up hundreds of second hand stairlifts and home lifts, bargains right? Yes they are. People have stairlifts removed daily and they throw them up on ebay, craigs list, facebook or any other equivalent to make a bit of pocket cash, they may just sell for a few hundred quid, happy days!! Keeerrching!!!

To be honest the list is very long of things that can go very wrong.

Do you like cakes?

Ok, so now you need to fit it, what now…. Hmmmm shall we get a fully trained professional company in to assess the lift, check its safety systems, fit it to the required standards that regulate the entire lift industry, shall we ensure its continued reliability and user safety? Hell no, that will cost the same, if not more than the lift we just purchased from the internet. I know, ‘it can’t be that hard’, let’s just throw in this thing using some gaffer tape and a pencil and put loveable cake baking granny on it, she will be fine, maybe she will, but maybe your cake supply will be cut shorter than it should be, good for the waist line but not so good for granny.

I’m not trying to scare people but stairlifts are carrying people up and down the staircase (you know people are the fleshy human type thingybob that can obtain significant if not fatal injury by hurtling down the stairs into the edge of a radiator or glass front door partition), not to mention the potential of limb crushing or amputation if lift safety systems aren’t connected properly. These people are also usually elderly, frail or vulnerable and sometimes live alone. Another quick search of the interblurb will show you things you wish you hadn’t seen.

What can go wrong with stairlift self installation?

Rails too long at the top of the stairs

That’s the thing the lift runs on.

Too long and it leaves a tripping hazard for Auntie Rose to trip over and plummet to her doom.

Rails too short at the bottom

Yes believe it or not we have seen so many stairlifts where the rail from one house was shorter than required for the new one.

The solution?

Stuff it, they can walk the rest!

Not only does this leave a sharp edged rail hanging two to three steps from the bottom to slice any flesh that walks past but also a nice little fall for Rose’s sister when she has to get out of the stairlift but slips, hello radiator.

Safe edges not connected the right way

There have been incidents where a second-hand lift, originally mounted on the left is installed on the right.

This can causes a safety issue because for example a footrest has ‘safe edges’ around it. These work by detecting an obstruction in the travel direction. If it detects an obstruction, it stops. If you switch the side the lift is positioned, this also switches the operation of these essential safety switches. So if it meets an obstruction IT KEEPS GOING!! Never mind, just go down again.. YOU CAN’T, because the switch that has just been activated is the DOWN switch so it won’t move the other way. The footrest is just one example of how self installation can lead to an unsafe stairlift.

Marigold the dog laying down and looking disapprovingly at a stairlift self-installation
Marigold looking disapprovingly at a self-installation

Bypassing swivel seat switches

This yet another thing, yeah Granny can now try to get in the seat while its turned and accidently push the toggle switch. Off the lift goes, bouncing Granny behind it.

We have even seen an image of a lift that was installed with the footrest ON THE BACK against the wall and the seat hanging over the chassis and rail like a snow cornice.

This is not a training manual. It is a gentle warning that lifting machinery plus squidgy humans = big ouch if it goes wrong!

Get a professional to install your stairlift, or at least check it

Stairlifts and home lifts can be expensive items to buy. In current economic times every penny counts. Not everyone is in the position to fork out a few grand on having a new lift installed but please, please, please, please, please, please, if you MUST go down the route of buying a second-hand lift from the internet then get a professional to fit it. Or at the very least have it safety checked. Yeah it’s a few quid extra, but so are private hospitals and funerals.

In summary

Don’t forget that there are many reputable stairlift and home lift companies that offer not only new lifts, but also reconditioned stairlifts. These nearly new stairlifts will have been fully tested, re-furbished and come with warranty. If professionally installed, they will serve you well and limit the Russian Roulette factor. Also check that they are a member of the BHTA.

Stairlift self-installation
Look at this monstrosity. Not even close to level. This was ripped out and replaced.

It is also possible in certain circumstances to obtain grants form councils, housing associations and local authorities (usually means tested etc), some links to possible help are below.

Disabled Living Foundation (DLF)

National charity providing independent advice on mobility aids, disability aids, daily living equipment. Certified as a producer of reliable health and social care information.

Telephone: 0300 999 0004


Living Made Easy

Offering clear, practical advice, this is a website that lets you read reviews for products and add your own comments. www.livingmadeeasy.org.uk

College of Occupational Therapists


Tel: 020 7357 6480


(Research Institute for Consumer Affairs) Independent research charity providing free practical and detailed Guidance for older and disabled consumers.

RICA has an online guide to choosing and buying a stairlift.

Telephone: 020 7427 2460


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Phil Rice

Phil Rice has been in the Mobility Industry for the past 25 years, specialising in stairlifts, home lifts, hydraulic platform lifts, hoists and through floor lifts. He has in depth technical knowledge and experience in both the manufacturing and retail channels within the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Phil is currently the Managing Director of Anglian Lifts Ltd in Peterborough and a Board Director of the British Healthcare Trades Association (BHTA), prior to this he was the MD at Anglia Stairlifts Ltd, MD of MediTek Stairlifts Manufacturing facility (based in County Durham) and the President of MediTek Incorporated in Apex, North Carolina, USA.