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Renovating to Give Access to Upper Floors

By: Chris Hogan MSc - Updated: 11 Oct 2010 | comments*Discuss
Renovating To Give Access To Upper Floors

Stairs form a common access problem for disabled or elderly people so it's no surprise that a number of domestic solutions have arrived on the markets to service this need.

Different Access Solutions for the Upper Floors of a Home

There are basically three different sorts of mechanical aid that give access to the upper floors of a house without climbing the stairs. The first is the stairlift, a chair which runs on tracks up the side of an existing staircase and folds up against the wall when not in use. The second is a traditional lift, where a complete box is raised and lowered vertically between floors. Not many homes have the space for one or can afford one, as they are the most expensive option.

The third access solution is the platform lift, a cross between the two. The mechanism can be either a straight vertical lift or an inclined lift like a stairlift. The main difference is that there is a flat platform at floor level so that a wheelchair user can roll straight onto it rather than getting off onto a seat. This has the added advantage that the wheelchair goes upstairs as well as the person in it, so someone who is unable to get around without their chair will now be able to access areas of upper floors as well as the ground floor.

Traditional Lifts in the Home

It's important to decide on the best access solution early on in the renovation stage. Lifts aren't common in houses because of the space problem, but if you would prefer to install a lift, an obvious solution is to completely replace the staircase with it, something that might well fit in with your renovation plans if you are moving or otherwise altering the stairs anyway. But a staircase often plays a structural role in the house so you will need the advice of a structural engineer about replace the missing strength.

Also you need access space upstairs as well as down; there needs to be space for wheelchairs to get in and out on both levels. Many staircases simply don’t allow the width for a lift, single flight ones in particular. With a two flight staircase which has a turn on a half-landing, it's more likely that there'll be space for a lift. However, the staircase is often the only access method for getting furniture upstairs, so that needs to be considered if the staircase is to disappear completely.

Wheelchair Lifts

The vertical platform lift is perhaps a better idea for access to upper floors in a home. Many of them are some self-supporting and can be installed in a corner of a room to simply go up or down through a hole in the ceiling. Installation is easier as the lift doesn’t need any support.

The difficulties come from finding a corner of a room downstairs which corresponds to a corner in a room upstairs where the person using it actually wants to go. If you have space to put one in a hall which comes out on a landing and still have room to keep the staircase, then that's probably the closest to a perfect solution.

Stairlifts – the Popular Solution

Stairlifts are less of an issue all round, but the mechanism does intrude on the staircase to a certain degree. The track is fixed to the wall on one side of the staircase and is custom-made to fit the curves and rises of each staircase. Stairlifts are quite common now as they are the most cost-effective access solution, with prices starting from just over £1500 for a short, straight staircase. Obviously the more complex the staircase the more expensive the stairlift.

Many companies rely on the buyer measuring the staircase but it is suggested that it might be better if you select one where the company sends someone out to make those measurements.

This might cost more, but it means that if there's a problem fitting the stairlift then the installation company has nowhere to hide. If you make the measurements it can be blamed on you.

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