How do stairlifts work and other key information

Wondering how stairlifts work, what powers them or how to measure for a stairlift? Read our key information guide to find out the answers.
How do stairlifts work

If you’re looking at purchasing a stairlift for yourself or a family member, you may be wondering how the unit itself will work. Buying such an important item is a big decision, and these kinds of questions are natural.


  • How do stairlifts work?
  • How are stairlifts powered?
  • How to measure a stairlift?
  • How wide do stairs need to be for a stairlift?

How do stairlifts work?

You may have wondered how stairlifts actually work whilst browsing them, or you may have already bought one and simply be curious. Stairlifts are actually simple bits of equipment that have three key components. All three of these are essential to the smooth running of a stairlift, other components are simply for user comfort.

The three main components of a stairlift are:

  • Motor- Usually found within the base of a stairlift. The motor is what powers the unit’s movement, and is battery powered.
  • Battery- Used to power the stairlift, the battery, also located in the base of the stairlift powers the motor. The batteries used in our stairlifts are high-quality, extremely long-lasting and thus, should not need the be replaced regularly.
  • Gear- Connected to and powered by the motor, the gear is what actually moves the stairlift. The geared strip is built into the track and is what moves up and down.

As well as these main components, there are other features that are common on most stairlifts, for example, remote controls. These features will depend on the make and model of your stairlift.

How are stairlifts powered?

Our stairlifts are powered by two DC batteries that are housed in the base of the stairlift. As well as this, the rail will be plugged into the mains to recharge those batteries. This means your stairlift can work autonomously of your houses electric circuit for a period of time, so, in the event of a power cut, you’ll still be able to use your stairlift provided it is charged. It also means if you need to utilise the plug socket the rail is using, there is no harm in unplugging it for a short amount of time.

If you leave your stairlift off charge, there will be both audible and visual signals to alert you that your lift is not charging. If your lift is left off of charge for a long period of time and the batteries go flat, they may need to be replaced.

How to measure a stairlift?

You will not need to measure your stairlift, as one of our professionals will do it for you on a free home assessment where they can also discuss stairlift installation and answer any questions you may have. However, it can be nice to know the rough measurements before going into a purchase. Or, if you are considering purchasing a used or second-hand stairlift, not from a stairlifts company, you will need your own accurate measurements to ensure it will fit.

Please note: This is only a measuring guide and if you are unsure you should always enlist professional help.

Before you start measuring your stairlift, you first need to decide which side of the stairs you would like it on. As well as considering what would be more practical for you, take note of features that may prohibit its placement, allow for a little extra ‘overhang’ room at the top and bottom of the stairs.

Once you’ve decided on a side, it is time to measure. There are four main measurements you’ll need to take for your stairlift. You will need to:

  • Measure the length of the staircase

For straight stairs, you can simply measure from the nose of the top step to the bottom step by running a tape measure down the staircase. We suggest having someone stand at the bottom of the staircase whilst someone else stands to measure from the top.

When measuring for a curved stairlift, this can be trickier to do, as you’ll need to account for the curvature of the wall.

  • Measure the width of the staircase

To do this, simply measure from wall to railing, railing to railing or wall to wall depending on your staircase layout.

Please note: Some staircases can have different widths at the top and bottom, so it’s worth taking a few measurements along the length of the stairlift.

  • The amount of clearance beside the top step
  • The amount of clearance beside the bottom step

To measure the amount of clearance at the top and bottom of the stairs, simply measure out from the stair tread until you hit a feature. As stair lifts need a little natural ‘overhang’ these areas will need to be clear for installation to take place.

How wide do stairs need to be for a stairlift?

If you are concerned your stairs may be too narrow to house a stairlift, you’ll be happy to know there are some great options for narrow stairlifts. Not only are our stairlifts able to fold up in situ so the chair takes up the minimum amount of space when not in use, but we can also provide specialist narrow stairlifts specifically designed to not take up space. Read more about this on our niche stairlifts page.