How do stairlifts work?

By Bethany Ward on 3rd August 2021

As stairlifts become a more common feature in homes because of their functionality, those who are looking to have one installed can’t help but wonder how it functions. Is it safe? What if we don’t have power will I still be able to use it and how safe am I when using the chair? As the leading stairlift company, we hear these questions arise from potential stairlift owners. Luckily, all of them can be addressed if you understand how a stairlift works.

Components of a Stairlift

Like every other mechanical system, a bespoke stairlift has a variety of components that serve different functions in making it the efficient and safe system that it is. These components include:

Rail or track 

This helps to support the chair and is all the mechanism that propels and guides the chair as it moves up and down the stairway. It works the same way as the train tracks. A curved stairlift also works on tracks.

Power supply

Most stairlifts have a battery power backup. Whether the system has a battery backup or not, it needs to be connected to a power outlet which is what propels the system. If the system is not battery-powered, it needs a dedicated circuit to work efficiently.


It’s simply a seat where the users sit when they are using the stairlift. It is fitted with a seatbelt to make sure you’re securely strapped to the seat when the stairlift is moving. The seatbelt is one of the many safety features fitted in stairlifts.


This is a safety feature to keep your feet from hitting the steps as the stairlift moves up the stairs. There are switches fitted on the footrest that prompt the stairlift to stop if the footrest hits something for safety.


This is what drives the chair to move along the track. It is usually located at the base of the seat.


Because of the high motor speeds, a transmission system is required to reduce the speed of the chair and make it safe for use.


Some stairlifts come with call and send controls which are mounted on the wall near the end of the staircase. They come in handy when the staircase is being used by more than one person. In some cases, these controls can also be wireless.

Installation of the Stairlift

Before you can start using the stairlift, it has to be installed. This is another area that attracts a lot of misconceptions. The stairlift is not attached to the wall, as most people believe. It is actually attached to the base of the staircase so there is no damage to the wall. The rails are attached to the base of the stairs using support brackets which are held in place by special screws that can through almost any material, including concrete. The seat and motor are then mounted on top of the rail. Stairlifts can also be installed for narrow stairs.

How Stairlifts Operate

Even though there are different models of stairlifts and a variety of safety features, the mode of operation has been kept simple. Most stairlifts are operated using a simple switch that controls movement. In some stairlifts, the user only needs to push the switch while in others you will be required to hold it in place until the end of the journey.

Some stairlifts might not start moving if you have not completed safety checks, including having the foot and armrest in the right position and buckling up. Once the stairlifts come to an end, it will stop automatically and beep once to notify you it’s safe to alight. The stairlift might also start beeping if you release the switch midway.

By understanding how a stairlift works, most of the myths that surround the stairlifts can be lifted. It’s also a good way to convince people who have been sceptical about having one installed to finally make the leap and make the important decision to add a stairlift to their home. For more information about buying a stairlift, read our ultimate guide here