Inclined chair lift along stairway, Brinstone Farm, Herefordshire England UK (C) Daniel Friedman Stairway Chair Lifts
Building codes, standards, dimensions, sources: stairway chair lifts & platform lifts compared

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Stairway chair lifts:

This article describes electric chair lifts used to move between building floors by riding on a chair operated by controls on the chair arm or on the building wall.

Here we also define and describe platform lifts used for wheelchairs and similar roll-on aids, and we explain the differences between a stairway chair lift and a platform lift that might move along an incline or might move vertically between building floors.

We include inclined stairway lift standard and building code citations and also a listing of sources for stairway chair lifts in Australia, North America, The U.K., and New Zealand.

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Codes & Dimensions for Inclined Stairway Chair Lifts

Stair lift chair - Wikipedia  11 Feb 2015Shown at page top is a chair lift installed along an inclined stairway in a St. Weonards farmhouse in Herefordshire, England. The first stair lift has been attributed to King Henry VIII who used a block and tackle (and servants) to move between floors.

Modern electric stair lifts or chairlifts were designed in the U.S. in the 1920's by C.C. Crispen who wanted to build a chair to assist a friend to travel between floors. [1]

At left is a remote-controlled electric stair climbing chair illustrated by Wikipedia. Typically the chair's arms are hinged to ease entry and exit.

[Click to enlarge any image]

On modern stair carriages or chair lifts, the chair or carriage provides a seat for the user who can operate the chair lift by carriage-arm mounted controls. The chair carriage ascends or descends the stairway along a rail that is wall or stair surface mounted. Additional controls can summons the chair between building floors.

The chair lift we illustrate at page top above rides on a single railing attached to the building stairway wall and supported further on stair treads affixed along one side of the stairway.

That chair lift makes a turn around an intermediate stairway platform in its ascent to the top floor of the Herefordshire farmhouse where it is installed. Other stairway chair lifts may ride on a rail or rails set across the nosing of stair treads - an option that can permit installation of a chair lift when walls or guardrails are not of sufficient strength to carry the electric chair mechanism.

Reader Question: 10 Feb 2015 Do exterior concrete stairs leading to two terraces apartments have to be a certain width? One owner wishes to put in chairlift up side of staircase railing. Stairs are 84cm wide. said:

Do exterior concrete stairs leading to two terraces apartments have to be a certain width? One owner wishes to put in chairlift up side of staircase railing. Stairs are 84cm wide.


Stairway width (in the U.S. - you don't say where you are located) should be equal to or greater than 36" of clear unobstructed distance measured at all points above the [permitted] hand-railing height.

Your "84 cm stair width", assuming that's the unobstructed width, is 33" or already 3" less than the 36" recommended.

For an example building code pertaining to chair lifts and wheelchair lifts I look at ASME A18.1- 2003, Safety Standard for Platform and Stairway Chairlifts. This is a very extensive document (cited in detail below) that goes into detail concerning recommended safety features and controls for chair lifts or stairway chairlifts along stairs such as our example illustrated above.

Also see California's Subchapter 6. Elevator Safety Orders Group 2. Existing Elevator Installations, Article 15. (a) Inclined stairway chairlifts shall comply with ASME A17.1-1993, Section 2002, Inclined Stairway Chairlifts, which is hereby incorporated by reference, except Rule 2002.10a and Rule 2002.10c(2).

NOTE: The installation of all inclined stairway chairlifts are subject to local building codes, fire regulations, and contractors licensure.
(Title 24, Part 7, Section 7-3094.4)

NOTE: Authority cited: Section 142.3, Labor Code. Reference: Section 142.3, Labor Code; and Section 18943(b), Health and Safety Code.

In my OPINION the standards and model codes give some leeway to the LOCAL building code official (who's final word is law) to accept a narrowing of the stairway to provide for the inclined stairway lift installation, provided that means of egress for walking residents is not unduly hampered. From the ASME standard I excerpt: "Lifts shall be installed so that means of egress is maintained as required by the authority having jurisdiction. "

Different rules may pertain for private residences than public buildings.

Codes for Stairway Chair Lifts & Platform Lifts & Wheelchair Lifts

Comparing Code Requirements for Stairway Chair Lift vs Wheelchair Platform Lifts

Question: fire safety code requirements regarding stairway widths where stairway chair lifts are installed, compared with wheelchair lifts & platform lifts

2017/05/15 Susan Z. said:

What is the minimum stair width allowable for a chair lift to meet fire rescue needs for emergencies.


It's easy to get confused about this topic since there are fire code specifications for wheelchair lifts, also referred to as platform lifts - those may NOT be the same as the stair lifts described in our article above, but rather are an elevator type lift for wheelchair users.

A short answer that's pretty safe is modeled on the U.S. Wisconsin Code:

SPS 362.1009 Stairway width. This is a department rule in addition to the requirements in IBC section 1009.1: Where installing an inclined platform lift or stairway chairlift, the clear− passage width shall be provided with the lift in the unfolded, usable position 

But we provide quite a bit more detail below.

Also, see MEANS of EGRESS and also STAIRWAY CHAIRLIFTS codes and guidelines among the stairway chair lift references cited above and excerpted below.

Distinguish between "stairway chair lifts" and "wheelchair lifts or platform lifts".

Wheelchair platform and stairway inclined platform lift illustrations from at InspectApedia.comSome confusion can arise where a wheelchair lift moves not vertically (an elevator design) but along an inclinded raiway along stairs.

The two forms of platform lift shown above are excerpted from the United States Access Board "Chapter 4: Elevators and Platform Lifts" cited in the references earlier in this article. You can see that both of these devices are designed to accomodate a roll-on wheeled aid - different from the stairway lift devices illustrated earlier on this page.

For an example of stairway lift regulations we can refer to the Wisconsin code in the U.S. f:

A stairway chairlift is a powered hoisting or lowering mechanism that is guided and equipped with a seat to transport a passenger along a stairway. SPS 318.1004(10)(o).

A stairway chair lift has a seat for a rider, two armrests and a footrest. A stairway chair lift has controls at each landing to call the chair to that landing and up and down controls on the chair for the rider. A stairway chairlift is not an inclined platform lift. An inclined platform lift is similar to a stairway chairlift in that an inclined platform lift may also be located in a stairway, and is also subject to the stairway width requirements described herein.

Unlike a stairway chairlift. an inclined platform lift has a horizontal platform (folding or stationary) for a rider who may be standing or in a wheelchair. An inclined platform lift may have a fold-down seat in addition to the horizontal platform. 

Residential Stairway Chair Lift Regulations re Fire Exit

In Wisconsin (as our example) residential stairway lifts are excluded from regulation regarding widths of stairway for fire exit safety.

A stairway chairlift may be installed to serve an individual dwelling unit in a one- or two-family building without regulation by the DSPS elevator safety program, however local permits and inspections may be required.

Note: This also applies to bed and breakfast (B&B) establishments, adult family homes (AFH), community based residential facilities (CBRF) and residential care apartment complexes (RCAC) that are regulated as single family dwellings. A stairway chairlift may be installed entirely within an individual dwelling unit in a larger multifamily and inspections may be required.

Stairway Chairlift in a Shared Stairway of a Residential Building:

A typical apartment or condominium building containing more than two dwellings is considered an R-2 commercial occupancy. Common areas in such a building that may be accessed by two or more dwellings (therefore not limited to one individual dwelling unit) are considered commercial spaces, not part of a single dwelling. Commercial building code requirements apply to such common areas. Stairway chairlifts installed in common stairways are regulated by the DSPS elevator safety program.

Note: The Petition for Variance process may allow reduction in the width of a shared stairway in such a building where the stairway serves not more than two dwellings above the ground floor. A petition for variance form must be completed. The residents of the two upper dwellings and the owner of the common area (landlord or condominium association) must provide written statements agreeing to the installation of the lift. The local fire department must provide a signed position statement on the petition for variance application form. Additional requirements may apply as part of granting a petition for variance.

Fire Safety Egress Regulations where Wheelchair Lifts or Platform Lifts are Installed

In the U.S. the ADA Standard (§207.2) requires that platform lifts, where permitted on an accessible means of egress, must have standby power.

Where Platform Lifts are Permitted [§206.7]

Platform lifts can be part of an accessible route in existing facilities that are altered. In new construction, platform lifts can be used to provide an accessible route to these areas only:

They also are permitted in new construction where topography or other existing exterior site constraints make a ramp or elevator infeasible. While the site constraint must reflect exterior conditions, the lift can be installed in the interior of a building. For example, an exterior or interior platform lift could be used to provide an accessible entrance or to coordinate interior floor levels at a new building constructed between and connected to two existing buildings if there is not sufficient space to coordinate floor levels and also to provide ramped entry from the public way.

Also, you can see how a solution to adequate stairway width (for fire egress) can be provided by a folding platform design:

Platform lifts must meet the ASME A18.1 Safety Standard for Platform Lifts and Stairway Chairlifts. The ASME A18.1 covers the design, construction, installation, operation, inspection, testing, maintenance and repair of lifts that are intended for transportation of persons with disabilities.

Inclined platform lifts can have a folding platform and are typically located at stairways. They must be installed so they do not encroach on required means of egress. Passenger retaining arms are permitted as an alternative to a platform enclosure under the ASME A18.1 Standard. 

Using as a model building code the ICBO, I excerpt:

1007.5 Platform lifts. Platform (wheelchair) lifts shall not serve as part of an accessible means of egress, except where allowed as part of a required accessible route in Section 1109.7, Items 1 through 9 of the International Building Code. Standby power shall be provided in accordance with Section 604.2.6 for platform lifts permitted to serve as part of a means of egress.

1007.5.1 Openness. Platform lifts on an accessible means of egress shall not be installed in a fully enclosed or firerated shaft.

Thank you for asking

Stairlift & Stairlift Information Sources

Making Stairs Easier to Climb vs. Installing a Chair Lift

This Q&A appeared originally at STAIR RISE & RUN CALCULATIONS.

Readers should also see STAIR DESIGN for SENIORS

Reader Question: I have difficulty climbing or descending stairs; How can I shorten the drop from step to step on my stairs?

4 July 2015 bonita said:
I am no longer able to walk down stairs with the standard drop. How can I make my drop from step to step shorter?



When I'm no longer able to make it safely up and down stairs to my office I will probably install a chair lift - see STAIRWAY CHAIR LIFTS

The problem is this: you can indeed re-build a stairway to reduce the riser height but to do so the depth of each tread has to increase significantly too. That means that the entire run (horizontal length) of the stairway will get much longer than it is now, perhaps double.

In the inteiror of most homes, doubling the run of a stairway between floors would be horribly expensive - if it would fit at all, or making a long stairway that winds or turns - taking more room in other dimensions.

I suspect that the cost of a stair rebuild indoors would be much higher than the cost of adding a stair lift.

Stairlift & Stairlift Information Sources


Continue reading at STAIR DIMENSIONS, WIDTH, HEIGHT or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.





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