More New Zealanders are ‘ageing in place’ by installing home elevators and stairlifts. Make the best choice for you!
For many households, stairlifts and elevators are still a luxury addition, but more New Zealanders are seeing this equipment as a practical investment that allows them to live where they want for as long as possible.
There are a range of options from simple stairlifts that allow people with mobility needs to move around different levels of their property (indoors and out), to sophisticated multi-passenger elevators featuring home-friendly finishes.
As with any equipment, it pays to shop around.
We’ve researched a range of stairlift and elevator choices to help you make a start if you’re considering installing equipment of your own.
With New Zealand’s ageing population steadily increasing, future-proofing your home can be a sensible idea.
With a great range of styles and models available these days, finding one that fits your particular needs is easier than it’s ever been.
There are even portable options if you are planning to move in the future, or are renting your home and won’t need the equipment long-term.
As permanent installations that offer multiple passenger and goods use, home elevators require a large amount of space to install. This can be a key consideration, especially when you’re retrofitting a lift into your existing home. Platform lifts are standalone units, which go by many other names including wheelchair lifts and low-rise lifts.
They are available in permanent and portable models, and can be a cost effective and flexible solution for locations where the installation of an elevator is not viable.
However, they tend towards single passenger use and limited load weight and rise capacity, so won’t suit everybody.
Both give the opportunity for continuing to live safely and independently in your home, which for many of us, will be a long time – as a whole, New Zealanders are living longer.
Clive Snell, General Manager of Phoenix Elevators, says it’s important to factor in the cost of installation and regular maintenance when making a decision. Clean, simple installation is an appealing aspect for many, and their product range reflects this, with their latest designs requiring minimal installation work.
Clive says that regular servicing will keep your asset functioning smoothly for a very long time.
“Just like any other mechanical item, do look after your lift! We recommended scheduling in an annual service.”
No longer unusual
Assessing which design suits your needs best will depend on the design of the dwelling and of course, your budget.
While recovering your lift investment may not be a deciding factor, it pays to consult real estate agents when making your choice so the costs and added value (if any) are in proportion to property prices in your area.
We checked out elevator options in New Zealand and were surprised by the number of organisations supplying home lifts.
There is clearly a growing market for these mobility solutions!
“Future-proofing is important to all generations,” says Marina Skocigoric, sales representative for Cremer Lifts. “We have noticed that there are more multilevel developments happening and so the need for the lifts is increasing. They are becoming a more standardized piece of equipment in New Zealand homes.”
There’s a wide range of elevator technologies on offer in the marketplace.
Some are better suited to new builds than others, or to restrained spaces, or for indoor or outdoor use.
While there is no minimum size requirement for a domestic lift, consider the combined weight of passengers, freight, and items such as wheelchairs or scooters your elevator would typically carry.
Do you need a ‘through lift’ with double doors that allow you to enter from one end and exit through the other?
This is much easier if you are manoeuvring a wheelchair or mobility scooter, but will require more generous landing spaces than a single door configuration.
Another consideration is the size of your finished ‘lift well’, the enclosed space that allows the elevator car to move between floors, with at least one entry door at each level.
Fit for purpose
Do consider everyone who is likely to use your lift.
Glass-walled lifts can be a source of extreme anxiety for people with vertigo, and can also present issues for those with a vision impairment. However, they may be preferred by people with hearing difficulties, as they are able to sense space beyond the elevator car, particularly in the case of a malfunction.
Some elevators require excavation of a pit beneath the lift well to house operating machinery and electrical, plumbing, or other connections.
Pneumatic elevators only require a level floor surface for installation; no excavation is needed, so remodelling costs are less. Check the installation requirements for your preferred lift model(s) with suppliers and your builder or designer.
Hidden elevators are another option if you have an area you can tuck an entire elevator into. Or if you can often choose internal finishes for your elevator (flooring, wall colours and surfaces) to complement your home’s decor.
Suppliers encourage those considering a lift to create a wishlist, taking into account their budget, the desired position of the elevator, size requirements, and finish preferences.
Consider whether an external platform lift that is exposed to the weather might be sufficient to help you move between floors.
All the suppliers we spoke to offer guidance and support with the installation, and service options once lifts are installed.
Most suppliers can provide a ballpark estimate of costs before visiting your property if you provide clear information about the type of lift you’re looking for, where it will be sited, and whether it is for a new home or retrofitted to an existing building.
Ensure your lift is sited where there is sufficient room to manoeuvre equipment into and out of the doors without difficulty.
Costs will vary depending on the type and style of the lift you choose, and its finish and features.
You’ll need to plan for build and alteration costs on top of the purchase price of your elevator, and should allow for an annual service check to ensure your lift continues to operate safely and smoothly.
If you’re building a new dwelling but don’t want to install a lift straightaway, allowing space to add an elevator later will reduce building and installation costs when the time comes.
Many elevators include battery backup so they can continue to operate (in a downward direction at least) in the event of a power failure.
Communication options are also available so elevator users can call for help if the lift malfunctions.
Help to choose, and funding options
‘Stairs can often be the most dangerous part of the house,’ says Raglan-based occupational therapist David Guest, who specialises in environmental assessments and modifications.
He says there are several factors to consider when it comes to safety issues with this feature of the home.
Sometimes he’ll recommend two walking frames: one upstairs and one downstairs, to make transfers from stairs or an elevator to the landing easier.
If you have a disability which makes it difficult for you to get around your home, you may be eligible for government assistance for modifications.
A Ministry of Health Equipment and Modification Service (EMS) qualified housing assessor will help you work out what modifications best suit you, based on your disability related needs and situation, and will advise on the most cost-effective options.
Modifications they can help fund may include handrails, ramps and a platform or stair lift.
Some of the things to consider will be accessibility issues around your entrances, whether you will be operating or travelling on the platform lift by yourself or if you require assistance with this, and lift capacity (how much weight will your lift have to handle)?
There can be subtle differences between products.
David works with suppliers to best match a client’s needs in their specific environment.
There may be cognitive issues around what a client can do, so he factors this in when making recommendations.
For more information about accessing equipment, visit www.health.govt.nz (search ‘Modifying Your Home’)
- Factor in your mobility needs, existing space and construction costs when drawing up your budget
- Is there an authorised service which is local to your area for maintenance and repairs?
- A demonstration ride in several different models will make the choice easier
- All domestic lifts must comply with the New Zealand Building Code, and building consent should be sought prior to installation.
- In a new house, most of this would be taken care of, with the designer or builder working with your lift supplier. In retrofit situations, the lift supplier can advise and organise full Building Code compliance for their product. Most Councils will require an independent inspection after installation.
- While parts like door locks and indicator lights may need replacing from time to time, the main machinery in home elevators is robust and should have a long service life!
- Currently ongoing inspections are not a requirement for home lifts. Follow your supplier’s guidelines about how often safety inspections should be carried out.
- All lifts will at some point require maintenance so ask your supplier about service plans. Suppliers say the cost of maintenance work would be similar to a car service.
- Talk to a number of companies when choosing your home lift or elevator.
- Funding assistance may be available; seek advice from your local needs assessor, occupational therapist, or ACC client manager.
- If you’re planning a new building but don’t want to install an elevator initially, allow space for it to be added later. This will make it easier (and less costly) if and when the time comes.
- Often models come with a diagnostic system and numerical display to ensure you always know the lift is operating correctly.
- Ask questions about noise, space requirements, and always keep in mind who will be frequenting the elevator, whether it’s the whole extended family over the weekend or just one person.
- There’s a huge range of options and prices out there. Contact your local supplier for a quote.
An elevator’s drive system—the mechanism by which the elevator car is raised or lowered—defines the types of home elevators and how much space may be required to install them.
Traction elevator cars are pulled up via rolling steel ropes or belts over a deeply grooved pulley, commonly called a sheave. The weight of the car is balanced by a counterweight.
Hydraulic lifts are powered by a piston that travels inside a cylinder. An electric motor pumps hydraulic fluids into the cylinder to move the piston which smoothly lifts the elevator cab. Electrical valves control the release of the oil for a gentle descent.
Machine room less elevators (MRL) are a type of either traction or hydraulic elevator which do not require a machine room for the elevator.
Pneumatic elevators are easiest to retrofit into an existing home, using a vacuum system to make the elevator car ascend or descend. They do not require a pit or machine room.
A popular access solution, stairlifts consist of a chair which travels between floors. The chair is attached to a track fixed to the stairs, or to the wall alongside the stairway.
Stairlifts can be installed on both internal and external stairs, and there are models out there for curved stairlifts.
The chair folds up against the wall when not in use.
No matter what’s trending in the marketplace, Peter Illman, NZ Office Manager of Acorn Stairlifts says that reliability, ease of use, safety and affordability should always be of primary concern when it comes to choosing equipment.
“Our stairlifts come standard with a diagnostic system and numerical display to ensure you always know the lift is operating correctly.”
“Many customers look to sell their homes when the stairs become a problem for them. However, a stairlift can be a more cost-effective solution, as well as enabling people to stay and enjoy the home they love.”
Things to consider
How do you get around? If you need to use a wheelchair or have trouble sitting, a stairlift may not be the best option
Will you be able to get on and off the stair lift by yourself? How long do you think you will be able to do so – at least a couple of years more?
How long do you think you might be living in your present home – will you be there for at least two more years?
Will you be operating the stair lift yourself or will you need someone to help you?
Do you have a single flight of stairs or is there more than one flight of stairs? Does the stairway curve? The lift needs to travel the whole length of the staircase, not just one flight or part of a curved stairway.
Is there enough space on the stairs for the track to run along beside them? Generally stairs need to be at least 1 metre wide so that there is enough space beside the track for other people in your home to walk up and down the stairs safely.
Is there enough space at the top and bottom of the stairs for you to get on and off the lift safely?
Do you have style preferences? Ask suppliers about colour and material finish options.
Below are contact details for elevator and stairlift suppliers in New Zealand. This is not a comprehensive directory but will give you a good start to learn about equipment options if you’re considering a home lift. For ease of installation and maintenance, check with suppliers who can assess your environment and recommend suitable options.
0800 40 40 60
0800 745 438
0800 782 404
0800 40 40 60
0800 92 66 77
Kone New Zealand
0800 775 663
0800 353 828
09 947 9805
0800 358 383
07 867 6712
0800 746 753
07 549 0503