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The Anatomy of a Wheelchair Lift

A wheelchair lift, also known as a vertical platform lift, is a powered lifting device used to transport wheelchairs and their users from one level to another. A wheelchair elevator for home use differs from a residential elevator in that it is not always fully enclosed, uses different drive systems, and requires relatively few site modifications. Vertical platform lifts are ideal for wheelchair users who may not have the space for a full residential elevator or require a low rise application or have a need for outdoor use.

How Do Wheelchair Lifts Work?

A wheelchair lift is raised and lowered using one of two systems, a screw drive or hydraulic drive. A screw drive lift uses a long screw shaft with a drive nut, which moves the lift up and down the shaft. Hydraulic lifts, in contrast, raise and lower the platform by filling and releasing fluid into rams or pistons.

Wheelchair Lift Parts

Although it takes up less space than a residential elevator, a wheelchair lift for home use still has a number of vital parts, including:

  • Battery Backup: Many residential vertical platform lifts include battery backups to safely lower the lift in the event of a power outage.
  • Drive mechanism: The mechanical or hydraulic system used to raise and lower the lift platform.
  • Electric drive: A piece of machinery that converts electricity into mechanical motion. Electric drives provide the power for both hydraulic and screw drive lifts, and may use either AC or DC current.
  • Enclosure: Walls that enclose the lift. Not all wheelchair lifts have enclosures. While not all lifts have enclosures, all lifts must use sidewalls and gates to protect the rider.
  • Ramp: The ramp provides access to the platform when a pit is not available. Depending on the lift you choose, there may be a folding ramp or a stationary ramp. The folding ramp will fold up when the lift is traveling up, and deploy when the lift reaches the lower landing. The stationary ramp is used mostly on enclosed lifts and does not move with the lift.
  • Grab rail: A grab rail is a handle the lift user can grip for added safety.
  • Lift control buttons: Unlike home elevators, a wheelchair lift requires constant pressure be applied to the control button to operate. This provides more control over the lift. For instance, if you were ascending and the doorbell rings, you could just switch to the down button, rather than having to complete your ascent and then descend.
  • Lift platform: Sometimes called the deck, a wheelchair lift platform is a non-skid surface that has a rough texture allowing the wheels of the wheelchair to easily grip, assisting the user to enter or exit the lift. Lift platforms may use rubber, metal strips or textured paints to achieve the non-skid surface.
  • Safety sensor: Wheelchair lifts may include under-platform safety sensors that bring the lift to a halt should they detect an obstruction.
Symmetry VPL-RL in Ivory flip up ramp

Types of Wheelchair Lifts

While the basic concept of the wheelchair lift is simple enough — a powered platform that raises and lowers wheelchair users — there are a number of residential vertical platform lift models, including:

  • Residential wheelchair lifts: A simple, one-floor lift that raises the user to the next level. Usually installed next to stairs, a residential wheelchair lift operates vertically rather than following the path of the stairs.
  • Unenclosed wheelchair lifts: Popular for porch lifts, landscape elevation changes, and mobile home decks, an unenclosed lift has no surrounding walls, and is generally used for raising and lowering wheelchairs no more than a single floor.
  • Enclosed vertical platform lifts: Completely enclosed for added security, this lift is a popular choice in private residences, but does require slightly more space than an unenclosed lift.
  • Shaftway lift: Like the enclosed vertical platform lift, the shaftway list is enclosed. The difference is the lift is typically “hidden” behind doors.
  • Enclosed Plexi-glass lifts: Similar to an enclosed lift, these stylish lifts feature plexi-glass infill enclosure wall panels.
  • Hybrid wheelchair lifts: Hybrid wheelchair lifts look like home elevators, but have the same constant pressure operating system as a platform lift. With a full-height car, hybrid lifts offer the widest range of optional features and finishes to match the style and decor of your home.
Symmetry VPL in outdoor residential application showing pit with drain

Choosing The Right Wheelchair Lift for Your Needs

Choosing the right wheelchair elevator for your home depends on multiple factors. Enclosed models are arguably better-looking and more likely to blend with surrounding decor, but cost more and take up more space than unenclosed models. Unenclosed models are practical and require less changes to the surrounding room, making them ideal for situations where the user won’t be permanently confined to their wheelchair. Local code requirements may also impact which model of lift you can use.

To get an idea of what’s available, browse the websites of wheelchair lift providers. Check out their customer testimonials and read the brochures and specifications for each model. Questions to bear in mind as you explore your lift options include:

  • How much floor space will the lift take up?
  • How easy is the installation process?
  • What kind of warranty comes with the lift, and what does it cover?
  • What extra features does the lift include?
  • How much do you want to spend?
  • How important is the look of the lift to you?

A wheelchair elevator for home use is not just for wheelchair users. They’re a practical solution for anyone with mobility issues who wants to remain independent in their own home or age in place. Whether you need a simple unenclosed lift to help you up and down a half-flight of stairs or are in the market for a multi-floor model with the look and feel of a home elevator, there’s a lift for you. Contact your local home elevator company today to discuss lift options, and regain easy access to all levels of your home inside or out.

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