Adapting your home for a disibility – Article 4 – Going Up!

Changes in level can be challenging!

Going Up? Changes in level can be challenging!

The Challenge

Getting from floor to floor at home can be challenging for a person living with a disability. Where space is available it is often more practicable to adapt the home by making it possible for a disabled person to live on one level only, usually the entry level or ground floor. A lack of space, or indeed the very wishes of the person living with the disability, may prevent this.

As with our previous article entitled “In the House” dealing with moving around on one level, it remains important where possible to reduce the number of level changes. This can often be done cheaply and effectively by the use of ramps or even careful consideration to floor finishes etc.  Unfortunately, moving from one storey of the house to the other cannot be catered for in this way.

Improving the existing stairs.

Some people living with a disability are still capable of walking and indeed climbing stairs, but may require a little extra assistance.  There are some basic and cost effective measures that can be introduced to make the stairs a safer place in these circumstances.

Surface & Lighting.

In domestic situations many stairs etc. have a carpet finish.  This in itself is not usually an issue, however, any carpets should be completely secure in order to reduce the risk for tripping and falling.

In the case of partially sighted people highlighting the individual steps can be an advantage.  This is why contrasting stair nosing’s are seen in commercial and institutional buildings, and even contrasting surface finishes on landings compared to the stairs and ramps.  Whilst contrasting colours may not be what we want in our homes, good, well thought out lighting can also be used to help highlight the individual steps.

Handrails Provide Support.

Many domestic stairs have handrails, but often only to one side and more decorative than useful.  Check that any existing handrails are well fixed, suitably placed and will provide the support needed.  We have listed below some of the key points about handrails.


The vertical height to the upper handrail (Yes, there can be two handrails!) should be between 900 and 1100mm above the pitch of the stair (or ramp).  This is measured vertically from the nose of each step, or from the surface of a ramp. (The pitch of a stair is actually a line that touches the nose of every step.)  If a second handrail is fitted, the top of this should be 600mm above that pitch line.  This is usually fitted to assist children or people of smaller stature, and is the reason you will often see a double handrail in commercial or institutional buildings.  You would only fit this in a home if it was relevant to the person / disability being catered for.


A handrail to a stair or ramp should, where possible be continuous.  That means that it should continue around a landing to help provide support and security there, but also that is should extend beyond both the bottom and the top of any flight of stairs or ramp.  The ideal distance is 300mm.  This extension should level out, being approximately the same height above the landing as the handrail was above the pitch of the stairs.

While dealing with the end of a handrail, another point that many do not think of is to design the end so that it does not easily hook onto clothing.  This is why you often see commercial handrails returning to the wall, or at least bending down for a short distance. This should be enough to stop it hooking a sleeve!

Shape & Fixing

Handrail Size Distance

Diagram showing prefered handrail sizes and distances.

The shape and size of the handrail is very important.  An ideal size for the actual handrail is between 40 to 45mm in diameter.  Non circular handrails should be 50mm wide an any radius that they have should be a minimum of 15mm. The nearest face of the handrail to a wall should be between 60 to 75mm away from the wall.  For best support the brackets which hold it to that wall should be about 10mm in diameter and mounted to the bottom of the handrail plus allow a reasonable clearance below the rail before the bracket returns to the wall or meets another obstruction, 60mm is the distance laid down in the building regulations.  If the handrail is mounted on top of a wall for example, the nearest edge of the handrail should not be more than 50mm back from the actual stair.  The diagram of a handrail below is similar to that found in the Building Regulation Document relating to Disabled Access.

Slip Resistant & Warm

The surface finish of a handrail should be suitable for its function.  It should be slip resistant to help the person use it for support, and it should be warm to the touch so as not to cause discomfort while being used.  If the person using it has reduced visibility, a contrasting colour to the wall or background should also be considered.

When the Stairs will no longer do.

There will be occasions when using the stair will not be possible.  For some this may be occasionally, for others it may be every day.  In either case, when altering the layout to live on one level or moving to a home with a single storey is not an option or indeed a desire, then a lift is required.  There are a number of types of lift available to the domestic market, and the choice will depend on individual requirements, space and budget.


Stannah Starla Stair Lift

Stannah Starla Stair Lift

Stairlifts are fitted to the existing stair in the home and therefore take up the least space and are often the easiest solution to the problem providing the existing stair case is a sutable width and layout.

A rail is usually mounted to the stair treads or on the wall beside the stairs. A moving chair or lifting platform is attached to this rail. A person on the chair or platform is lifted as the chair or platform moves along the rail, following the pitch of the original stair. The simplest installations are on straight stairs, however, there are solutions which will allow the chair or platform to turn on landings, wind up circular stairs or even to cross doorways using removable or hinged sections of rail.

The stair lift itself comes in two main types. There is the type with their own seat which you sit on and the type which has a plate or lifting platform that you can stand on, or will carry a wheelchair.  The type to be installed will depend on the needs of the individual, and also on the space available.  A Health Care Professional will be able to help decide which option is best for each circumstance.  In the case of either option, and indeed the type of lift we will discuss below as well, these should be installed by a specialist.

Either of the types of lift mentioned above can be bought outright, costing in the region of £1,500* or they can be rented for something in the region of £10* a week, plus an installation charge.

An example of a stair lift is the Stannah Starla

Vertical Lifts

A Platform Lift or Home Lift is installed totally separate to the existing stairs.  It moves the user vertically to the room above or below.

Platform Lift

Gartec Prime Platform Lift

Gartec Prime Platform Lift

This type of lift takes up permanent room on all the levels it serves, much as a conventional lift or commercial /institutional platform lift.  It is fully encased and has doors on each floor. The platform moves up and down inside its own shaft, and can be left at any floor.  This type of lift is relatively expensive and in a home situation is only likely to be fitted if more than two storeys need to be served or if the lift needs to be fitted external to the original floor plan and therefore provide it’s own weather protection.

An example of this sort of lift is the Gartec Prime Series   The Prime 7000XT (pictured) being specifically designed for external use.

Home Lift

Stannah Stratum Home Lift

Stannah Stratum Home Lift

Firstly there is a type which “parks” on the upper floor where there is usually a small permanent guarded area with an access door such as the Stannah Stratum . The bottom of the lift forms part of the ceiling in the room below.  This type of lift is usually on rails fixed vertically to a wall.  In the room below, these rails together with a “square” in the ceiling are normally all that is visible. When the lift is required, it is lowered into the lower room, leaving an opening in the ceiling which is protected in the room above by the permanrent guarding.  This means that the lift only takes up valuable space on the lower floor when not in use, but always uses space above.

Stannah Salise Home Lift
Stannah Salise Home Lift

Then there are lifts that are almost “pod” or “tardis” like such as the Stannah Salise .  They can be parked in either the upper or lower room, taking up space only in the room they are parked in.  The bottom of the lift, when it is parked  in the upper room, forms the ceiling in the room below.  Alternativley, when the lift itself is parked in the lower room, the top of it forms the floor in the upper room.




How can Clive Elsdon Building Design Help?

Clive Elsdon Building Design, drawing on many years of experience in domestic, commercial and public building design including many projects specifically aimed at improving access, can help you with your access issues. We can work with your Health Care Professional to produce designs which ensure that you get the best adaptations to your home to suit your individual needs!

Please feel free to comment on this article or ask any questions that you have. Look out for the fifth article in the series, “What’s Cooking” coming soon! In that article we will be addressing issues with kitchen design relating to adapting your home for disability.

To read other articles in this series, please Click Here

* Please note that Clive Elsdon Building Design does not supply any of the items mentioned in this article therefore prices quoted are approximate for information and guidance only and subject to change. Please contact suppliers direct to obtain costs for your own installations. While some suppliers are noted in the text, there are other suppliers of the products and services mentioned.