Stair Alternatives: Solutions to Maximize Home Accessibility

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Do you or a loved one struggle with stair climbing? Let's be honest. All of us have a tough time with stairs at some point. But with age, mobility challenges become more frequent. And unfortunately, accidents on stairs are all too frequent, especially for seniors.

Are you concerned that your stairs are a potential safety hazard? If this is the case, stair alternatives may be a great option. Fortunately, modern technology has created various solutions to provide better accessibility and safety, allowing us to remain safely at home as mobility changes, a concept called aging in place.

Let's explore what a stair alternative is, the common types of stair alternatives, and how they can optimize accessibility at home for you and your loved ones.

What is a Stair Alternative?

A stair alternative is an accessible mobility device or system that allows people to ascend and descend stairs or move to a different level in the home by bypassing the steps.

Alternatives to stairs are helpful for everyone and make a home more convenient. But these options are primarily designed to make it easier for individuals with disabilities, older adults, and those with difficulty climbing stairs.

Both interior and exterior stair alternatives are available for each of the options discussed below. 

Why are Stairs Alternatives Necessary?

Stairs are an essential part of any home, but many individuals find steps challenging to use due to injuries, physical disabilities, or age-related changes. Steps are dangerous and often the site of falls, which can be very serious, especially for seniors.

Fortunately, a variety of alternatives to stairs are available to provide safe and convenient access for those who cannot navigate stairs safely.

Steps can be dangerous for seniors so stair alternatives should be considered.

Who Would Benefit From Using a Stair Alternative?

Stairs alternatives are necessary for people with a variety of mobility issues. In some cases, stairs may be too difficult or even impossible for those with disabilities or limited mobility, such as those using wheelchairs, seniors, and even young children.

Many medical conditions make stairclimbing challenging, such as arthritis, COPD, stroke, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson's Disease and vertigo. These solutions provide safe and convenient access to a home's lower or upper floors without having to climb stairs physically.

Available Stair Alternatives

Some common alternatives to stairs include ramps, stair lifts, vertical platform lifts, and elevators.


An exterior ramp is the most common type of stair alternative. It is a sloped pathway that allows people to access their homes without having to climb stairs. Residential ramps are usually made from concrete, metal, or wood. They are customized to fit the specific needs of a user.

When determining the length of a ramp, it is essential to consider the degree of incline or slope needed to traverse the area safely. The greater the height of the steps, the longer the ramp needs to be. Generally, the ramp needs to be at least one foot for every inch of step height. For example, a 30 foot long ramp (or longer) is needed for steps that are 30 inches tall in total. 

Specific building standards vary depending on location to ensure safe ramp construction. Most people are shocked at the length a ramp needs to be for the safest set-up. 

Residential interior ramps are less common than exterior ramps but may be used where there are only a few steps. It is virtually impossible to safely ramp more than two steps inside a typical home since the ramp would be too long to fit efficiently. One exception is an entrance ramp located in an attached garage which may wrap around the walls of the garage to achieve an optimal slope for the ramp.

Exterior and interior wheelchair ramps are alternatives to stairs.

Stair Lifts

A stair lift, sometimes called a stair glide, is another device that helps people with mobility issues ascend and descend stairs. Stair lifts consist of a chair or platform that travels along a rail system fitted to the staircase.

A stair lift with a chair seat is a more common residential home modification. A wheelchair stair lift can be used in a home setting, but is more often seen in commercial buildings.

Stair lifts can be installed on straight and curved staircases and turn if a landing separates sets of stairs. Curved stair lifts are more expensive than those for straight stairs. There are also exterior stair glides designed for use on outdoor staircases.

Platform Lifts

A vertical platform lift is an excellent alternative to stairs especially for someone who uses a wheelchair. It's a metal platform, usually with three sides and a door, that moves vertically between two levels of a building or structure.

The lift consists of a platform mounted onto a guide rail which is operated by an electric motor. The platform moves up and down vertically with a person seated in a wheelchair or standing on the platform. There are both indoor and outdoor models available.

Two types of stair glides are a stair lift with a chair seat and a wheelchair stair lift with a platform base.


A residential elevator is a device that provides vertical transport between the floors of a home in an enclosed and self-contained unit with its own motor and control system. Common types of elevators include pneumatic, hydraulic, and shaftless elevators.

Most people think of elevators that are in an enclosed shaft, but newer technology has produced ones that can be installed simply by cutting a hole in the floor. 

Elevators have customizable options to fit various floor plans and configurations. But not all elevators are located indoors. An exterior elevator attached to the outside of the home is another option, especially if there is not enough room inside the house or the architecture makes an interior location difficult.

As a result of improved affordability, residential elevators have become a more common and viable option. Elevators are increasingly being installed in various types of homes as a solution for aging in place in multi-level houses, despite being more commonly found in higher-end homes.

A vertical platform lift and a home elevator are other alternatives to stairs.

Final Thoughts on Stair Alternatives

Stair alternatives are a great way to increase home accessibility for anyone with mobility limitiations and seniors who want to successfully age in place. Various options are available, from simple ramps and platform lifts to more complex elevators and inclined lifts, so there is an option that can work for any needed situation. It is crucial to consider each stair alternative's cost, convenience, and space requirements when deciding which one will work best for your needs.

Next Steps

Want to determine which of these stair alternatives will work best for your home? The Retirement Independence Home Design Road Map is your guide with workbook to figure it out. Get it now to future-proof your home so you can live your retirement dreams!

About the Author

As a home health Physical Therapist for over 20 years, I help clients solve home dilemmas so they can live their best life.

I'm here to use that same problem-solving expertise and training as a Certified Aging in Place Specialist to help you create an optimized home that's forward-thinking and future-ready to support you and your loved ones well for a lifetime.

Ready to discover your Golden Girl strategy for a retirement-ready home?