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Contractors note growing interest in chair lifts, elevators

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James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Marjorie Dinnen, 87 uses a chairlift to descend the steps from her basement to the first floor of her Carnegie home Monday December 16, 2013.
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Elevator in Linda and Bob Ross' Pine Township home Thursday, December 19, 2013.
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James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Marjorie Dinnen, 87 uses a chairlift to ascend the steps from her basement to the first floor of her Carnegie home Monday December 16, 2013.

The use of residential elevators and chair lifts is on the rise — and that’s no downer for those in the business.

Marjorie Dinnen, 87, of Carnegie didn’t think she needed a chair lift in her home. But her son, Dave, saw one at a customer’s house and thought it would be perfect in his mother’s basement.

“I love it,” Marjorie Dinnen said. “I don’t use it all the time, but I can use it to take clothes from the upstairs to the downstairs.”

Elevators and lifts provide a way for older residents to age-in-place in a neighborhood they like, said Dave Hughes of Able Mobility in Oakdale. His company works in elevators and lifts but said the lifts have been more popular in recent years.

Craig Pitcairn of James R. Pitcairn Inc. in Sharpsburg said “inquiries keep coming in” about elevators. This year, the company recorded about 40 elevator sales; 20 to 22 would be common, he said.

Similarly, Steve Progin of Inclinator in Harrisburg, a company that constructs lifts and elevators for residences, said elevator sales have increased 35 percent in the past three years.

He said 55- to 60-year-olds make up the heart of his business, but the number of younger clients is growing as “they consider the future.”

On the level

Angelo Spagnolo of Spagnolo Custom Homes in Wexford is in the process of installing elevators in 27 of 34 townhomes he is building in that community.

Elevators appeal greatly to elderly residents, he noted, but the complex is home to members of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Penguins and the Steelers coaching staff.

“And they can come home from a road game, put their luggage on the elevator and go upstairs,” he said.

Hughes said the topography of the area is one of the main reasons lifts and elevators are needed.

“Practically every house in this area is built on a hill,” he said. “You can’t even find the classic, flat ranch. The ranches here are flat on the main floor, but you have get into them with steps up the front or from the garage.”

Dave Dinnen said his mother’s home is built that way.

He said he thought of her when he noticed a lift while visiting a client of his All-Nu Windows in Oakdale. He knew his mother didn’t need a lift at that point, but he thought it would be good to get “in advance.”

He and Hughes agree that lifts and elevators often allow a homeowner to age in a home that has more than one level.

Turning to one of the alternatives is not always possible, they said.

The no-step, flat house is rare in this area, and moving to a condo or apartment can be an expensive and painful downsize, they noted.

Interest up, prices down

Progin agrees that the “aging-in-place” strategy probably is the main reason for the increase in interest in both types of elevation devices.

And technological advances have reduced the cost of the installation of elevators, he said, making the job more feasible for most people.

Hughes and Gail Antonich of ASV Mobility in Portersville in Butler County, said installing an elevator in a home can cost $25,000, down from about $40,000. A chair lift is more of a $2,500 project, they said. Lifts in split-level homes — where living space is reached both up and down from an entrance landing — can be double the cost because two lifts are required, Antonich noted.

“It is convenient and changes the way you live,” Progin said. “There are people who, because of age or injury, are unable to ever see their second floor again. This lets them.”

Pitcairn said the easiest and least expensive way of installing an elevator is by including it in new construction because it allows the necessary space to be planned rather than found afterward.

Spagnolo agreed but noted that even if an elevator is not added at from the onset, design steps can be taken to allow for one in the future.

“If you stack closets on top of one another, all you have to do is knock out the ceiling of one and you have the shaft,” he said.

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at [email protected] or 412-320-7852.

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