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Accessible Housing by Design — Residential Hoists and Ceiling Lifts

Universal Design

People who inhabit and visit our dwellings come in all shapes and sizes, range in age from infant to senior and possess various ever-changing abilities and skills. As we grow up, grow old and welcome new people into our homes, our housing needs change. A dwelling that is designed and constructed to reflect the principles of universal design will be safer and more accommodating to everyone who lives or visits there, regardless of age or ability.

An overview of the key concepts of universal design is provided in “The Principles of Universal Design” text box at the end of this document.

A residential hoist or ceiling lift can help people who have difficulty safely moving themselves or others in and out of bed, and in and out of a bathtub.

Consistent with the philosophy of universal design, it takes little physical effort to use a residential hoist or ceiling lift to move people from one position to another and from one place to another.

Residential hoists and ceiling lifts help many people — for instance, seniors who want to remain in their home despite changes in their mobility, strength or agility and parents who can no longer lift their child with a disability. A residential hoist or ceiling lift can allow a spouse, partner, parent or caregiver to help with transfers, which can help maintain independence and allow people to stay in their homes.

This About Your House provides information on the types of residential hoists and ceiling lifts that are commonly available in Canada. It identifies some of the issues you should consider when choosing and installing a hoist or ceiling lift in your house, condominium or apartment.

A Word About Terms

Often, the words used in discussing lifts, elevators and hoists can be confusing because these terms are used interchangeably. This About Your House uses hoist and ceiling lift.

Hoists and Ceiling Lifts

A hoist is a mechanical lifting device that can lift someone from a seated position and transfer them to another location, such as a bed, a seat or a bathtub. Some hoists can move horizontally between areas within a room and between rooms.

There are three types of residential hoisting devices:

  • Wheeled hoists (see Figure 1)
  • Stationary hoists (see Figure 3)
  • Ceiling lifts (see Figure 4)

Wheeled Hoists

Figure 1 — Wheeled hoist
Figure 1 — Wheeled hoist

wheeled hoist is a piece of freestanding equipment that supports the person being moved in a sling or harness suspended from a cantilevered arm. The sling is placed around the person while he or she is seated or lying down. The person is then hoisted up, the hoist is wheeled to the new location and the person is lowered.

One of the first things to consider is the amount of manoeuvring space a wheeled hoist needs. The wheeled base of the hoist must be wide enough to remain stable with the person in the hoist.

Consequently, wheeled hoists require a wide unobstructed path of travel — usually at least 1,100 mm (43 in.) and possibly more, if turns are required (see Figure 2).

Another design consideration is clear space under furniture and fixtures, to accommodate the frame of the hoist. If a wheeled hoist is to be used for transfers in and out of a bathtub, the bathtub should have legs or be raised from the floor to allow the hoist frame to fit under the bathtub.

Figure 2 — Clear path for wheeled hoist
Diagram by: DesignAble Environments Inc.
Figure 2 — Clear path for wheeled hoist

Stationary Hoists

Figure 3 — Stationary hoist
Figure 3 — Stationary hoist

Stationary hoists are fixed to the floor or a wall. Although the base of the hoist is fixed, a support arm pivots to transfer the person sideways. Stationary hoists use slings and harnesses like wheeled hoists.

The primary design consideration for a stationary hoist is the structural strength of the floor or wall it is attached to. When installing a stationary hoist, a structural engineer must be consulted.

Other considerations include the arc of the hoist swing — to ensure it reaches the necessary elements — and clear space for the wheelchair during the transfer to and from the hoist.

Ceiling Lift

Figure 4 — Ceiling lift
Diagram by: DesignAble Environments Inc.
Figure 4 —
 Ceiling lift

ceiling lift is the commonest term for a type of hoist that consists of a hoisting unit mounted to a track in the ceiling. This type of hoist allows a person to be lifted and moved across a room and between rooms. A ceiling lift is usually electrically powered, but there are manual units.

The primary consideration in choosing and installing a track-mounted ceiling lift is the structural strength of the supports in the ceiling. When installing a ceiling lift, a structural engineer must be consulted. You must also provide a clear path of travel along the route of the track, particularly at door frames, for a system that connects two or more rooms.

Ceiling tracks can be provided in a variety of locations — most electric hoists can be manually moved from one location to another. Some track systems incorporate a turntable that allows the hoist to move from one track system to another (see Figure 5). Turntables can be manual or electric.

Figure 5 — Plan view of ceiling lift installation
Diagram by: DesignAble Environments Inc.
Figure 5 — Plan view of ceiling lift installation
Figure 6 — Ceiling lift track at a doorway
Diagram by: DesignAble Environments Inc.
Figure 6 — Ceiling lift track at a doorway

Frequent Questions

When should you consider a hoist or ceiling lift?

Consider a hoist or ceiling lift when the person being moved becomes too heavy or too large to be moved safely manually. One person can easily and safely assist with transfers if a mechanical hoist is used.

Do I need a building permit?

Call your municipal office to find out if you need a building permit. You probably do not need one for devices such as wheeled and stationary hoists. But you may need one if you will be making structural changes to your residence for a ceiling lift.

Whether you need a building permit or not, you should always get advice from a structural engineer for stationary hoist and ceiling lift installations.

Are there standards, licences and inspections?

Hoists and ceiling lifts do not have to meet specific standards or be licensed or inspected. But hoists and ceiling lifts should comply with the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) standard CAN/CSA-Z10535: Hoists for the transfer of disabled persons — Requirements and test methods. They should also be regularly inspected and serviced.

What about maintenance?

Hoists and ceiling lifts are mechanical devices that can break down. They need regular servicing. Maintenance is generally complex and should be done by an expert. Purchasing a maintenance contract from a reputable supplier is a good idea.

Powered lifts often have a standby, rechargeable battery. You will eventually have to replace the battery.

How much does it cost?

As with all construction, costs can vary significantly depending on the equipment, materials and finishes that you choose, as well as the design of your residence. A wheeled hoist will cost much less than a track-mounted ceiling lift.

The figures in Table 1 are for general budgeting purposes only. They may vary significantly, depending on site and market conditions, inflation and many other factors.

Table 1 — Approximate costs for purchase and installation of various types of hoists

Type Cost
Wheeled hoist $2,500 – 7,500
Stationary hoist $2,500 – 3,000
Ceiling lift $3,000 – 12,000
Hoist service contract (per year) $200 – 500

To make your dollars go further, consider buying a hoist or ceiling lift from a company that sells refurbished equipment. Residential hoists and lifts are frequently recycled, providing a reliable, cost-effective and environment-friendly solution.

Can I take it with me if I move?

Yes — hoists and ceiling lifts are quite portable.

Where do I start and who can help me?

Designing a fixed hoist installation is typically a complex process involving architectural, structural and electrical elements. It is not a project to be tackled by a handyman.

The best starting point is to call medical equipment suppliers. A home visit will likely follow, at which time the supplier will make recommendations on the feasibility of installing different types of hoists. It is always a good idea to have a health professional, such as an occupational therapist, present for the site visit, to ensure that the type of hoist being recommended will meet your current and future functional needs. Before choosing a supplier, it is also a good idea to request quotes and references from at least three suppliers.


Ceiling lift: A hoist that is mounted on a ceiling track that lifts a person in sling and allows movement along a track.

Hoist: A mechanical lifting device that can lift someone from a seated position and transfer them to another location, such as a bed, a seat or a bathtub.

Stationary hoists: A device that is fixed to the floor or a wall and equipped with a pivoting support arm that can transfer a person sideways using a sling or a harness.

Wheeled hoist: A freestanding piece of equipment that supports a person being moved in a sling or a harness that is suspended from a mobile cantilevered arm.

The Principles of Universal Design

Universal design is defined as:

“The design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.”

The concept is an evolving design philosophy.

Principle 1: Equitable use

This principle focuses on providing equitable access for everyone in an integrated and dignified manner. It implies that the design is appealing to everyone and provides an equal level of safety for all users.

Principle 2: Flexibility in use

This principle implies that the design of the house or product has been developed considering a wide range of individual preferences and abilities throughout the life cycle of the occupants.

Principle 3: Simple and intuitive

The layout and design of the home and devices should be easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience or cognitive ability. This principle requires that design elements be simple and work intuitively.

Principle 4: Perceptible information

The provision of information using a combination of different modes, whether using visual, audible or tactile methods, will ensure that everyone is able to use the elements of the home safely and effectively. Principle 4 encourages the provision of information through all of our senses — sight, hearing and touch — when interacting with our home environment.

Principle 5: Tolerance for error

This principle incorporates a tolerance for error, minimizing the potential for unintended results. This implies design considerations that include fail-safe features and gives thought to how all users may use the space or product safely.

Principle 6: Low physical effort

This principle deals with limiting the strength, stamina and dexterity required to access spaces or use controls and products.

Principle 7: Size and space for approach and use

This principle focuses on the amount of room needed to access space, equipment and controls. This includes designing for the appropriate size and space so that all family members and visitors can safely reach, see and operate all elements of the home.

Last revised: 2010.

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