My Stair Lift has a life of its own!
So, hands up who remembers the movie, “Poltergeist”? Released in 1982, it may seem a little dated now that we’re living in an age of such sophisticated special effects. But in its day, it had the ability to genuinely scare many viewers and, if I’m completely honest, it still has moments in it when I’m tempted to hide behind the sofa.
A poltergeist (German for “Rumbling Ghost”) is generally thought to be a ghost or some other malevolent spirit that enjoys making objects move around the house or even fly through the air. They also can be pretty noisy when the mood takes them, apparently.
Far be it from us to say whether or not poltergeists really exist (they don’t) but what happens when something as big as your stairlift appears to have developed a life of its own?
It’s not exactly common, but there have been instances where stairlifts will begin to operate entirely of their own volition without any buttons having been pressed.
Pretty creepy if your stair lift starts to move of its own accord, not to say just ever so slightly disturbing.
So does this mean that spirits from another dimension are being mischievous because your house was built on the site of an old cemetery? Are you going to have to call in your local version of Tangina Barrons to lead them back into the light?
Well, the answer’s a little more technical than that but no less interesting for us grease monkeys at Newbury Mobility.
The culprit is the humble, common-or-garden lightbulb. Not the old-fashioned incandescent type, but the more modern, low-energy CFL bulb.
To explain, let’s first take a quick look at hand-held remote controls.
The remote control for your television uses infrared waves to communicate with the TV itself. Infrared lies within the electromagnetic spectrum and is really useful for controlling electrical equipment wirelessly. The control unit can be programmed to send strings of binary code in the form of infrared pulses. Different codes will mean different things e.g. volume up or volume down and can be made specific to different brands and different items of equipment. This is why you can use your TV’s remote control without it having an effect on your DVD player, for instance.
Infrared is also fairly short range and can’t travel through walls the way that radio waves can. This means that when you’re bored watching Desperate Housewives and switch over to Emmerdale, you’re not doing the same thing to your next door neighbour’s tele.
The remote control for your stair lift works in exactly the same way. You point the remote at your stairlift and pulses of binary code are sent to instruct it go up or down.
Back now to low-energy bulbs. These can, occasionally, produce unwanted pulses of infrared light. You can’t see them – your pet rattlesnake can, but you can’t – but if those pulses happen to be one of the binary codes that controls your stair lift then it will, in its faithful and loyal way, respond to those controls. It thinks it’s just doing what you asked, after all.
These light-bulb pulses can also be responsible for masking or confusing the pulses from your stair lift’s hand held remote control unit so that the stair lift simply won’t function correctly or obey your commands.
Some stair lifts controls work using radio waves rather than infrared, but even these aren’t immune from interference from light bulbs. In this case, LED lights are usually the culprit.
LED lights have lots of advantages, one of the greatest being that they are very cheap to run.
They’re also cheap to manufacture, particularly if you take shortcuts in the process.
There are a great number of LED bulbs on the market – some branded by major household names – that fail to meet any kind of standardised testing and indeed there is some confusion as to what this testing ought to be. The European Union is actively looking into this but I wouldn’t hold your breath for action to be taken any time soon.
LED bulbs require something called a switched-mode power-supply. In order to cut costs, some manufacturers deliberately leave out some filter components from these power-supplies, resulting in a great deal of conducted emissions and harmonics that can interfere with a number of other pieces of equipment that use radio waves.
It doesn’t make the bulbs dangerous exactly. They’re just sending out quite significant amounts of unwanted electromagnetic interference.
DAB radios are the most common victims of this and there are increasing instances where people’s DAB radios don’t work until nearby LED lights are switched off. Stair lift remote controls can similarly be affected.
So should you be worried?
The answer to that is an emphatic ‘no’. It’s not that common an issue with stair lifts but should it happen to you, you know what to do.
It’s not The Bell Witch of Tennessee or The Black Monk of Pontefract.
Just turn off any nearby lights and your stair lift should once again be a slave to your command.
Of course, as you know by now, if you have any problems or any concerns with your stairlift and you live in Berkshire, Oxford, Hampshire or Wiltshire, you only have to dial 01635 229228 and we’ll be only too happy to help.
We look forward to hearing from you soon.
All the very best
Andy and the team.