Ramps are available in portable models, modular semi-permanent models and permanent versions made from wood and concrete. They come in an array of widths, heights, materials, and styles to suit all types of needs.
The ideal ramp type for you will depend on a variety of different factors, which include: the height of the threshold or number of steps you are trying to overcome, the type of mobility aid you use, your physical skills, whether you rent or own your place, your budget, and your aesthetic preferences. A summary of the different aspects to take into considerations when choosing a ramp for your home, along with an overview of the ramp types available can be found below.
What is Considered a Ramp?
Anything with a slope over 1:20 is classified as a ramp. Anything less is considered to be a pathway.
Who Would Benefit From A Ramp?
Individuals using anything with wheels. This includes strollers, grocery carts, wheelchairs, walkers, rollators, power chairs, and scooters. People delivering appliances and furniture are also quite happy when there aren’t steps to negotiate!
A Ramp is Not the Right Solution for Everyone!
Are you pondering a ramp because you are experiencing trouble walking up and down your stairs? People unsteady on their feet often report that climbing stairs is actually easier than walking up and down a ramp because the ramp’s sloped surface causes a heightened sense of instability, increasing the risk of falls.
The exception to this rule would be if you have an abundance of space (and money) available to build a long ramp with a very gradual, nearly negligible slope. The closer a ramp’s slope is to 1:20 (20 feet of ramp for every vertical inch of height you need to overcome), the better.
There are some alternatives to installing a long ramp that you can consider as well, which include: construct a set of more shallow steps (E.g. 4″ tall steps) or install a stairlift, vertical platform lift, telecab, or elevator.
What Length of Ramp Is Required?
The general rule of thumb is that for every inch of height at least a foot of ramp is required. Most people working in the home access industry can quickly rattle this figure off the tip of their tongues. The problem, however, is that a ramp slope of 1:12 is often treated as if it is the “gold standard” to aspire to. It is not. It is the absolute maximum ramp slope that should be considered and it does not work for everyone! Many manual wheelchair users cannot independently propel their wheelchair up a ramp with a slope of 1:12. Persons pushing someone else seated in a wheelchair can also find it difficult (or even dangerous) to try to assist someone up or down a ramp with a slope of 1:12 or greater. When space permits, a longer ramp with a more gradual slope is always preferable from an ease-of-use perspective.
What if the space where you need to install a ramp is not large enough to accommodate a ramp with a slope of 1:12 or less? Before writing a ramp off entirely as an option, it is helpful to be aware that some power wheelchairs and scooters are capable of ascending and descending a ramp with a slope steeper than 1:12. Confirm what the maximum slope your electric wheelchair or scooter can handle is, prior to selecting the ramp length. A manual wheelchair user with exceptionally good arm strength may also be capable of navigating a ramp with a slope steeper than 1:12. This needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
What if… you do not have the space to install a ramp with a slope of 1:12 and you do not have the strength or the appropriate power chair to navigate up and down a steeper ramp? You will need to identify another solution. Alternative options include: a stair lift, a vertical platform lift, a wheelchair platform lift, a telecab, a standard elevator, or a pneumatic elevator.
If you DO believe a ramp is the right solution for you, the height of the threshold or number of steps you wish to overcome is not the only thing you need to consider when selecting a ramp’s length. Keep reading below!
More Things to Consider When Selecting the Ramp Length
Do you require a ramp longer than a few feet in length? Is it your goal to be able to enter and exit your home independently? If you answered yes to both of these questions, then it is good practice to include a flat platform at the top of the ramp, just prior to your doorway. This will allow you to lock, unlock, and open your door while you are standing on a stable, flat platform versus being required to perform these tasks while standing or seated in a wheelchair on a sloped ramp. The inclusion of a flat landing at the top of the ramp is not required if someone else will assist you to push your wheelchair in and out of the home or you have an electric door opener. Space permitting, however, including a flat platform at the entrance — is always a welcome addition!
A platform located at the top of a ramp, just prior to the entrance of your home, should have a minimum length of 60″ and width of 36″. (A width of 48″ or more is even better!) When you are assessing whether a ramp will fit into the allotted space, make sure to take into consideration both the ramp’s length and the size of the platform combined!
OK. So, here is where it gets a touch more complicated and takes some more thought and planning. Do you need to install a ramp that has a length longer than 30 feet? If so and you use a manual wheelchair, then after every 30 feet of ramp an intermediate landing should be included in your plans, so that you’ll have a resting point midway when you are ascending the ramp. A ramp with a flat landing continuing in the same direction as the ramp itself should have a landing that is a minimum of 48″ in length. This will add another 48” or more to the overall ramp’s length.
If you require a ramp with a length longer than 30′ and you plan for the ramp to include a 90 degree L-shaped turn or 180 degree switch back, then an even larger landing will be required in order for you to be able to successfully navigate your wheelchair or scooter around the corner in the switchback. A landing that changes the direction of the ramp will require an intermediate platform with a minimum size of 5’x 5′ for those using a manual chair and 6’x 6′ for those using a power chair. Don’t forget to take into account both the size of the platform and lengths of ramp when you are assessing whether the ramp will fit into the allotted space where you need it to reside!
If you do opt to install a long modular ramp or have a custom ramp built, it is also important to take into account the slope (if any) of the driveway, yard, or pathway the ramp will rest on when you are choosing the ramp’s length. For example, if you have two 8 inch high steps at your back door, at a minimum, you will require a ramp that is 16′ long. If your backyard slopes downward away from your home, and the bottom of the ramp will rest another 3 inches below the bottom edge of the last step, then you’ll need a ramp that is a minimum of 19′ long. If the yard continues to slope steadily downwards, you may need to consider including a switchback.
Sound complicated?! Don’t worry! If you purchase a modular ramp from a reputable ramp installer in your local area, they can assist you in determining the right ramp length. And, if you do opt to build a custom ramp, documents, websites, and videos can readily be found online with how-to-instructions for designing and constructing a safe wheelchair ramp. Notably, the small details do matter! Such as the bumpers attached to the ramp edges which prevent a walker or wheelchair’s wheels from rolling off the edge and getting caught, so our best advice to you is: Don’t skimp on the details! A safely constructed ramp will serve you well in the years ahead.
What Width of Ramp is Required?
As a general rule of thumb a ramp should have a minimum width of 36″. The absolute minimum width a ramp should be is the width of your mobility aid. Space permitting, a ramp 48″ wide or more is normally considered to be ideal.
Some manual wheelchair users, however, actually prefer a narrow ramp that includes handrails on either side because they like to grab and use the handrails to pull themselves up the ramp. This is an option you can consider, but be aware installing such a narrow ramp may not accommodate all mobility aids you may choose in the future, such as an electric wheelchair or scooter.
Persons with bariatric needs should err on the side of selecting and installing a wider ramp with larger platforms. The reason is that the mobility aids used are wider, which in turn means more space will be required to make the turns if the ramp includes an L-shaped turn or switchback.
Does your home’s door swing outwards? If the answer is yes and you plan to include a flat platform at the top of the ramp, make sure to design the platform so it is wide enough to extend 12″-24″ beyond the door frame on the side with the door handle! Why? Many wheelchairs users find it difficult or impossible to reach beyond their feet to grasp a door handle positioned straight ahead of them. Providing free space to the side of the door handle allows a wheelchair user to position their wheelchair foot rests off to the side of the door, so they can lean sideways to grasp the door handle to lock and unlock the door. What if your door’s handle is presently positioned wedged into a corner adjacent to a wall? Consider moving the door hinges to the other side of the door frame and rehanging the door so it can be opened from the opposite side.
What Height Ramp Should You Choose?
The uppermost edge of the ramp should ideally be flush with the height of the threshold you are trying to overcome. At most, the height difference should be 1/2″ or less.
Portable, pathway ramps are often designed to rest on the edge of the threshold where they are then drilled in place, creating a flush transition. Some portable threshold ramps (ramps used to overcome thresholds a few inches in height) have adjustable height legs, making it easier to achieve a flush height, however, there are also many portable threshold ramps that are designed to simply rest on the ground in front of the threshold. If the threshold ramp model you have selected does not have adjustable height legs, and you are confronted with whether to select a ramp model with a height that is slightly more or slightly less than the height of the threshold itself, it is usually best to err on the side of selecting a ramp height that is slightly lower than the height of your threshold.
Reasons for erring on the side of choosing a ramp height slightly lower than your threshold’s height include: It reduces the ramp’s slope, whereas if you were to choose a ramp height that is slightly taller than the threshold, it would result in an increased slope. For a ramp model that is not secured in place, a slightly lower ramp height decreases the likelihood your wheeled mobility aid will catch the raised ramp edge and push the ramp away from the threshold when you are trying to board the ramp. It also allows the wheels of your mobility aid to make a safer, smoother transition when you are descending the ramp. You unfortunately will have a slight bump to navigate over when you ascend the ramp if the ramp’s height is slightly lower than the threshold height. The only solution that would be perfect in all respects is to choose a ramp that creates a smooth transition with the threshold.
Ramps are available in a variety of different types and styles to suit all types of needs. A quick overview of the different ramp types can be found below.
1. Threshold Ramp: Makes thresholds passable for someone using a mobility device, so their wheels won’t get stuck when trying to pass through the doorway. Some are designed to simply rest on the ground in front of the threshold, curb, or step, while others include holes allowing them to be screwed securely in place.
2. Solid Surface Ramp: Used to overcome tall thresholds, curbs, one step, or up to two steps, depending on the ramp’s length. Solid surface, non-foldable ramps have less joints and movable parts, making them more durable. This type of ramp is a good consideration for a ramp that will remain in one place always and for use with power wheel chairs.
3. Single and Multi-Fold Ramps: Used to overcome tall thresholds, curbs, and one or two steps, depending on the ramp length selected. Single and multi-fold ramps (also known as briefcase ramps or suitcase ramps) can be folded up, making them easy to transport and easier to move aside out of the way when not in use. They are available in lengths up to 12′ long.
4. Entrance Ramp With Handrails: Straight, solid ramp placed at a home’s entrance that includes handrails (also known as a Gateway Ramp). Used to overcome tall thresholds, curbs, and up to one or two steps, depending on the length selected. The addition of rails makes the ramp safer for persons who use a Rollator (4 wheeled walker with a seat) and other persons who walk up and down the ramp. Some manual wheelchair users like to use the railings to pull themselves up the ramp as well. The rails also help to ensure the wheelchair or power chair always remains safely on the ramp.
5. Non-Folding & Hinged Track Ramps: A pair of slender, lightweight channel ramps, available in non-folding or hinged models that are placed parallel to each other. They have a fixed length and are used to overcome curbs and steps, and for loading wheelchairs into a vehicle. The non-folding models are usually sturdier. The hinged models are foldable and easier to transport and store away.
Wheelchair track ramps are primarily designed for use by manual wheelchairs. They are sometimes used by persons who own power wheelchairs that have the front and back wheels aligned in one line. If you opt to use channel ramps for a power chair, confirm the weight limit is suitable to accomodate both you and the power chair; that the power chair has sufficient clearance underneath to navigate over the height of the channel walls, and that you secure the ramps safely in place before use.
6. Telescoping Wheelchair Ramps: The telescoping feature allows the ramp’s length to be adjusted to suit the height of the threshold, curb, or step you need to navigate over, making this solution more versatile. It can be used at home or easily packed and transported with you in the car for use when visiting friends or family. As with the hinged and non-folding track ramps, this type is normally used for manual wheelchairs only, but may work for some power chair users as well. (See prior entry for more details.)
8. Permanently Constructed Ramps: This type of ramp can most easily be matched to your home and landscaping. A local handyman or contractor can be hired to build a custom ramp. It is usually best to choose someone who already has past experience with building several wheelchair ramps because they are more likely to understand and successfully include all the required elements to make the ramp truly useful and safe in all respects.
Custom built ramps can be made from concrete, wood, or composite material. Concrete ramps are usually more expensive upfront, but normally last longer and are easier to maintain. Wood ramps are cheaper and easier to install than concrete ramps, but require yearly treating or sealing. Hot dipped, galvanized bolts, screws, and washers should be used when constructing wood ramps to prevent corrosion. Ramps made from composite wood products (recycled scrap wood, sawdust, or plastics) are more expensive to purchase than wood ramps, but do not require maintenance and come in a variety of different finishes.
Permanent ramps that visibly look like a wheelchair access ramp can reduce the value of your home. A well designed ramp that blends seamlessly with the home and surrounding environment, however, can add value to the home, allowing it to be be featured as a “Universally Designed Home” that readily accommodates people of all ages and abilities.
Is A Building Permit Required When Adding A Ramp To A Residential Home?
The answer to this question varies based on the type of ramp. Portable ramps that are fully contained on a person’s property (I.e. do not extend into a community sidewalk) do not require any permits or special permissions. Some neighborhoods, however, such as gated communities, may have rules about what type of ramp can be installed or where it can be located. If you live in such a community, it is a good idea to confirm your community’s regulations before choosing a ramp.
Semi-permanent, modular ramps usually do not require permits, however, there may be local zoning regulations you must adhere to, such as: required distance it must reside away from your property line or that it does not unreasonably intrude on the visual field of your neighbors. Permanently installed ramps usually do require building permits, so it is always wise to check with your local building permit department first.
What is the Best Ramp Location?
It is important to consider both the inside of your home as well as the outside of your home when choosing an entrance to install the ramp. Sometimes a narrow door or hallway located inside your home will prevent you from approaching an entrance to the home using your mobility aid. It is definitely not helpful to install a ramp outside an entrance if you cannot pass through the doors and hallways that precede it!
Try to choose a location for the ramp that will not cause a tripping hazard or prevent your from accessing your yard, garage, crawl space, or a utility closet. The ideal location is one that will allow you to easily enter and exit your home, access the space you use most often (E.g. garden or front of the home), and access transportation. If you do your own grocery shopping, it would be ideal for the ramp to be located near to the place your vehicle will be parked to make loading and unloading groceries easier.
Make sure the space you have selected for the ramp includes enough clear space at the end of the ramp for you to board the ramp using your mobility aid. If the ramp is not attached to a continuous pathway, then there should be a landing at the bottom of the ramp that is a minimum of 5’x 5′ for manual wheelchair users and 6’x 6′ for power chair users. If space permits, a platform that is 6’x 6′ is usually deemed to be best regardless of the type of mobility aid used now. The reason is that a 6’x 6′ platform is more future-proof and will more readily accomodate any mode of transportation you might need or wish to use over the years, including power chairs and scooters.
A ramp can make the occupants of a home look more vulnerable, making the home a target for breaks ins. Try to attach or install the ramp to a home’s entrance that is out of sight of the public eye if possible. Plant shrubs along the pathway or install planter boxes on either side of the ramp to reduce attention to the ramp, or choose a ramp in a color that blends in with the garden or the color of your pathway.
Ramp landings and platforms should be constructed with a slight slope (not to exceed 1:50), so water will not accumulate in puddles on the surface. It is generally a good idea for all ramps, whether located inside or outside, to have a non-skid surface. Non-skid surfaces can be achieved by adding sand or grit to the paint or finish; broom-brushing the concrete finish, or via the application of no-slip strips to the ramp’s surface. In climates where snow and ice are common, the ramp should have the smallest slope possible and a canopy or roof should be installed over the ramp to protect it from the build up of snow and ice. If there is space to install the ramp inside an attached garage, it is even better!
Dual Use Ramps
Some threshold ramps, foldable pathway ramps, and telescoping track-style ramps are designed to fold up for easy transport, making it easy to transfer them into a vehicle or in some cases even placed in a carry bag on the back of a wheelchair, making it possible to use the ramp to navigate curbs and steps in the community too. Some foldable pathway ramps and track-style channel ramps can dual as a ramp to assist with loading a wheelchair into a car’s trunk or a van as well. If you anticipate using the ramp for the home and for assist with loading and unloading the wheelchair into the car, confirm the model you have selected is designed to do both.
Ramps may include self-adjusting transition plates at the bottom. These aid to make the conversion from the ramp to the ground more smooth. They do so by independently adjusting to the ground surface. A ramp with an adjustable transition plate is a good consideration if your pathway or landing at the bottom is uneven.
Wheelchair Ramp Materials
Ramps can be made from a multitude of different materials. The portable-style ramps are often made from aluminum, rubber, or high density foam. Pathway ramps and modular ramps are usually made from aluminum or steel. Permanently installed ramps are typically made from concrete, wood, or composite materials. Ramps made from wood will usually require yearly treating or painting to preserve the wood. Ramps made from concrete, composite material, aluminum, or steel will typically require little or no maintenance over the years.
Wheelchair Ramp Colors
Store-bought wheelchair ramps are usually silver colored or white powder coated. Occasionally wheelchair ramps can be found in green, blue, red, and other colors as well. Some modular ramp companies offer the option to have the ramp powder coated in a custom color to suit your home.
The Homeability Advice™
Ramps come in different widths, lengths, and weight capacities. Confirm the model you have selected meets all of your requirements and that the weight capacity will accomodate not only your weight, but the weight of your mobility device as well. If space allows, always err on the side of selecting and installing a ramp that is longer and less steep! If you anticipate transporting the ramp with you when you visit friends or family, a portable, foldable model is a good consideration.
Do you have two or more steps to overcome? If so, you might find that a wheelchair vertical platform lift requires less space and is cheaper to install than a long ramp, so it is worthwhile to compare these two options. Make sure to take into account the cost of future maintenance when making your final decision. Wood ramps and vertical platform lifts will require routine maintenance, whereas ramps made from concrete, composite material, aluminum, or steel should require little or not maintenance.
Do you plan to install a permanent ramp? If so, it is usually best to design the ramp to readily accommodate all modes of transportation up to and including power wheelchairs and scooters. This will provide you with the option to freely choose any mode of transportation you wish to use in the future.
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