Ramps come in an array of widths, heights, materials, and styles to suit all types of needs. They are available in portable models, modular semi-permanent models and permanent versions made from wood and concrete.
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.
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 Can Benefit From A Ramp?
Individuals using anything with wheels. This includes strollers, grocery carts, wheelchairs, walkers, rollators, power chairs, and scooters.
A quick overview of ramp types can be found below. This section is followed at the end by a summary of important aspects to take into considerations when choosing a ramp for your home.
1. Threshold Ramps: Make door thresholds passable for someone using a walker, wheelchair or scooter. Some are designed to just rest on the ground in front of the threshold or step, while others are designed to be screwed securely in place. Models that screw in place are usually a better consideration if you use a power wheelchair or scooter.
2. Single and Multi-Fold Ramps: 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 when not in use. Used to overcome tall thresholds, curbs, and a height of one or two steps. They can be found in lengths up to 12 feet long.
3. Solid Surface Ramp: Solid surface ramps have less joints and movable parts, making them generally stronger and more durable than foldable models. This ramp type is a good consideration for use with power wheel chairs and scooters or if you anticipate leaving the ramp in the same location always. They can be found in lengths up to 10 feet long and are used to overcome tall thresholds, curbs, or a single standard-height step.
4. Gateway Ramp: A straight ramp with handrails. Handrails generally make a ramp safer for everyone, both persons who can walk and persons who use wheelchairs. The rails help to ensure a wheelchair or power chair always remains safely on the ramp. Some wheelchair users like to use the handrails to pull themselves up the ramp. Gateway Ramps can be found in lengths up to 12 feet long.
Do you intend to install the ramp so it leads directly to the door itself? If so, be aware that you will be forced to stand or to sit in a wheelchair on a sloped surface while attempting to unlock and open your door. In the event the door swings outwards, it will also be necessary for you to back up (down the ramp) while swinging the door open. This is a manuever that is not easy for most people to do independently, especially if the door is spring-loaded, causing it to continually be pulled inwards as you try to pass through. This ramp type usually works best when there is a flat landing present that precedes the door.
5. 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 hinged models are foldable and easier to transport and store away. The non-folding models are usually sturdier.
Wheelchair track ramps are primarily designed to be used in conjunction with manual wheelchairs. They are sometimes used by a person who owns a power wheelchair if it has front and back wheels are aligned in one line. If you do opt to use channel ramps to load a power chair into a vehicle, confirm the weight limit is suitable to accomodate 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 than the hinged or non-folding track ramps. 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.)
10. Permanently Constructed Ramps: A local handyman or contractor can be hired to build a custom ramp. This type of ramp can most easily be matched to your home and landscaping. It is usually best to choose someone who already has past experience with building 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.
A custom built ramp can be made from concrete, wood, or composite material. 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. Concrete ramps are usually more expensive upfront, but normally last longer and are easier to maintain. Ramps made from composite wood products (recycled scrap wood, sawdust, or plastics) are more expensive to purchase than wood ramps, but do not require ongoing maintenance and come in a variety of different finishes.
A custom built ramp that visibly looks like a wheelchair access ramp can reduce the value of your home. A ramp that is intentionally designed to blend seamlessly with your home and surrounding environment, however, can actually add value to your home. The home can then be featured as a “Universally Designed Home.”
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 (1:12). For example, for an 8″ tall step, the ramp selected should be at least 8′ long.
Most designers, contractors, and architects working in the accessibility industry can quickly rattle this slope ratio of 1:12 off the tip of their tongues. Many people treat it, however, as if it is the gold standard to aspire to. It is not. It is the maximum slope that should be considered when building a wheelchair ramp.
This degree of slope does not work well (or at all) for everyone! Many manual wheelchair users cannot independently propel their wheelchair up a ramp with a 1:12 slope. 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 1:12 slope or greater. When space permits, installation of a longer ramp with a more gradual slope is always preferable from an ease-of-use perspective.
The slope (if any) of you driveway, yard, or a pathway the bottom of the ramp will rest on is also important to take into consideration 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 need 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. And, if the yard continues to slope steadily downwards further, you may need to consider including a switchback.
Sound overwhelming? Don’t worry! If you purchase a modular wheelchair ramp from a reputable local installer, they can assist you in determining the right ramp length. Alternatively, if you opt to have a custom built ramp installed, 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 that prevent a walker or wheelchair’s wheels from rolling off the side of the ramp and getting caught, so our best advice to you is: Don’t skimp on the details! A safely constructed ramp will keep you safe and serve you well in the years ahead.
Alert! Ramp Landings Are Important to Consider Too
Do you plan to enter and exit your home independently? If so, then it is helpful to include a flat platform at the top of the ramp, preceding the doorway. This will allow you to lock, unlock, and swing open the door while you are positioned on a stable, flat surface versus the sloped surface of a ramp. The inclusion of a flat landing at the top of the ramp is not be 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, inclusion of a flat landing at an entrance — is always a welcome addition!
A flat landing located at the top of a ramp, should have a minimum length of 60″ and a minimum width of 36″ for wheelchair users. This would allow you to open the door while positioned on a flat surface, but depending on the mobility aid you use, you man not be able to turn around if you reached the top of the ramp and realize you had left your house keys in the car. Space permitting, a landing that is 5’x5′ is better because it will allow most persons using a walker, rollator, or standard wheelchair to turn around 180 degrees and reverse course. An ideal landing size would be 6’x6′ or greater because it would allow a user of nearly every type of mobility aid to turn around, including power wheelchairs and scooters.
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, try to design the platform so it will extend at least 12″-24″ beyond the door frame on the side where the door handle is located! 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.
OK. So, here is where it can get a touch more complicated and take some more thought and planning. Do you need to install a ramp that has a length longer than 30 feet? If the answer is yes and you use a manually propelled wheelchair, then after every 30 feet of ramp an intermediate landing should be included in your plans to provide a resting point midway when you are ascending the ramp. If the ramp will be straight with no switchbacks, then the flat landing should have a minimum length of 48″. The inclusion of a 48” long landing will add another 48″ to the ramp’s overall length.
What if you need to install a ramp that is longer than 30′ and includes a 90 degree turn or 180 degree switch back? Then, it will be necessary to include an even larger landing, so you will 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!
Lastly, when you select the location to install the ramp, make sure there is sufficient space for you to approach and exit the ramp using your walker or wheelchair. For instance, if you will need to make a 90 degree turn to reach the ramp’s entrance, then there should be a flat landing present at the bottom of the ramp that is a minimum of 5’x 5′ if you use a manually propelled wheelchair or 6’x 6′ if you use a power wheelchair or scooter now or you anticipate using a power wheelchair or scooter in the future.
What is the Best Ramp Location?
The answer to this is multifaceted and will depend on the following items.
- Your Goals: The ideal entrance to install a ramp is the one that will allow you to easily enter and exit your home and reach your garage, driveway, or front pathway to access transportation. Do you do your own grocery shopping? If so, try to choose a ramp location that will allow you to easily access your car to load and unload your groceries. Do you enjoy gardening or gathering with family around the BBQ in the backyard? If so, make sure to also take this into consideration when choosing which entrance to attach the ramp to.
- Exterior Features of the Home: Try to avoid installing the ramp in a location that will create a tripping hazard or introduce a barrier that prevents you from accessing your yard, garage, crawl space, or a utility closet.
- Interior Features of the Home: Confirm that your walker or wheelchair will be able to physically pass through all the doors and hallways located inside your home that precede the door where you plan to install the ramp.
- Safety: One drawback of a ramp is that it can cause the occupants of a home to look more vulnerable, making the home a target for breaks-ins. If possible, try to attach the ramp to an entrance that is out of sight of the public eye. In the event it’s necessary to install the ramp in a publicly visible location, then implementing one of the following strategies can help to reduce attention to the ramp: plant shrubs along the pathway, install planter boxes on either side of the ramp or choose a ramp in a color that blends in well with the garden, color of your pathway or home itself.
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 that is 48″ wide or more is normally considered to be ideal.
Some manual wheelchair users, however, may 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 a narrow ramp may not accommodate all mobility aids you may choose in the future, such as a power wheelchair or scooter.
Persons with bariatric needs should err on the side of selecting and installing a wider ramp with larger platforms. The mobility aids used are wider, so more space will be required to make turns if the ramp includes an L-shaped turn or switchback.
What if there isn’t space to install a ramp with a slope of 1:12?
Some people can manage to use a steeper ramp. This needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. A manual wheelchair user with exceptionally good arm strength may be capable of navigating a ramp with a slope steeper than 1:12. Some power wheelchairs and scooters can ascend and descend a ramp with a slope steeper than 1:12. Confirm the maximum slope your electric wheelchair or scooter can handle, prior to selecting the ramp length.
What if you neither have the physical strength to navigate up and down a steeper ramp nor the space to install a ramp with a slope less than 1:12? Then, 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, then the height of the threshold or number of steps you wish to overcome is not the only thing you need to consider. Keep reading below!
What Height Ramp Should You Choose?
People are more commonly concerned about what width and length a wheelchair ramp should be. The ramp “height” is less often discussed because it is more obvious: The ideal case scenario is to have the topmost edge of the ramp be flush with the height of the threshold you are trying to overcome. At the very most, the height difference should be 1/2″ or less. Many of the pathway ramps, modular ramps, and threshold ramps have adjustable height legs and/or a plate that is designed to rest on the edge of the threshold, making it possible to create a flush transition.
What if you cannot identify a ramp model that allows you to create a completely flush transition? In this case, you you could find yourself wondering whether to select a ramp that rests slightly above or slightly below the height of the threshold itself. The answer will depend on the direction the door swings and the type of ramp.
Will you be installing a long, steep ramp? If so, and you cannot install it with a perfectly flush threshold, then it is usually better to err on the side of choosing a ramp in a height that will rest slightly above the height of the step’s uppermost edge. Reason: If the ramp were to instead rest slightly below the height of the step, it would create a squared, raised threshold. A walker or wheelchair user who is already leaning backwards as they travel up the steep ramp slope would be forced to lean awkwardly even further back in order to get their mobility aids’ wheels to crossover the raised threshold at the top. This is neither particularly easy or safe to do. Does your home’s door swings outwards? If so, make sure to confirm the ramp height selected will not interfere with the door opening and closing, prior to installing it!
For small, unsecured, portable-style threshold ramps that just rest on the ground in front of a threshold or step, however, it is usually better to err on the side of choosing a ramp that is slightly lower than the height of the threshold. Reason: It decreases the likelihood the walker, wheelchair, or scooter’s wheels will catch the raised ramp’s edge and push the ramp away from the threshold as you are trying to maneuver over it. It is also less likely to interfere with the door opening and closing.
Wheelchair Ramp Materials and Colors
Ramps can be made from a multitude of different materials. 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.
Most modular and pathway ramps are available in a silver color (due to the aluminium or steel they are made from) or white. Occasionally wheelchair ramps can be found in green, blue, red, and other colors as well. Some modular ramp companies can and will powder coat the ramp in a custom color to suit your home for an added cost.
It is important for exterior ramps to have a non-skid surface. This can be achieved by adding sand or grit to the paint or finish; broom-brushing the concrete finish, or by applying no-slip strips to the ramp’s surface. In climates where snow and ice are common, the ramp itself 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!
All ramp landings and platforms installed outside should be intentionally constructed or installed with a very slight slope so water will not accumulate in puddles on the surface. The slope should not be greater than 1:50 because more than this can make it difficult for a person using a wheeled mobility device to remain still (not roll away) when they are positioned on top of it.
Is a Building Permit Required When Adding a Ramp to a Single Family, Residential Home?
The answer to this question will vary based on the type of ramp being considered. Permanently installed ramps usually do require building permits, so it is always advisable to check with your local building permit department first. Semi-permanent ramps, such as aluminium modular ramps, usually do not require formal 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 cannot unreasonably intrude on the visual field of your neighbors.
Portable ramps that are fully contained on a person’s property normally do not require any permits or special permissions. Some neighborhoods or communities, however, such as gated communities, may have rules about what type of ramp can be installed and where it can be located. If you live in such a community, it is a good idea to confirm what your community’s regulations are before choosing a ramp.
A Ramp is Not the Right Solution for Everyone!
Are you experiencing difficulty walking up and down your stairs and for this reason begun to ponder whether installing a ramp might be a good idea? Many people have reported they find a sloped ramp to be as difficult, or sometimes even more difficult, to walk up and down than stairs. The sloped surface can cause users to lean further backwards when ascending the ramp and lean further forwards when descending the ramp, creating an increased degree of instability and heightened risk of falls. If you are someone pondering a ramp because you have difficulty climbing your stairs, there are other alternatives you may wish to consider, which include: have a handyman or contractor build you a set of more shallow steps (E.g. 4″ tall steps) or install a stairlift, vertical platform lift, telecab, or an elevator.
A ramp may still be worthy of a consideration, however, if you are truly blessed with an abundance of land and money, making it possible for you to install a very long ramp with a 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.
Walker users can be varied in whether they deem a ramp to be a friend or foe. Most people who use two or four-wheeled walkers find that small threshold ramps make it easier to navigate over 1-2″ high thresholds present at doorways. The use of a walker in conjunction with a longer, steeper ramp, however, can cause walker users to move more quickly than they are comfortable with when descending the ramp or to tip backwards when ascending the ramp. If you are a walker user, you may likewise want to consider installing a stairlift, vertical platform lift, telecab or elevator, versus installing a ramp.
The Homeability Advice™
The less steep the ramp is the easier and safer it will be to travel up and down. Space and finances permitting, it is good to err on the side of installing the longest ramp feasible to reduce the steepness of the slope. Confirm the weight capacity for the ramp you plan to purchase or build will accomodate the combined weight of both the mobility device and your weight too. 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, consider comparing the cost and feasibility of installing a wheelchair platform lift to that of installing a ramp. A wheelchair platform lift (also known as a vertical platform lift) will usually occupy less space and may even cost less to install than a long ramp. Don’t forget to take into account the cost of future maintenance when making your final decision. Both wood ramps and vertical platform lifts will require ongoing 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 space and finances permit, we recommend to design the ramps so it will readily accommodate all types of mobility aids up to and including power wheelchairs and scooters, regardless of what type of mobility aid you use right now. This will provide you with the option to freely choose any device you need or wish to use in the future.
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