If someone in your home is disabled or elderly, you’ve probably considered making it easier for them to get in and out of your house. Whether they use a cane, walker or wheelchair, people with mobility issues find even a few steps to be an immense challenge. As we age and lose natural agility, navigating stairways also becomes a potential hazard for slips and falls. If your home lacks a step-free entrance, installing a ramp can go a long way toward preserving and maintaining independence for everyone who lives there.
Retrofitting a Ramp into Your Home
There are many options and considerations concerning adding a ramp to an existing home. You’ll want to think about where it should be, how it should look, how much you can pay to have it installed, and which contractor should do the work. An experienced contractor who has installed many accessible ramps is your best bet. They’ll be able to consider the users and their limitations. Does it have to accommodate someone in a power wheelchair? If so, you’ll want it to be sturdy enough to withstand the weight of the chair and the person in it. Does the ramp need a slope that’s gentle enough for a manual wheelchair user, or someone with a walker? Will it be installed in an area that gets frequent snow and ice? You may want to consider building the ramp in your garage to avoid shoveling.Safety is the most important factor, and many different aspects must be considered.
Incorporating a ramp with your existing structure may also require modification to your home’s doors or entries. Ask your contractor if adding a ramp will require changing any of your home’s features that will add to the overall costs of the ramp installation.
Guidelines for Building Ramps
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ensured that all public spaces be made accessible for those with disabilities. The ADA guidelines for ramp design are meant for public places, but they can also help private homeowners create ramps that are usable, safe and sturdy. The ADA guidelines recommend a slope ratio of 1:16 to 1:20 (a 1:12 ratio is too steep for some people to navigate). While these ratios must be followed in all public places, homeowners aren’t required to adhere to them. If you have the available space, following the ADA guidelines is a wise choice.
Additional ADA guidelines:
- Minimum ramp width must be 36 inches.
- Ramps must have edge protection to keep anyone from slipping off.
- Ramps must have landings at top and bottom that are as wide as the ramp and at least 60 inches long.
- Handrails are required on both sides of all ramps that rise steeper than 6 inches or have a horizontal projection of more than 72 inches.
- Cross slopes must be less than 1:50 and surfaces must be slip-resistant and stable.
Accessible ramps are mainly built for exterior entrances, but are often added to a home’s interior to provide access between elevations or make threshold conversions. No matter where you decide to put your ramp, there are ideas for helping make it look as attractive as possible so that it becomes just another part of your home. One example is to use landscaping to minimize the visual effect of the ramp. Grasses, flower beds, shrubs and trees can be planted along the sides and at turns in the ramp.
Types of Ramp Construction
- Wood Ramps: A popular choice of building materials for accessible ramps, wood can easily complement the style and features of most homes. Wooden ramps can be finished with paints and stains to help them blend with your house and landscaping. Wood needs to be maintained with proper sealing to prevent weather exposure damage.
- Metal Ramps: Metal ramp systems are often pre-fabricated for efficient installations, and can usually be removed (if needed) with little impact to your home. While metal ramps don’t typically mimic the design style of most homes, they are extremely durable and have minimal maintenance costs.
- Concrete Ramps: A durable, low-maintenance option, concrete ramps can be smoothly integrated with your home’s landscaping. Depending on building codes, you may need to also install handrails or other safety features that will impact your overall project costs.
Choosing a Contractor
The contractor you choose will affect how your ramp looks, how well it helps you get into and out of your house, and how much you pay for it. A qualified contractor will listen to you and understand your needs, will inspect all of the entryways, will visualize a solution and work with you to be sure you’re happy with the planned ramp. Experienced contractors will also have access to quality materials at the best prices, will be licensed and insured, will give you a written estimate, will guarantee their work, and will secure a building permit.