If you or a loved one is dealing with mobility issues, tools such as wheelchair ramps, stair lifts and chairlifts can offer you new levels of safety and independence.
We’ve talked quite a bit on this blog about the ins and outs of stair lift installation, but we haven’t spent much time with wheelchair ramps. And unlike installing a stair lift, a wheelchair ramp is something you can put in on your own, assuming you feel handy enough.
In this week’s blog post, we’ll look at the basics of how to build a wheelchair ramp with the help of the experts at The Family Handyman.
How to Build a Wheelchair Ramp
Let’s start with the basics. The cost of this project will depend on the length of the ramp, the materials you’ll be using – aluminum or wood – and the number of landings you’ll need. If you decide that the DIY route isn’t for you and hire a contractor, that will include additional costs.
According to The Family Handyman, you can purchase prefabricated aluminum sections for your ramp for about $100 per foot, and assemble the sections yourself. Just be prepared for them to ship. Hiring a contractor to do the same job will cost about $50 per foot more.
Building a wooden ramp
If you’re wondering how to build a wheelchair ramp out of wood, all you’ll need – aside from some basic carpentry skills – is a miter saw, drill, level, router and framing nailer.
Start at the most accessible exterior door of your home. According to the Americans With Disabilities Act, residential wheelchair ramps should have a 1:12 slope, which means if your entrance is 24 inches off the ground, you’ll need a 24-foot ramp to accommodate wheelchair users.
If your yard isn’t long enough to accommodate a ramp that long, add switchbacks or landings, or use a steeper grade if possible.
For 90-degree turns, you’ll need a landing that’s 58 inches by 60 inches. For 180-degree turns, that width should be 58 inches by 96 inches. This will allow wheelchair users to open doors and back up without moving onto the sloped part of the ramp.
One common DIY mistake to avoid: building a ramp that’s too narrow. The ramp should be at least 36 inches wide, with handrails no more than 36 inches away from the floor of the ramp.
Your local building code will likely call for an inspection and permit if you’re building a ramp that’s 30 inches or more off the ground.
Depending on where you live, you may have to install frost-proof footings on your ramp if it’s a permanent addition to your home. And many homeowners’ associations ask residents to submit their designs and materials for approval before they can build.
In other words, make sure you have all the appropriate permits and approvals before you begin to spend money on materials.
“Building the ramp in place with long spans is a common DIY mistake,” The Family Handyman writes. That’s because longer spans “are harder to adjust and impossible to reconfigure if the original design proves unworkable.”
Instead, they recommend creating individual modules and bolting them together at their vertical supports. You can always take the modules apart and sell them when/if you no longer need the ramp, and recoup your investment.
Closing the gap
The two most crucial spots on a ramp are the places where the ramp touches the ground, and the top landing meets the door threshold. This upper landing needs to be level – or within 3/8 of an inch – with the threshold. Larger gaps will stop a wheelchair’s front wheels.
We hope our tips on how to build a wheelchair ramp have been helpful. But we’d like to stress a couple of points.
First, if you don’t feel a do-it-yourself project is right for you, you can always consult a contractor. And secondly, keep in mind that any advice we’ve given here can’t overrule your local building codes.
And remember that wheelchair ramps aren’t your only option when it comes to accessibility. Pennsylvania Stair Lifts can install a vertical platform lift – or a porch lift – to let you get in and out of your home safely.