The Inside Outside Guys: Accessibility Ramps for Your Home
By Ken Calverley and Chuck Breidenstein
DETROIT, November 16, 2022 ~ It’s the last thing you ever expect to need, but life without one can be almost impossible.
“It” is a ramp intended to help us navigate various height differentials from the ground to the front porch, perhaps, or from the front stoop landing over the front door threshold.
A well-designed and properly built ramp can be life-changing for those in need. In commercial construction, the Americans with Disabilities Act, ADA, sets guidelines for the construction of ramps, but for most applications, a residential solution is required that allows for safe and easy access to one’s home.
In some cases, a homeowner has a temporary need based on a non-debilitating health event that is anticipated to be short-lived. Someone may have reduced strength or stamina due to an injury and is relegated to a wheelchair for a period of time.
In other cases, a permanent solution may be required where an occupant experiences a severe injury, (perhaps from a fall or auto accident), or a progressive health issue that relegates them to use of a wheelchair.
For those with a short-term need, there are companies that offer temporary ramp systems, usually made from aluminum modules that can be quickly assembled on site to accommodate a sudden health issue.
These systems are generally built to the ADA standard which allows for a maximum slope of 1:12 but can be tailored to a less severe incline of 1:20.
This 1:12 ratio would require a 12-foot-long ramp to accommodate a 12-inch total rise or two 6-inch steps. One inch of vertical rise for every 12 inches of horizontal run.
Residential ramps can be installed at a steeper incline to a ratio of 1:8. This can be a benefit where space is restricted, and a shorter length ramp must be utilized. The downside to these higher slope systems is that they may not be easily or safely navigable for the intended user.
Ramps must be stable, firm and slip resistant. Steeper slopes may prove dangerous, particularly in wet or freezing conditions. This might be compounded using treated wood decking that can become very slippery when wet.
Minimum width of a ramp is 36 inches, measured as “net clear distance” between handrails. The minimum footprint of an occupied static chair is roughly 26 by 48 inches, with many units even larger based on need.
“The Guys“ have witnessed installations that include precipitous slopes and may terminate curbside at the street!
Dave Malkiewicz, owner of Barrier Free Plus in Macomb, tells us that every installation they perform for people is done after discussion, observation and careful measuring to assure a safe and comfortable ramp for the user.
Resting platforms are required for every 30 feet of run. These should be level and have minimum dimensions of 5 feet by 5 feet. Such platforms can also serve as switchbacks to accommodate a change of direction as the user moves along the ramp.
Handrails should have a minimum 1 1/2 inch clearance from adjoining walls, posts or other obstructions and should be smooth and graspable by intended users and strong enough to support the user when needed.
Malkiewicz, whose company serves the Metro Detroit area and beyond, also reminds us that a front yard dedicated to a ramp may stigmatize the occupant as a potentially vulnerable victim. His company might install well-lit rear yard ramps or even garage ramps to allow safe passage to and from the home in any condition.
Ramps require level landings at top and bottom that include handrail extensions and stable footing in all weather.
Single chair lifts can also be installed by his company, in some cases for less money, that eliminate the ramp and still provide standard steps and railings for the home.
Heavy rubber incline mats can be purchased to allow chair access over a standard door threshold.
Perhaps one of the most innovative projects Malkiewicz and his team have undertaken is the “invisible” ramp to a zero-step entry home.
This ramp is a concrete sidewalk beautifully integrated into the landscaping such that it does not appear as a ramp at all. It terminates at a covered porch where stepped door thresholds can be eliminated.
Such designs can not only remove the stigma of a ramp but can lend long-term value to the residence for otherwise healthy individuals to age in place.
So, keep in mind that no matter what curves life throws you, there is a professional at InsideOutsideGuys.com waiting with a solution.
For housing advice and more, listen to “The Inside Outside Guys” every Saturday and Sunday on 760 WJR, from 10 a.m. to noon, or contact us at InsideOutsideGuys.com.