How to Install a Wheelchair Ramp for Your Home

DIY or Pre-Built: There is a lot to consider when designing a ramp.

Many people with disabilities and the elderly will find that they need to make their homes more accessible for wheelchairs and other mobility aids. When that time comes, installing a wheelchair ramp is often the first step.

A wheelchair ramp opens up the world for a person with limited mobility. It can do wonders for their life and that of their family because they can get in and out of the house easier with a ramp.

Building a wheelchair ramp can be easy and there are many things to consider. You may choose to make it a family weekend project or hire a professional to install one for you. Either way, here are some key points to designing and building a wheelchair ramp at your home.

1
The Right Wheelchair Ramp for You

man going up wheelchair ramp
Credit: Huntstock/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Building a wheelchair ramp is not a decision to be taken lightly. There are many factors that will go into each of your choices along the way.

Here are some questions to consider when finding the right wheelchair ramp for you and your home.

  • What type of mobility device(s) will the ramp user need?
  • Will this device change over time? If you are using a cane or walker today, you may need to consider a wheelchair in the future.
  • Which entrance to the house is most accessible or used and what obstacles do you need to build around?
  • What are the local zoning requirements? Check with your local government and HOAs for permits and special requirements.
  • What material do you want the ramp made of? Is function more important than curb appeal?
  • How permanent do you want the ramp to be? Will you need to move it later?
  • How much time do you (or your family) have to invest in construction? Would you be better off with a contractor or wheelchair ramp installer?
  • What is your budget? Will your insurance or Medicare benefits plan be able to assist you in covering the cost?

2
The Design and Layout of the Ramp

Taxi Cab With Wheelchair Ramp. Credit: Jeff Greenberg / Contributor / Getty Images

The design of a wheelchair ramp is going to depend on your needs, the layout of your home and yard and the height of the ramp.

For homes that have just one or two steps and less than a 3-foot incline, a short ramp may do fine. If your home is higher off the ground, then you will need to design a ramp with platforms so the angle is not too steep.

The Width of a Ramp

When it comes to the width of a wheelchair ramp, the ADA recommends a minimum of 36 inches in between the handrails. This should give enough room to most wheelchairs, including manual wheelchairs. This should be widened if needed.

Remember to measure in between the closest points of the handrail, not the base of the rail. Many railings are wider than the base and if there is not enough room, the user could hit their elbows on the railing.

Wheelchair Ramp Platforms

Platforms are flat landing areas used to break up the ramp and should be placed so that no ramp segment rises over 30 inches. They allow the wheelchair user a place to stop and take a break from the incline if needed.

Platforms and multi-tiered ramps can be used to:

  • Navigate around any obstacles present in the yard such as trees.
  • Place the bottom of the ramp strategically on the sidewalk or driveway.
  • Fit a ramp into a small space using a tight switch back.

The ADA recommends platforms that are at least 60 inches square to allow space to turn a wheelchair.

ADA Ramp Guidelines

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has a distinct set of guidelines that everyone who is building a wheelchair ramp should pay attention to. Safety is the primary concern and these will help you design a useful and safe ramp.

  • The ramp should not exceed a 1:12 ratio. This means that for every 1-inch of rise, the ramp should be at least 12-inches long.
  • Any ramp that is longer than 6 inches should have handrails on both sides. They should be between 34 and 38 inches from the ramp's surface.
  • Ramps that are longer than 30 feet should have a platform to break up the sections. 
  • There should be at least a 2-inch flange running along the bottom sides of a ramp to prevent slipping off of the edge.
  • Non-skid surfaces should be used and the ramp designed to prevent water accumulation.

Of course, these are just guidelines, but they are designed with everyone's safety in mind. If you are working with a contractor, be sure that they are building your ramp to be ADA compliant in order to prevent future issues.

Business owners should note that installing a non-ADA compliant ramp can lead to fines.

3
Building Materials for the Ramp

Log Building Wheelchair Handicapped Wooden Access Ramp. Credit: Phil Cardamone / Geety Images

Wheelchair ramps can be constructed from either metal or wood. Each material has its own advantages and disadvantages.

No matter the material, a ramp should be sturdy and firmly secured to the ground. They should also have a slip-resistant surface. 

Wood Wheelchair Ramps

Many homeowners find wood to be more appealing and prefer to build their ramp with that. Decorative touches such as spindles can be added and the deck can be stained or painted to match the home.

Wood ramps also tend to be more of a permanent fixture for the home. If carefully constructed with the right materials, they can last for years and add to the home's value because it is accessible.

The decking surface on a wooden ramp is crucial to ensuring a non-slip surface. Without a good wood, the ramp can quickly become slick in wet weather and be dangerous even for those without disabilities.

There are a number of companies who produce ADA-compliant composite materials that are designed to increase traction. Trex Accents® is a good example.

Metal Wheelchair Ramps

Often produced with aluminum, the primary advantage to a metal wheelchair ramp is the ease of installation.

These can be simple ramps for small inclines that install in an hour and easily transported should you move to a new home.

Metal ramps can also be complex, custom designs with landing platforms like by National Ramp discussed in the next section.

Many homeowners do not like the curb appeal of a metal ramp. However, there are some that do look very nice and have a non-medical aesthetic.

4
Pre-Built Wheelchair Ramps

Disabled student helped down wheelchair ramp. College campus. Credit: Pamela Moore / Getty Images

There are a number of companies that specialize in pre-designed and ready to assemble wheelchair ramps. These are often an easier option than building one from scratch.

Pre-built wheelchair ramps are available through medical supply stores and some home improvement stores.  Some companies will also work with you to design a custom ramp to fit your home and specific needs.

Living Free Home is a medical supply company that has an excellent National Ramp Installation video on YouTube. It teaches the viewer how to install a metal wheelchair ramp with step-by-step instructions.

This company services anywhere in New York, including New York City and New Jersey, as well as Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and the Boston, Massachusetts areas. 

5
Design and Build Your Own Wheelchair Ramp

Wheelchair transport. Credit: abalcazar / Getty Images

Building and designing your own wheelchair ramp can save money though it will take more time than installing a pre-built ramp. 

The other advantage of constructing a ramp from scratch is that you can design it to meet any special challenges or obstacles in your home.

A carefully constructed wood wheelchair ramp is very similar to building a deck on the house. Skilled carpenters will find this an easy project and the design can add to the curb appeal of an accessible home.

The home improvement store, Lowe's, has one of the best tutorials available for planning and constructing a DIY wheelchair ramp.

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