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Remodeling 20: How to Build a Wheelchair Ramp

[For our Wheelchair Ramp Plans, see Wheelchair Ramp Plans]

I have noticed an interest from members of our website about the specifications of building a wheelchair ramp for a disabled person entering their home. Most Building Codes are very specific about the requirements for wheelchair ramps. In the United States, there is The Americans with Disabilities Act, which outlines the dimensions for wheelchair ramps. Let's go over the key points for building a wheelchair ramp to gain access to the interior of your house, in simple terms. It is always a good idea to check out your local building codes, as well.

Ramps are necessary for individuals in wheelchairs, as well as those pushing strollers, grocery carts and the elderly or infirm to access the entrance to a home. A wheelchair ramp should have a level area at the bottom as well as the top and at changes of direction. Some long wheelchair ramps over 20 feet should have a level spot in the middle. These level areas or landings should be the width of the wheelchair ramp and at least 5' long. This allows the wheelchair driver to negotiate a turn and the chance to slow down or just to stop and rest. The ideal width of a wheelchair ramp is 36" between handrails. Handrails are installed on both sides of the wheelchair ramp. This allows the wheelchair driver to grab the handrails and pull himself or herself along. The preferred height of the top of a handrail is also 36", another rail at 18" is helpful for those unable to reach the higher rail, children, for example. The handrail should be continuous and returned into the wall, floor or post or the end rounded to avoid someone running into it.

The slope of the wheelchair ramp should be not less than 1' in 12', except for very short wheelchair ramps. This means that if the vertical rise in the wheelchair ramp is 1' high the horizontal distance should be at least 12' long. Curved wheelchair ramps should be avoided due to difficulties negotiating curves in a wheelchair; better to have a landing instead.

The wheelchair ramp should have a 3" high curb to prevent the front wheel of the wheelchair from going off the edge. This curb can be incorporated with the handrail, having a bottom rail not more than 3" above the deck. Any difference in height or projection on the wheelchair ramp should not be more than ½", for example where the plywood sits on the sidewalk at the start of the slope.

Wheelchair ramps can be constructed of wood, concrete or steel. Make sure the surface is slip resistant and that level areas cannot hold puddles of water and will not build up ice during the winter. In many areas, the cost of building a wheelchair ramp for the disabled can be deducted from your income tax.

Hope this helps.

For our Wheelchair Ramp Plans, see Wheelchair Ramp Plans


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