Building a Wheelchair Ramp: What you should know before tackling the project

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Wheelchair ramps are typically built in order to improve home accessibility for people who can’t use stairs or need a gentler, less stressful way to enter or leave their home. A successful home accessibility project requires careful planning in order to be certain that the ramp meets the home occupant’s needs, complies with local building requirements, is safe and sturdy, and is safe for use in all types of weather.

Starting the project

Consider the following before you begin the design and construction of a wheelchair

Questions such as:

  • Who’s the primary user?
  • What type of assistive device does the person use (cane, crutches, walker, manual or electric wheelchair)
  • Will the person’s abilities change?
  • What are the local zoning requirements?

These are just a few of the questions that must be addressed before you begin your project. The following information should guide you in this process.

Planning the Ramp

There are critical elements that must be considered prior to hammering the first nail, such as the specific point of entry to your home, the available area for ramp creation, the slope of the ramp based on the height of the level that the wheelchair must get to and local building codes.

Home Entry

The choice of the door to place the ramp on will be influenced by several issues including, ease of access from the points within the house to the doorway, the width of the doorways and if a ramp can easily be accommodated to any existing features of the doorway, such as stairs, platforms or porches.

Space Limitations That Impact Ramp Design

Many aspects of the design of a ramp are limited by the space available and obstacles (such as trees, buildings and walkways) that affect where it can be located. By constructing a U-shaped ramp, more ramp distance can be accommodated in a smaller space. build-a-wheelchair-ramp-planningtheramp

Ramp Slope and Size

The angle of the ramp surfaces and the length or run of the ramp is a critical project consideration. The ramp slope will impact the layout requirements, the expense involved and the ramp’s ultimate usefulness. Slope is the angle relationship of vertical height (rise) to the horizontal length or projection (run). It’s usually expressed as a ratio of these two measurements, with the rise figure frequently set at a unit of one. For example, a slope of 1:12 means that as each dimensional unit (usually inches) of height changes, the other side projects (or runs out in length) 12 units (inches).

Although other slope ratios may be used for constructing your ramp, the (American with Disabilities Act) ADA-recommended and the most commonly used slope is 1:12. This means that if your porch height is 24 inches off the ground, you’ll need a 24-foot ramp to safely accommodate wheelchair access. If you plan on deviating from this standard, you should check your local building codes to be certain you’re in compliance.

Ramp Rise


The maximum rise for any given ramp segment should not exceed 30 inches. After rising 30 inches in elevation, a flat rest platform should be provided before the ramp continues. A flat landing must be at the top and bottom of all ramps, and landings should always be at least as wide as the ramp itself and a minimum of 60 inches in length. Ramps that are used for direction changes should be a minimum of 60 inches by 60 inches.

Ramp Width

build-a-wheelchair-ramp-rampwidth-jpgThe minimum, inside clear width of the opening between the opposing handrails must be at least 36 inches to accommodate a wheelchair.This means the ramp must be built at least 42-inches wide to allow for the 1 ½-inch spacing between the handrail and any surface and the actual 1 ½-inch handrail.

Building Codes

Explicit code requirements may be imposed by your homeowner’s association (HOA), city, county or local municipality. Check with your local building office to see if a permit is required before beginning your project.

Standard Practices

There are many standard design practices that are commonly applied to your project based on your geographic area. Also, although these aren’t legal requirements for homeowners, the ADA Standards for Accessible Design establishes practices for commercial ramps that may be useful for you to review and may be applicable or expected for home construction.

Handrails and Spindles

If a ramp run has a rise greater than 6 inches or is longer than 72 inches, then it’s recommended to have handrails on both sides of the ramp. For safety, handrails should be placed along both sides of the ramp segment. The inside handrail should be continuous on switchback or dogleg ramps. The top of the handrail should be mounted between 34 and 38 inches above ramp surfaces. The space between the handrail and the wall or any solid surface should be at least 1 ½ inches. For ramps over 30 inches from ground level, spindles should be used. And a curb or crutch stop should be placed along both sides of the ramp to prevent wheels from leaving the ramp.

Ramp Materials

The actual material used for the ramp surface can be selected based on personal preference but should be stable, firm and slip-resistant in all weather circumstances. Composite materials are an excellent choice. Certain products like Trex Accents® meet the ADA’s guidelines for slip resistance even in wet weather and are low-maintenance. Those who depend on a wheelchair ramp to preserve an independent lifestyle often don’t have the mobility or strength to strip and refinish the ramp on a regular basis. For this reason, easy-maintenance handrail materials, should also be considered to provide years of comfortable use.

Building the Ramp

The ramp configuration and the materials you use will impact how you build the ramp. Talk to your local municipality to determine if a building permit, inspections and any other relevant information are needed to build a safe wheelchair ramp. The steps outlined below will guide you through the general process for building a wooden ramp for a private home. This information is of a general nature and shouldn’t be assumed to be accurate for your specific project needs. Contact an architect or licensed contractor prior to starting this.

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