Being able to get in and out of your house is probably the first and most important thing to address when trying to make your home more accessible. It's a practical matter as well as a personal one, because once you can get in and out of your house more easily you don't feel as trapped and dependent on others.
Traditionally you build a ramp like you build a deck: with concrete footings in the ground that go down below the front line, vertical posts, horizontal beams, joists, deck boards, and a railing. (See our Decks pages for how-to instruction on any of these steps)
This kind of structure is pretty permanent, but people don't always need something this permanent. And if they decide to sell the house, a ramp usually isn't needed by the next owners.
For the ramp that we constructed, we used a new ramp system. Basically, it consisted of platform sections that were set on stands and just sat on the ground.
There are a couple of advantages to this type of construction:
- It makes it more affordable to do the project yourself.
- It's not permanent so it'll be easy to take the ramp down later.
- It's "modular" so the same pieces can probably be used again to build another ramp somewhere else.
The platform sections were made separately. The edge of each platform rested on 2x6's that we bolted to 4x4 posts with 1/2" carriage bolts. The platforms were joined to each other with 3/8" carriage bolts. To create a smooth transition to ground level, the platform section connecting to the sidewalk was dug into the ground.
There are no strict national codes for designing ramps on houses. There are codes for ramps in commercial settings, and these can serve as good guidelines.
Here is a summary of the commercial codes for ramps in our area, contact your local builder's association for codes in your area.
- Slope of 1:20 (1 inch rise for every 20 inches of run) required for exterior ramps, 1:12 for interior ramps.
- 1/2" maximum height change from top landing to door threshold.
- Top landing should be at least 60"x60" if there is an out-swinging door.
- 12" to 24" of elbow room is needed off door's handle side.
- For 90 degree turns, a 48"x48" landing is needed and 60"x60" is recommended.
- The surface width for a ramp should be 36" to 48".
- Ramps need "anti-slip" surface.
- 1 1/2" handrail recommended at both sides.
You can use these codes as a guideline, but more importantly you should take into consideration the needs of the user. In our situation, following a 1:20 slope would have meant a 30-foot deck sticking out from the house. We had the boy who would be using the ramp try out a steeper slope, which he handled with no problem, so we opted to make it shorter and a little steeper.
For the deck boards we used a composite board made from recycled plastic and scrap wood. It's got a pebbly surface to it that gave us the traction we needed. It is more expensive than regular treated lumber, but will last a lot longer and will require less maintenance.