How to Build a Home Ramp

Hammer, wrench, screwdriver and pliers on a workbench

In the United States, all new public buildings must include wheelchair access as part of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Wheelchair ramps provide people with disabilities with ease of access in both public and private facilities. Ramps can be permanent, semi-permanent, or portable, but a ramp or a wheelchair lift must be included in all new building projects going forward. Be aware that a permanent structural ramp will require engineering and/or carpentry skills and may require additional building permits, whereas a temporary/portable ramp can be fairly easily constructed on your own. Whether you or someone you know is disabled and needs a ramp for domestic use, or you're a business owner who needs to facilitate easy access to your building, learning how to build a wheelchair ramp can help make your building accessible and compliant with ADA regulations.

1. Decide on the location of the wheelchair ramp

Location is extremely important when making a ramp. It determines how big you can make it and How easily accessible it will be. What entrance you will use the most should also be taken into consideration.

These are a few factors that should influence where the ramp is located:

  • The size of the wheelchair ramp you need
  • What the ideal entrance is
  • Making sure you don’t block off vital space
  • Preferably flat land

2. Estimate the cost of the ramp

Building a ramp can be pricey if you use expensive materials and don’t plan ahead of time. Make sure you calculate the cost beforehand and create a budget to prevent surprise expenses.

  • If you are building a temporary/portable ramp, you may be able to simply estimate the cost of wood and any other necessary supplies. If you are building a permanent fixture, this may require the skills of a carpenter or engineer, which could significantly increase the estimated costs of construction.

3. Obtain a building permit

In some places, a municipal building permit is required prior to the construction of a wheelchair ramp. This varies significantly from one area to another. Look online for your city and county regulations on building permits. You can also contact your local Public Works office or a similar building code office in your city/county to learn about building permits and any local regulations that relate to wheelchair ramps.

4. Choose the shape/layout of the wheelchair ramp

There are three main ramp layouts that most builders choose. The first is a straight ramp, which consists of the ramp and any necessary landings in a straight line.

The second is an L-shaped ramp, which bends at a 90-degree angle at the intermediate landing. If the L-shaped ramp wraps around the house, it may also be referred to as a "wrap-around" ramp.

The third is a switchback ramp, which has a 180-degree turn at one or more intermediate landings.

5. Incorporate the landings

When measuring how much material you need for a ramp it is important to factor in landings. There are three primary types of landings for a wheelchair ramp: a top landing, a bottom landing, and an optional intermediate landing.

  • Intermediate landings are typically optional, depending on the length and slope of the ramp. The size of this landing can range from 36 to 60 inches, depending on the slope.
  • Bottom landings should measure at least the width of the ramp by approximately 48 inches of length if the ramp will be used by a walker, or 60 to 72 inches of length if the ramp will be used primarily by a wheelchair user.
  • Make sure the bottom landing and ground are as close to flush as possible. A "lip" that measures more than 1/2 inch will pose a significant risk of tripping (for pedestrians) or rolling (for chair operators).

6. Factor in hanidcap accessible safety features

Handrails and guardrails are an important component of most wheelchair ramps. They can ensure the wheelchair operator doesn’t fall out of the chair or slip off of the ramp. The height and thickness of the rails should be determined by the height of the ramp user.

  • The typical height range of most handrail locations is between 31 and 34 inches.

7. Treated lumber is the best option for handicap ramps

Treated lumber is the most durable and will weather precipitation and seasonal changes far better than untreated lumber.

  • It's generally best to choose medium-length lumber. For 2x4 and 2x6 boards, that means 16 feet or less in length. For 4x4 posts, choose beams that are 10 feet or less in length.
  • Use screws instead of nails because nails can become undone and pose a safety hazard.

8. Dig holes for the posts

Posts are the structure of the ramp and keep the whole structure stable. It is extremely important to make sure they are perfectly placed to ensure safety.

  • Cross-brace each post in at least one position in each direction.
  • The posts themselves should be four inches by four inches in size and should be spaced no more than eight feet apart.

9. Lay down the surface of the ramp

When choosing the surface on the ramp make sure you choose firm, non-flimsy wood that will be able to support the weight you need. 2x4 wood planks should be adequate as long as there is a brace underneath. Make sure the planks are laid flat and evenly to ensure safety.

10. Lay a non-slip surface down

Having a nonslip surface is extremely important to the safety of the ramp users.

It is great for traction in the winter, especially with snow. This surface can help ramp users feel more comfortable with more traction on the ramp.

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