How to Build a Ramp into Our House for a Senior

For seniors, front entrance stairs can be an obstacle.

Make your front door wheelchair accessible by building a ramp.Make your front door wheelchair accessible by building a ramp.
Whether the person is a wheelchair-user, uses mobility aids, such as a cane, or suffers from arthritis, ramps can make entering a home easier and safer. If the ramp is in a public or commercial building, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides legal requirements for ramps. Even if the use of the ramp is at a private residence, these ADA codes still provide guidelines for the construction of a safe ramp. One of the simplest residential ramp construction methods is called "berming" and is good for ramps with a height of less than 18 inches.

Calculate the length of the ramp. Measure the required height (rise) of the top of the ramp. The average stair has a 7-inch rise, thus a front entrance with one stair and a 1-inch door footing would require an 8-inch rise. ADA standards for public and commercial buildings suggest a maximum slope of 1:12 (1 foot of rise requires 12 feet of ramp). Using these standards, the ramp needed to reach the single stair entrance would ideally be 8 feet long.

Examine the landings. Landings are the areas at the bottom and top of the ramp. According to ADA specifications, the landings should have a minimum length of 60 inches to allow a wheelchair room to maneuver and must be at least as wide as the ramp. Clear away any tree branches or plantings from the landing areas.

Mark out the berm using four stakes and two lengths of string. Hammer in two stakes at the top landing, at least 36 inches apart or as wide as the ramp. Tie a string on each stake at the required rise (8 inches in the example). Measure the strings out the calculated length of the ramp (8 feet in the example). At the bottom landing, tie the end of the strings to two other stakes at ground level, also 36 inches apart. The strings will provide the size and slope of the berm you need to build.

Use the shovel and rake to lay out layers of dirt or sand. Build up the berm in layers using the lawn roller to pack down each successive layer. Use a carpenter's level to check that the berm remains level from side to side. Keep the berm 3/4 inch below the front door to make room for the plywood walk.

Use pressure-treated plywood on top of the berm to create the walkway. Check the transition at the top and bottom between the plywood walk and the landings. The maximum safe height transition between threshold and ramp is 1/4 to 1/2 inch and the transition should be a beveled edge. If the lip of the ramp is higher than 1/2 inch, it is a tripping hazard and will stop a wheelchair front wheel.

Nail pressure-treated 1-by-3 inch strips of wood to the side edges of the ramp walkway to prevent canes from slipping off. Seal the plywood with sanded outdoor paint to create a nonslip surface.

Things You Will Need

  • Tape measure
  • Dirt or sand
  • Shovel
  • Rake
  • Lawn roller
  • String
  • Nails
  • Hammer
  • Carpenter's level
  • 3/4-inch pressure-treated plywood
  • 1-by-3 strips of pressure-treated wood
  • Sanded outdoor paint

Tip

  • Additional safety features include guardrails and handrails. See the Resource section for further information.

About the Author

Stacey Anderson began writing in 1989. She published articles in “Teratology,” “Canadian Journal of Public Health” and the "Canadian Medical Association Journal” during her time in medical genetics studying birth defects. She has an interest in psychology, senior health and maternal and child health. Anderson holds a Bachelor of Science in psychology with a minor in biology from the University of Calgary.