How to Design a Ramp

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Ramps are an integral part of universal design principles. They provide safe and stable means of moving between levels for anyone who has difficulty with stairs. Ramps are becoming popular in American home renovations to accommodate persons with mobility issues such as the elderly and wheelchair users. Ramps can be designed for the homes interior or exterior, depending on the needs of the homeowners. They are useful architectural features for the home that require a high degree of planning and consideration of building codes to ensure comfort and usability.

  • Measure the height from the ground to the top of the planned ramp. According to ""Handy American," a comfortable and safe ramp is 12 inches long for every 1 inch of vertical height. For example, if your porch is 4 feet high (48 inches), you will need a 48-foot-long ramp. This ratio of length to height may sound high but is in keeping with universal design principles to ensure safety and ease of use. In addition, for a ramp longer than 30 feet, universal design principles recommend a flat landing in the middle to serve as a rest spot. In order to accommodate the length of the ramp you need for your home, "Handy American" offers 3 types of ramp designs: straight ramps that have no turns (which can be used if you have enough room); L-shaped ramps that have a 90 degree turn (for entrances with a longer setback from the property line); and switch-back ramps that have a 180 degree turn (for homes with a relatively short space between the house and property line). Use whichever ramp type suits your space as long as the length to height ratio is maintained for safety. The minimum width of the ramp should be 42 inches, and the ramp should have a 60- by 60-inch landing at the top and bottom.

  • Select material for the ramp. The ramp can be constructed out of wood, concrete, asphalt or metal. Ensure that the material can be treated to make it a nonskid surface for added safety in slippery conditions.

  • Design guardrails 18 inches from the ramp plane to keep users safely on track. Guardrails provide safe parameters for someone going up or down without a large gap between the ramp and the handrail.

  • Design handrails 30 to 32 inches above the ramp plane. Handrails should extend the full length of the ramp plus 12 inches at the bottom and top for extra support.

  • Submit your ramp plans to a licensed contractor or inspector to ensure they comply with building codes for your state.

Tips & Warnings

  • "Handy American" lists wood as the best material for handrails because it is easier to handle in cold conditions than metal, which can be difficult to grasp in icy weather.
  • Ramp design is extremely specific and difficult and should be planned with caution and care. Improper design and/or installation can be extremely dangerous.

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  • Photo Credit passerelle image by Nath Photos from Fotolia.com
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