7 Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Wheelchair Ramp for Home Stairs

Door at a Residential Home of a Disabled Person
September 25, 2018 | Categories: About National Ramp , Disabled Youth , Ramp Selection , Senior Citizens , Spinal Cord Injuries , Veterans ,
Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Wheelchair Ramp for Home Stairs

What to Ask Before Selecting a Wheelchair Ramp for Stairs for Your House

More than 3.6 million Americans over the age of 15 use a wheelchair. If you or one of your loved ones are one of these Americans, you know how important a ramp is for getting around and accomplishing everyday tasks.

There are tons of different ramps out there, and they’re certainly not all created equal.

If you need to buy a wheelchair ramp for stairs, asking these questions can help you narrow down your search and find the best one for your home. Here are some questions to consider before investing in the right ramp for you and your home.

1. What Size Ramp Do I Need?

First, you’ll need to take a look at your stairs and figure out how long you need the ramp to be.

The American Disability Association’s guidelines for ramps require 1 foot of length for every 1 inch of rise. For example, if you have three steps with a total rise of 21 inches, then you would need 21 feet of ramp length.

You’ll also want to make sure your ramp is wide enough to accommodate you or your loved one’s wheelchair. The ADA requires ramps to be, at a minimum, 36 inches wide.

Your ramp will also need to have a level platform at the top and bottom.

2. What Type of Ramp Layout Do I Need?

Ramps are often built according to the following layouts:

  • Straight ramps
  • Left or Right Turn Ramps (these feature one 90-degree turn)
  • Switch Back Ramps (these feature one or more 180-degree turn)

Straight ramps are ideal if you have room for the entire length of the ramp. But, if you don’t have enough space, ramps with turns and platforms are good alternatives.

Left or Right Turn Ramps are especially useful if your landing area is on a different side of the house than your walkway.

3. How Much Weight Should My Ramp Hold?

When considering the type and size of ramp you need to install, it’s also essential to keep weight capacity in mind. Any ramp you consider for your home or that of a loved one should support the weight of the wheelchair and the person using it. 

4. Which Material Should I Use?

Ramps are typically made from one of the following materials:

  • Wood:Wood ramps can be more visually appealing, but they also require some maintenance.
  • Concrete: Concrete ramps are more expensive, difficult to install and may require special permitting, which takes time, but they are also more durable.
  • Aluminum:Aluminum ramps are easy to install, affordable, and quite durable.
  • Steel:Steel ramps have a higher weight threshold than aluminum, but they’re also prone to rust and can be difficult to install because they’re heavier.

Clearly, there are benefits and drawbacks to each material. Knowing your options can help you make the right choice for your home, though.

5. Should I Include Handrails for My Ramp?

You might want to install handrails on your ramp depending on your needs and preferences. Not all wheelchair ramps for stairs need handrails, but they could be useful for those who need more support or prefer to have more safety precautions in place.

Handrails usually accompany longer ramps, but some shorter ramps could also have rails. Also, while residential ramps don’t necessarily have to follow ADA codes for commercial ramp construction, it may be best to add handrails on both sides of the ramp if the rise is higher than 6 inches.

6. What Is My Budget?

Of course, price matters when it comes to installing a ramp in your home. The type of material you choose and the length of your ramp will significantly impact the total cost of the installation.

For example, wood ramps are typically much more affordable than steel, aluminum, or concrete ramps. However, modular ramps often don’t require permits, which keeps your budget in check.

Other factors to consider when figuring out your budget for the ramp include:

  • The cost of permits and how many you have to get.
  • The cost of maintenance.
  • The ramp’s weight specifications.
  • Whether you want to add more features to the ramp — and the cost of each addition.
  • The ramp’s construction, whether it’s custom-built, free-standing or modular.

While you won’t necessarily need to add long-term maintenance costs to your initial budget, it’s a good idea to keep them in mind when deciding what kind of wheelchair ramp you want.

7. How Much Maintenance Do I Want to Do?

It’s also important to think about the amount of maintenance you want to put into your ramp.

Of all the types of ramps out there, wood ramps are known to be the most high-maintenance. They need to be stained and cleaned regularly and protected from moisture. Without regular maintenance, they can decay and become a hazard to the person using them.

Steel ramps also need some care to prevent rusting.

Concrete and aluminum ramps, on the other hand, are both lower maintenance options. Concrete requires virtually no maintenance, and aluminum ramps typically only need to have bolts or screws tightened every once in a while.

8. Do I Live in an Area With Extreme Weather?

It’s also important to consider the weather in your area when choosing the type of ramp you want to install.

If you live somewhere with a lot of snow, ice, or rain, it’s probably best to avoid a wooden ramp. If you’ve ever walked on a wooden deck or platform after it’s rained, you know how slippery it can be. However, if you live somewhere that’s relatively dry, a wood ramp will probably be fine.

Aluminum, concrete, and steel ramps can all get slippery or icy in the winter, too. But, they don’t get slippery with rain, so they’re a little safer overall than wooden ramps.

With all ramps, it’s important to keep some magnesium chloride around to add traction and reduce your risk of slipping. Regular rock salt isn’t recommended for wood, steel, or aluminum ramps as it can cause them to corrode. If you have a concrete ramp, rock salt will work fine for melting ice.

9. Does Portability Matter to Me?

It’s also important to consider whether you actually need to install your ramp permanently. If you only need a ramp for a short period of time (to accommodate a visiting family member, for example), a portable or renting a modular ramp can be a great compromise.

Portable ramps are much more affordable than permanently installing a ramp, and they’re lightweight and easy to take with you no matter where you go.

Most portable ramps range from 2 feet to 6 feet in length and can easily be folded up for easy storage and transport. Most portable ramps are made of aluminum, which is lighter than other materials.

If you’ve decided that a portable ramp is the best option for you, just be sure to check that your ramp meets the ADA ramp requirements mentioned above. Remember, they apply to all ramps, including portable ones that are only used every once in a while.

10. Are There Specific Building Codes and Regulations I Need to Follow?

Most buildings must follow specific codes to remain in compliance with local and state governments. Before it’s time to construct and install your new wheelchair ramp, make sure you are aware of the requirements in your town.

In some areas, you’ll need permits from your local authorities to install a residential ramp. Some cities may also ask to review an official building plan. If you’re renting, ensure you also get the necessary permission from your landlord or board members to construct the ramp. 

11. Do I Need Additional Features for the Ramp?

Adding more ramp safety accessories might make sense depending on your needs and preferences. Features like anti-slip mats, ramp ground supports and glow-in-the-dark ramp tape can make the ramp safer for users and visitors to your home.

12. What Is the Typical Life Span of Residential Wheelchair Ramps?

The life expectancy of ramps differs based on the material used and whether they receive regular maintenance. While many people believe ramps only have a life span of a few years before needing a replacement, that’s not always the case. With proper installation and standard inspections and maintenance, a new wheelchair ramp for your home can last for several years.

Buy a Wheelchair Ramp for Stairs Today

Now that you know which questions to ask, it’s time to start searching for the perfect wheelchair ramp for stairs.

At National Ramp, we have a wide range of wheelchair ramps available at a variety of prices.

Check out our online store today. With all the choices we have available, it’ll be easy to find the best ramp for your needs.

National Ramp specializes in several ramp types, including threshold ramps.

Don’t forget to visit our blog, too. We update it regularly with the latest news and information about new products designed to make your life easier.

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