The Ultimate Wheelchair Ramp Guide

Armando Carillo

Every home has barriers. Getting in the door is usually the first. Because there are so many options to solve this problem, this can be overwhelming. Our Ultimate Guide to Ramps will share how to:

  • Evaluate and design for the need.
  • Understand the rise and slope.
  • Choose the right options between threshold ramps, portable ramps, modular ramps, wood ramps, and concrete ramps and when to use them.
  • Key Tips including finding the right solution, managing a tight timeline, how to save money, how caregivers can help, and what to choose in common situations.

First Step: Understand the Need

  • Will I need this for a few weeks/months to recover or am I going to need assistance or be using a cane/walker/wheelchair for more than 1 month?  We hope to quickly recover and not need a ramp, but it is better to plan ahead for long term use than choose a half way solution.
  • What is the doorway with the least amount of steps?
  • Is there room for a ramp?
  • What obstacles are there where the ramp needs to go?

What is the Barrier? How to Define the Rise and Slope of a Wheelchair Ramp?

What is the rise for a wheelchair ramp? This image illustrates this.

The RISE of steps leading into a home

One of the first factors to consider before installing a ramp is the rise of the stairs needing to be overcome. Rise is defined as the vertical height of the steps or stairs leading into a home. Essentially, how many steps are between you and getting in the door. You can measure the total height or count the steps. Each step is 7-8 inches high. If you have 3 steps, you can plan on a total rise of 21-24 inches. For an exact measurement, this can be measured from ground level to the top of the highest step that is level with the main entryway (see picture above).

The question we get asked most is, “What is the shortest and cheapest ramp I can get?”   The ADA recommends a rise of 1:12 slope ratio. This means that for every 1 inch of rise, 12 inches of ramp are required. Or, for every 1 inch of rise, you need 1 foot of ramp. For example, if the steps to an entryway is 24 inches high, you will need a ramp that is at least 24 feet long.

The rise will determine the slope at which the wheelchair ramp will need to be installed. The slope is the angle of the ramp on which a person will move. This defines safety and ease of use. A steep ramp is actually more difficult for a person using a cane or walker or a manual wheelchair. Going down a steep ramp is dangerous with a cane or walker or manual wheelchair because stopping becomes a problem. A power scooter or power wheelchair can climb up a steeper ramp and has automatic brakes for safety as you go down the ramp.

Illustration showing the required slope of a wheelchair ramp

Illustration credit: Dimensions.com

Types of Wheelchair Ramps:

Threshold Ramps:

threshold ramp

Threshold ramp

It takes only half an inch bump to stop a walker or wheelchair to a halt. The threshold is the sill of a doorway. It is very jarring and uncomfortable especially as you move through a door’s threshold and navigate a narrow opening. It can be made of metal or wood, depending on a home’s construction. The threshold can also differ in height from the ground level of the exterior. It becomes even more challenging for those that rely on wheels, like a wheelchair or a scooter.

Threshold ramps ramp over bumps or thresholds from 1/2 inch to 6 inches in 1 inch increments. They are usually made of aluminum or rubber as this material can make a smooth transition on and off the ramp. These can make independence easier as pushing over these bumps is very difficult without a threshold ramp.  They are either temporary or permanent, and are usually between $40 and $250 depending on size and materials.

Portable Ramps and Folding Ramps

SingleFold Portable Wheelchair Ramp

Singlefold Portable Wheelchair Ramp

Portable ramps can be temporary or long term solutions for 1 to 2 steps.  They do not have handrails, but they do have a 2 inch flange that can keep your wheels on the ramp. They are usually 30 inches wide compared to the other long term use ramps that are 36 inches or wider. By folding up like a suitcase, these ramps can be moved and carried from place to place. These portable ramps are usually between $120 and $799 and weigh 8 lbs to 35 lbs based on their length.

Singlefold and Multifold Ramps – 2 feet to 10 feet long in 1 foot increments

Made of lightweight aluminum, the Singlefold Ramp is ideal for at home or on the go with its quick set up and easy-to-carry design.

  • Ergonomically-designed handles allow you to carry it anywhere
    Multifold Portable Wheelchair Ramp

    Multi-fold Portable Wheelchair Ramp

  • Features an extruded slip-resistant tread for superior traction
  • Self-adjusting bottom transition plate makes for a smooth change to any surface
  • Non-protruding hinge helps protect against
  • 800 lbs weight capacity

 

Modular Aluminum Ramps

The Modular Access System consists of aluminum ramps, platforms, and stairs offering infinite configurations to create safe and seamless access for both standard and unique entryways.

Modular Wheelchair Ramp

Modular Aluminum Wheelchair Ramp

• Multiple handrail styles available: single rail, two-line, vertical pickets, and horizontal pickets
• Solid and expanded metal surface options available to best suit your exact needs
• Quick and easy installation means minimal disruption for you and your family; no poured footers, no construction – just simple assembly
• Virtually maintenance free, it will not rot or rust
• 1,000 lbs weight capacity

Modular ramps are typically $80-$100 a linear foot and vary based on handrails. The price is very similar to wood ramps and they do not require maintenance. They can be easily modified and adjusted, as well as moved or resold.  The surface of a modular ramp has ridges going across the ramp and is the safest surface when wet.

Wood Ramps

Wood Ramp

Wood Ramp with Handrails

Wood ramps are built in place and most use 2×6 decking with a 2×6 handrail.  A few wood ramps are built with plywood, but expect the plywood to deteriorate in 1-2 years. The decking should be installed across the ramp, not down the ramp, as the edges of the wood provide a non-slip surface. If the decking is installed running down the ramp, it can become very slippery. Trex or manufactured materials can also be very slippery especially when dew, rain, or snow makes the ramp wet.

Wood ramps are built in place and usually have posts that attached to 3 foot deep concrete pillars so the ramp will not sag or shift. Unfortunately, once built, this ramp is very difficult to modify if you need to add ramp, or move the ramp. Wood ramps cost between $70 to $100 a linear foot and can be more expensive depending on the handrail and the materials used. Also, when you include the cost of staining or painting the ramp, a wood ramp is about the same price as a modular ramp.

Concrete Ramps

Concrete ramps are very flexible because they are custom built to fit the space.  The surface is non slip and very durable as well as good looking.  However, be careful, as concrete ramps get very heavy as they get bigger, and a concrete ramp over 15 feet long can shift and sag over the first year or two.  Concrete ramps are usually the most expensive, and adding handrail or curbs are very important so that you don’t fall off the ramp. Concrete ramps cost between $100-$150 per linear foot depending on the options.

Installation Options and Timeframes:

Here is a reference guide for installation options, timeframes, and requirements.  It is important to note that threshold ramps, portable ramps, and modular aluminum ramps can be installed without a building permit because they are not considered a permanent structure. That means that they can be installed in a few days compared to weeks. However, wood and concrete ramps are considered permanent structures and your city or state building department will require permits and inspections. This means that the entire process can take 3-6 weeks. Sometimes a wood or concrete ramp under 18 feet long can be constructed without a permit, but make sure to check with your local area building department.

Ramp Type Lead Time Installation Time Frame Building Permit Required Total Time to Plan For
Threshold Ramp In Stock 1 day NO 2-6 days
Portable Ramp In Stock 1 day NO 2-6 days
Modular Wheelchair Ramp In Stock 1 day NO 2-6 days
Wood Ramp 1-2 weeks to order materials YES 3-6 weeks
Concrete Ramp 1-2 weeks to order materials YES 3-6 weeks

Where to Begin?

A certified home accessibility specialist can perform an in-person or virtual evaluation of the entry way to a home, and can provide the ideal solution. Still uncertain where to begin? Start here!