How To Build A Wheelchair Ramp

How to build a wheelchair ramp

Building your own wheelchair ramp is a significant project. It’s going to take some good, old-fashioned work. Can you do it? Of course, you can and the satisfaction you’ll feel from completing this worthwhile project will be so worth the effort.

Constructing a handicap ramp is actually quite similar to building a deck in your backyard. It’s the same type of structure, and you’ll need the same kind of materials.

But before you start buying:

  • two x10’s, 4 x 4’s
  • deck boards
  • cement
  • wood screws
  • lag bolts

– first of all, you’ll need to plan things out.


DIY Wheelchair Ramp

A structure of this magnitude is meant to be permanent. It’s designed to provide long-term service to whoever needs something other than stairs to get around. It adds accessibility to those unable to use the stairs and provides an easier entrance and exit to and from the home.

A wheelchair ramp is enabling. It helps people to get out and about instead of being confined to their homes. Ramps can also be useful for anyone who suffers from knee, hip, ankle, or back problems. For these folks, it’s a little easier to walk up a slope than it is to climb stairs.

Step 1. Preparations

As with any structural creation, building a wheelchair ramp requires careful planning. You want to create something that’s safe, structurally sound, and sturdy ramp. It needs to be durable enough to withstand years of inclement weather. And you want to make sure that you meet the specific needs of whoever it’s meant to serve.

Verify The Regulations

First and foremost, you want to be sure that your plans meet local building code regulations. Equally important, is having the proposed building area checked for any electrical or gas lines.

Check with your municipal building permit office to determine what is required. If you need a permit, don’t start building before you have it, or you could be forced to tear down your ramp and start over. In extreme cases, your permit may be denied altogether, simply because you jumped the gun.

Take your time to take care of these preliminary steps so when you start building, you can do so without worry. You can find further information here:

  • Accessibility Info from the International Code Council
  • Guidelines and safety measures from the United States Access Board: you can start with “Guidelines & Standards”

Step 2. Plan It Out First

A straight ramp is the easiest one to build. But all are doable. It really depends on what works best.

Take the time to think the project through. Give careful consideration to the person(s) the structure is being built for.

  • Will they be in an electric wheelchair, manual wheelchair, or scooter most of the time?
  • How much space (regarding square footage) will the ramp require?
  • What are the zoning requirements?

Consider The Entrance

At this early stage, it’s best to consider all options. For example, must you use a particular door, or is there another option that may prove to be a better choice?

If you have a couple of entrance points to choose from, you have more options. But if you’re limited to a single point of entry, that’s no problem either.

The Entrance Width

You also need to consider the width of the door. Will it be easy to get a wheelchair in and out without any difficulty? This is where having a couple of different options can really pay off. You might have a tight entry point at one door and have more room at another. So weigh your options carefully before proceeding.

Use The Wall As Anchor

The easiest way to build your own wheelchair ramp is to run it parallel to and right up against the wall of the house. You can have railings on both sides if you wish. But if you’re building along the wall, you really only need a railing on the outside.

Single or Secondary Run?

Can you gain enough height from a single run, or is a secondary one necessary? It all depends on how high you would have to come off the ground to reach the door.

single wheelchair ramp by Daniel Lobo

Height of The Ramp

Be sure to limit the height of your ramp to 30 inches at the most with each section. If your ground to floor rise is more than 30 inches, divide it in half and have a level platform in between.

The slope of your ramp is based on the height of the rise (the distance from the ground to the door level). But it is possible that building code regulations that. So you always want to check with your local municipality.

Don’t Forget The Landing

You also need a landing at the bottom and the top of your ramp. You can achieve this with a U-shaped ramp, rather than one a that’s a straight run. A U-shaped ramp breaks the span in half by creating two separate runs that are half the length, with a landing in the middle.

Landings should be a minimum of 5′ x 5′. That gives you more than enough room for a wheelchair to easily change direction.

Get A Full-Size Perspective

Maybe you have limited space, due to the size of your yard. Or perhaps there are obstacles like trees or your neighbor’s property line that’s close to your planned ramp. In these cases, you may need to consider alternates too.

Step 3. Your Wheelchair Ramp Design

Now it’s time to determine concrete parameters before you start working on your ramp.

Determine The Wheelchair Slope

The projected slope of the ramp impacts how large an area the ramp structure will need to occupy. The slope is determined by the vertical height (rise) and the necessary horizontal length or span (run) necessary to achieve the height.

The standard slope. The slope of a wheelchair ramp is stated as a ratio. The most common ratio is 1:12 (rise:run). It means that for every 1 inch the ramp rises vertically, you need 12 inches horizontally. Therefore, if your rise measures 22 inches, you’ll need a run of 22 feet (264 inches) to accomplish it. This ratio of 1 to 12 is also recommended by the ADA – the Americans with Disabilities Act (see section 405.2).

What about non-standard slopes? If you’re thinking of using a different slope from this general standard, again, please check to make sure you’re in compliance. I recommend sticking to a slope of 1 to 12 unless otherwise mandated. It’s easy to remember this ratio and building your ramp this way will ensure a safe and smooth run every time it’s used.

The length and the angle of your ramp runs are crucial part of the entire project.

Include Wiggle Space

When planning your ramp, you should have a minimum of 36 inches of clearance for wheelchairs and scooters to roll. You need to pay attention to this when planning your design. If you start with a 36-inch wide ramp, and then you add things like curbs or handrails, suddenly you’re span has been reduced to a size that’s considerably less than what you need.

Calculate The Railings Size

Determine the size of your railings and factor these into the equation from the very start. You might also choose to include curbs or bumpers too and an added option. These additions can help prevent a wheel of the wheelchair or scooter from getting too close to the side. But you need to know exactly what you’re going to include before you start in order to allocate the space.

For example:

  • As a guideline, the top of your handrail should sit approximately 36 inches above the ramp’s floor. If you’re adding a railing to the wall side, you’ll need at least and extra 1.5 inches of clearance for someone’s hand to grab hold of the railing comfortably.
  • If your ramp is going to rise more than 30 inches off the ground, you also need to install spindles between the base and the railing.

Get it all planned out first. A completed plan leads to the desired destination. But an incomplete plan will only lead to confusion. When you know where you’re going with this, it’s time to get started.

By this point, you’ve chosen the best location for your wheelchair ramp, and you now know which way it will run.

Mark The Terrain

Now you can lay out exactly where your ramp will go. Measure accurately and use construction pylons or flowerpots to mark the corners. The idea here is to identify the land area that your ramp will occupy. Seeing the actual size of the ramp and space it will take gives you a much better sense than you can get from just a drawing.

Finally lay out your pylons as accurately as possible to familiarize yourself with the space where you brand new ramp will soon stand.

You are ready to go. Get your tools and let’s the fun begin!

Step 4. Tools To Do The Job Like a Pro

Here are some of the tools you’ll likely need to construct your wheelchair ramp:

  • Wheelbarrow
  • Shovel
  • Large Level
  • Line Level
  • Measuring Tape
  • Framing Square
  • Try Square
  • Pencil
  • Circular Saw
  • Extension Cord
  • Power Drill with Driver Bits
  • Jigsaw (for any deck boards to fit around posts)

Step 5. Build a Wheelchair Ramp

  • Prepare Your Space

The best use of your space is to have the ramp run alongside your house. That way, it occupies less of your yard. It also allows you to secure the ramp to the house with doubled-up 2 x 10’s. And you’ll only need 4 x 4’s on the outside edge of the ramp.

  • A Solid Base

Start with a cement slab landing at the bottom of the ramp. It provides a solid base for anchoring the ramp structure too.

  • Lay Out The Posts

Lay out exactly where each post will go before you do any digging. Oh and… you did have the experts come by to check for any underground cables or gas lines, didn’t you?

  • Time To Dig

It’s best to dig your post holes well below the frost line. That usually means going 36 inches or more into the ground. That way your post will stay set and secure for years.

  • Filling It Up

Mix the cement and then partially fill one hole at a time.

  1. Fill the first hole one-third full and set a 4 x 4 post in place. Be sure to plumb it up. You want your frame to be both perfectly square and level.
  2. Add another third of cement, making sure the post remains plumb.
  3. Then top it off with cement, checking once again to make sure it’s plumb.

Follow this process with each of the postholes. Add one post at a time and making sure that each one lines up perfectly.

  • Building The Frame

When all the posts are firmly set in cement, begin building the support frame using 2 x 10’s with one on each side of the 4 x 4’s to solidify the outside of the structure.

  1. Install two 2 x 10’s along the wall of the building.
  2. Anchor the front edge to the edge of the cement slab. Leaving just the right space for deck boards (once added) to meet flush with the top of the cement pad.
  3. Run 2 x 10 headers parallel to the house on 12-inch centers. That will ensure your structure is rock-solid.
  • Deck Boards

When the framework is complete, add your deck boards. Install one at a time, working from the top of the ramp to the bottom. Install these perpendicular to the house; the same way steps would align on a staircase.

  • Secure Your Ramp

Add the spindles and railings. Make sure everything has been secured with screws.

  • The Final Touch

Add a stain finish and/or water seal to help protect the ramp against the elements. That is something you’ll have to repeat probably every second year or so.

That’s pretty much all there is to it.

Again: be sure to spend enough time at the planning stages. But once the building begins, it’s a lot of fun. And building a wheelchair ramp means you’re helping to enhance someone’s life. I can’t think of a more worthy project, can you?

It’s not too difficult. You can do it. Take your time and measure twice before cutting any piece of material. Take the entire project one step at a time and do it right. You’ll end up having created a robust and fully functional wheelchair ramp. You’ll be helping a loved one more than you know. And every time they use it, you’ll feel an inner sense of pride in your accomplishment.

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