How To Build a Wheelchair Ramp

Using wheelchair ramp

Build a wheelchair ramp that shows you care. So many wheelchair ramps look like something a skateboarder built. The ramp you build shows how you feel about the persons using it.

Before you start your ramp, determine its long term use. Is it just temporary for someone who will only be using it a short time or is it to be a permanent part of the structure? Either way doesn't be tempted to ignore the building codes for handicapped ramps. There are very strict local and federal laws and no one would want to injure someone to save a few dollars.

Your ramp will most likely be both longer than you thought it was going to be, and may also have landings. A ramp must have a rise of no more than one foot in twelve.

This means to get up to a three foot porch or entranceway, you must have thirty feet of ramp. If your entrance is higher than three feet you should consider a lift; a ramp can become quite a massive structure at higher levels.

Let's take it step by step.

  • Measure the distance from the ground or pavement to the landing for the entrance.
  • You will need at least twelve feet of ramp for every vertical foot, so if it is more than one foot you know you will need at least two twelve foot sections.
  • Now measure twelve feet out. You can go straight out or you can parallel the porch.
  • If you parallel the porch, you will need a level five foot by five foot platform at the top. Your first section will slant down at the rate of one in twelve so it will be one foot lower at the bottom than at the top. If your original height was more than one foot you know you need another section.
  • You have to construct a level three foot by five foot platform at this point and then start down again with your next section. If you change directions you have to construct a five foot by five foot section.
  • Make a rough sketch of your area for the ramp. It is easier if you use graph paper with one-quarter inch squares. Let each square equal one-foot.
  • This drawing does not need to be deadly accurate as long as you keep the one-in-twelve rule in mind; the squares will keep you accurate enough and you already know for every full section you are going down one foot.
  • The last section is no problem on paper but on the project it will have to be adjusted to meet smoothly with the ground or pavement.
  • One of the best materials to use (other than concrete) is treated or cedar lumber.
  • If you make all of your attachments with bolts and screws your structure will be better looking, stronger and a lot of the materials may be recyclable.
  • Your ramp sections and level platforms can be set on four by four uprights set in concrete. If working on a paved lot you can place them right on the concrete using metal mounting brackets.  These need to extend at least thirty-eight inches above the finished decking, and plumb.  Your sections need to be a clear three feet wide.
  • Handrails are required for ramps higher than one foot, so they must be placed on the outside of the three-foot area. They will be attached to the vertical supports. They can have vertical or horizontal spacing between the rails. If using vertical spacing, make sure they meet local code: usually four inches on center.
  • Handrails are recommended on all sections. The risk is not worth the money you'd save by not installing handrails, as you still need protection to keep the wheels from running off the ramp.
  • Place a minimum one by eight on each side and attach to the four by four uprights. Later you can place a one by eight in the middle for joists. These will support your decking. They will need to be cut on an angle. You can find the angle by having a helper hold the one by eight slanted until it lines up with both supports. Then, using a level, place it against the joist until the level is plumb; mark your line. Make sure the lower end is not more than one foot less than the upper.
  • Now place a three foot one by eight at each end. The middle joist will be cut at the same angles and placed dead center of these two ends.
  • Continue using the same technique for all sections and level platforms.

When everything is framed you can place decking boards across the frame.

I prefer to use two by fours spaced about one-quarter inch apart. Do not place these tightly against each other, as they will not have room to expand and will be slippery when wet. You can use other materials. Use your judgment and let local climate be a consideration.

I would use plywood as an absolute last choice. It looks bad and performs poorly unless totally covered with outdoor carpet and a non-slip surface. There are many types of non-slip surfaces and paint that can be applied to lumber as needed.

This type of ramp can last a very long time and with a little imagination can be made to look more like a permanent deck than a ramp. One client told me he felt like he was "at the lake." 


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