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Stairs, Ramps & Railings For Senior Accessibility

Reviewed by: MySeniorCare Staff
Last Updated: 4/13/2010 6:40:11 PM

Many homes are defined by their height and structure. This involves a series of layers and levels that add a distinctive character to a home. As you add height, you also add stairs. But as we age, the glory of a beautiful two-tiered deck and multi-level housing tends to fade.

With advanced age, steps become a challenge, and soon a challenge becomes an impossible task.

So what is there that can be done about stairs? In most cases, stairs can only be overcome by hard work and sheer will. A chairlift or elevators are the only ways an elderly person can navigate a flight of stairs.

For minor steps that are less than four feet in height, you can build a ramp. A ramp is basically defined as a plane that is steeper than a 1:20. What that means is that for every one foot drop in overall height, you have a 20 foot length.

For most ramps, the typical height is no more than 30 inches and no longer than 40 feet. This may limit many homes from having a basic straight on ramp. However, this does not limit all ramps. By adding several tiers and landings, you can easily make rises of several feet; you just need the width.

Widths on standard handicap ramps range around 36 inches. This is usually an industry standard and not an exact code. Most codes simply define the width as being clear and free from obstructions. Although several southern states require that the width is over 48 inches wide to accommodate for two wheelchairs passing each other. Obviously, if you don't need access for two wheelchairs, your ramp can be as wide as you need.

Once again the industry standard helped to make the code. All platforms or landings should be about 71 inches X 71 inches. This provides enough distance for stopping and turning with a wheelchair. It also gives enough distance for others to pass and turn without getting in each others way. Other states require a more defined explanation of landings and platforms. Call your local building department and see what codes pertain to your area before you begin any building project. Sometimes permits are required and inspections must be passed before you can build a ramp.

Handrails are required on all slopes greater than 1:20. Industry standards for handrail heights are around 36 inches. Many states require different heights. Once again you should always check local building codes in your area for the minimum and maximum heights. An industry standard of 3-4 feet space between railing spindles is usually the norm, but sometimes local codes change, and caution should be taken before committing to any building projects.

Decking materials for any ramp should be built from a surface with good traction in both wet and dry weather. While using 5/4 decking boards may appear attractive, they will get very slick in wet weather and need extra traction. Stone, tile and other slick surfaces should also be avoided. Concrete should be etched or broomed to create a rough surface to provide traction in all weather scenarios.

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