Ramps are essential for giving handicapped persons access to buildings. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), establishments open to the public must have accommodations that permit access by persons in wheelchairs. That usually means a ramp, and the ADA includes minimum specifications for a ramp's slope, width, rise, landings and railings. There are no specifications for ramp materials, but a ramp should be strong enough to hold several adults at once. Private homes aren't required to follow the ADA specifications, but the act's specs can serve as a guide in considering a ramp for making a house handicap accessible.
A handicap ramp's slope shouldn't be steeper than one inch per linear foot of run, say the people at the Ask the Builder web site. That means a rise of 30 inches will require a ramp at least 30 feet long. That's the minimum standard, but the ramp might have to be longer to accommodate someone for whom this slope is still too steep.
A ramp needs to be at least 36 inches wide between the guardrails. Ask the Builder's people advise that you may need greater width if dealing with turns or switchbacks, or if the needs of a handicapped person require more width.
No ramp segment can have a rise greater than 30 inches. This means that a ramp must provide a flat landing at least every 30 feet to give a handicapped person a place to rest before continuing his climb up the ramp.
A handicap ramp must provide flat landings at its top and bottom, and one landing for every 30 inches of ramp rise. There also must be a flat landing at every point where the ramp turns. Landings must be at least 60 inches long and at least as wide as the ramp itself. The landing at the top must be even with the entrance door's sill so a wheelchair can roll right in.
Handicap ramps must have a handrail on each side that's between 30 inches and 38 inches tall, measured vertically from the ramp's surface. The side railings also must be designed with vertical or horizontal bars to ensure a wheelchair can't roll off the ramp's edge.
The people at the Ask the Builder web site advise do-it-yourself homeowners to consult an architect or experienced ramp builder in planning any ramp. They also say ramp construction isn't a job for the casual do-it-yourselfer. And once ramp plans are done, the homeowner should check with local building or zoning departments to ensure compliance with local codes. For those who don't want to tackle building a ramp, a number of companies sell ready-made modular ramp systems that are ADA-compliant.