How to Build a Wheelchair-Compliant Deck Ramp

Adding a ramp that can be used by people in wheelchairs makes your deck safer and easier for everyone to use. Even older pets will find it easier to walk on a ramp than to climb stairs. When compared to prefabricated metal ramps, wooden or composite ramps are a great choice because they can be made in many different ways. No matter if you do it yourself or hire a contractor, a custom ramp will also match the structure of your deck better than a prefabricated one.


Required Materials & Tools for Building a Ramp

The type and amount of materials required to construct a wheelchair ramp depend on its dimensions and layout. For example, you may wish to match the appearance of your deck boards and handrails or install lighting on the ramp. Use this collection as a starting point to construct your own content.

  • 4x4 pressure-treated lumber

  • 2x6 pressure-treated lumber

  • 2x4 pressure-treated lumber

  • Composite or 5/4” wood deck boards

  • Anti-slip tread tape

  • Standoff post base (Such as Simpson ABA ZMAX or ABU ZMAX ($10 or $20)

  • Anchor bolts (Such as Grip Rite 1/2 in. x 8 in. Hot-Galvanized Anchor Bolt ($2)

  • Post-pour anchor bolts

  • ½” x 7” carriage bolts

  • 1/2” x 6” carriage bolts

  • 3/8” x 4” lag screws

  • 2-1/2” galvanized deck screws

  • Joist hangers and fasteners

  • Concrete mix

  • Tubular concrete forms

If you’ve done some DIY deck building projects, you probably have most of the tools needed to build a wheelchair ramp.

  • Hand saw

  • Hammer

  • Drill and driver with bits

  • Chalk line

  • Framing/speed square

  • Eye protection

  • 4’ Level

  • Gloves

  • Chisel

  • Screwdriver

  • Circular saw

  • Ratchet wrench and sockets

  • Mason line

  • Line level

  • Wheelbarrow

  • Shovel

  • Posthole digger

  • Plumb bob

  • Post level

  • Cement mixer/mixing tub

Read more: How Long Should my Stair Stringer Be?


Building a DIY Wheelchair Ramp

Estimate the size of the ramp

When constructing a wheelchair ramp that complies with ADA standards, there are crucial measurements to consider. These specifications include the minimum ramp width, maximum ramp slope, and railing height.


At their narrowest point, ramps must be at least 36 inches wide, often from handrail to handrail. In fact, this means that the minimum width of the ramp deck will be 42 inches, as each handrail must be at least 1.5 inches away from any surface and must be located between 34 and 38 inches above the ramp surface. A broader ramp deck would be required for larger handrails.


Along the path of the ramp, 60" x 60" landings may be necessary, depending on your design. ADA compliance also necessitates comparable places on the ground floor and in front of the entrance. In most situations, the existing deck offers ample space at the entry, but the transition from the deck to the threshold of the entry door should not exceed 3/8".


Determine the length of your ramp by measuring the elevation. This is the vertical distance between the ramp's starting point on the ground and the deck's edge. Using the ADA-approved ratio of 1:12, the amount of inches of ascent equals the number of feet of descent. A landing of 60" x 60", measured from railing to handrail, is required for ramps longer than 30' or that change direction.


Plan the ramp

Look for wheelchair ramp designs that you like online and in your community. Then, determine whether or not you can construct similar designs that fit the available space. You must choose whether to construct the ramp over the existing stairs or install it elsewhere on the deck. Tight areas and/or elevated platforms may necessitate switchbacks (zig-zags) in the ramp and/or a ramp that loops around the platform (photo).


Other choices include whether to position the posts on the interior or exterior of the ramp's framing, which railing type to utilize, and how to transition from the ramp to the ground level. Plan with deliberation. It is easier to correct errors on paper than to relocate concrete-set posts.


Set the posts

Using batter boards and mason lines, establish a square grid along one or more sides of the existing deck using the 3-4-5 method. Use a plumb bob and marking paint to indicate the location of post holes and footings.


Dig holes to the proper depth or install the footings, and have them examined if necessary. You can either install the 4" x 4" posts in the hole with the concrete or level the concrete and attach the posts using post brackets secured with concrete screws once the concrete has healed. Alternatively, one may insert an anchor bolt into wet concrete and then attach the post bracket when the concrete has cured. Using cardboard tubes as forms in the holes makes it easier to level the concrete.


Always insert the post's uncut factory end into the hole. Because the factory-applied treatment only penetrates so deeply into wood, you should never place the cut side of treated lumber on the ground without first applying a wood preservative. Cover the exposed tops of the posts with covers or slant-cut them so that water will run off.


Frame the structure

Typically, it is simpler to construct the ramp parts first and then attach them to the supports. Get assistance placing the framed sections once they have been assembled. If your ramp spans the deck's stairs, the stringers must be notched so the ramp may end flush with the deck's surface. The depth of each notch will be determined by the ramp's incline, the step's ascent, and the thickness of the ramp's deck boards. When installing cross pieces between stringers, attempt to position them near the railing posts. Thus, the posts can be firmly secured on two sides and at the base using lag bolts.


Add deck boards

Regardless of the decking material chosen, the ramp must be slip-resistant in all weather conditions. If you wish to utilize composite deck boards for ADA ramps, check with the manufacturer first. If not, use anti-slip tread tape (sometimes known as "grip strips") to ensure compliance. A roll of 4" broad, 35' long anti-slip tape costs approximately $16.


5/4" pressure-treated deck boards are also a popular option. If these boards are kiln-dried following treatment, leave a 1/8" space between them. If your boards are still damp from preservative, reduce the space between them by 1/16" since they will contract. Leave a 14" space between the boards if they are lightweight and dry. Lay deck boards with the bark facing up and drill pilot holes to prevent the wood from splitting. Don't be overly concerned with keeping the deck boards' ends flush with one another. Snap a chalk line after installation and trim the ends flush.


Avoid utilizing plywood as a ramp's decking material. It is too slippery in wet or snowy conditions, and it is more likely than dimension timber to separate and/or rot.


Add handrails

To be ADA compliant, handrails must be at least 1.5" in diameter, have a minimum 36" horizontal space between them, be installed between 34" and 38" above the ramp surface, and continue continuously from the top to the bottom of the ramp. Wood and metal railings purchased off the market are simple to install, at least along straight courses. It becomes more difficult when the handrails must turn to accommodate a change in ramp direction. Utilize a handrail kit for a more polished appearance and to save time (link). They provide simple-to-assemble modules that reduce installation times.


If the ramp is higher than 30 inches from the ground, horizontal boards or vertical balusters must be installed between the posts. The distance between boards or balusters cannot exceed four inches.

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