Ask the Contractor

Darren R. Williams is owner of All Generations, a general contracting business based in Clackamas and serving the tri-county area. Williams is a certified aging in place specialist (CAPS) and welcomes questions from homeowners about making their dwellings more accessible as they age.

Do you have steps to navigate to enter your home? Is carrying your groceries and/or household items cumbersome climbing your steps? Imagine being in a wheelchair and having to accomplish all of the above – what a task that would be. Let's look at how we can make life's daily challenges a little easier.

According to Wikipedia, the Americans with Disabilities Act represents one of the largest minority groups in the United States. About one in five of us have some kind of disability, and one in 10 have a sever disability. These statistics keep growing daily as we baby boomers age. We need to take all precautions available to keep us safe and active.

Adding a ramp to your home can greatly improve your ease and simplicity of everyday life. There are many facets that need to be addressed before constructing your ramp.

Are you building it to ADA guidelines? What type of deck covering are you installing? Could you install your ramp in the garage? The list can go on and on.

ADA guidelines are required in commercial applications and are an excellent blueprint of how to construct a functional ramp. There are many situations in which ADA criteria cannot be met in constructing a residential ramp. There are no real guidelines that mandate how to build a residential ramp (in Oregon) unless the ramp exceeds 30 inches in height; then a building permit is required. If we look at ADA guidelines, here are a few basic ideas/facts that should assist in helping to build your new ramp.

The standard ADA rise in a ramp is a 1-inch rise per 12 inches of distance. Let's say that you are building a ramp that is only one step and is 6 inches high; you would need to build your ramp 72 inches, or 6 feet, long to provide for the proper slope to meet ADA guidelines.

The 1-per-12-inch calculation is for someone traversing the ramp in a wheelchair and exerting approximately 5 pounds of force to wheel up the ramp. One inch for every 16 or 20 inches is preferred for those who have minimal strength or low stamina.

If you have the space, make your ramp longer so it will be easier to navigate. On a long ramp, the amount of effort needed can be extremely demanding if your ramp has no flat or resting areas.

You can construct a temporary or permanent ramp; there is very little difference. A temporary ramp (let's say lasting three years) is constructed nearly the same, but it doesn't generally have the finish trim work and decorative designs. Also on a temporary ramp the mounting posts are installed on pier pads, where a permanent ramp the posts are set in concrete. We figure that a permanent deck has a six-year life expectancy, even though it should last longer.

When constructing a ramp, use pressure-treated sun wood or a composite type lumber. Avoid wood-to-earth contact, and keep all non-treated wood at least 6 inches away from the ground (unless using pressure-treated lumber).

All ramps need to have a minimum width of 36 inches of clear space. Ramps should not exceed 30 feet without a landing area for resting. They should have hand rails or guard rails. If your space is limited, you may need to have "switch backs" so you can make your ramp comfortable for your needs.

We would appreciate your ideas and suggestions of products and improvements that could help you and make your life easier. Contact us at 1-888-656-9960, follow us on [email protected], email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and feel free to check out our website at

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