home modification: outdoors

When you are ready to make home modifications, the place you will likely need to start is actually on the outside of your home. Entryways, garages, front steps, porches, and the rest are typically NOT designed for the ADA lifestyle. Here are some gadgets to get you thinking about how to change those cursed steps!

If you’re looking to modify your entry here are a few things to consider:

1. The ADA guideline is for every 1″ of rise, you will need 12″ of length. That is a LOT of length for a straight line, which is why you see a lot of those metal ramps with switchbacks. You go half the distance one way, turn at the bend, then go the rest of the way to the door. You can rent this type of metal ramp, or for DIY instructions on how to build one, click here for a Lowes.com tutorial.

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The switchback type of ramp is probably what you think of when you think wheelchair ramp, but it doesn’t have to be. Actually not only are those ramps a less attractive option for your home, they aren’t all that practical. The speaker at our home modification meeting told the story of a woman whose son was in a wheelchair. Every time it snowed she had to shovel the top ramp from her door onto the bottom ramp, then shovel the bottom ramp (now with twice the amount of snow) onto the ground. Talk about back-breaking work, especially if your winters dump snow on you like they do here in Colorado!

The woman in the story actually changed out the temporary switchback system to a vertical lift (like the one in the video below) for her son. A vertical lift is not only a great solution for a raised deck or high stair situation, it would also make a great addition to an indoor garage entry!

Here are some other examples of custom ramps that you can have installed – that blend much better with your landscaping and lend more curb appeal. These ramps were custom-made by Accessible Systems (click here for website), and feature gradual concrete and wooden slopes.

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2. If you don’t need a full ramp but just want to have more stability for walking up steps, some custom steel rails will go a long way! Here is an example of a custom railing, also by Accessible Systems. This is a plain version, but you can also get more decorative versions with curved balusters, other finishes, etc.

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A few things to consider when you are placing rails: Do you have more strength on your right or left side? Would having railing on both sides be more practical? Do you need any additional bars placed at need the door to brace yourself and get over any threshold lip? If you fatigue with steps do you need seating anywhere near the top or bottom steps to give you a rest?

3. Whatever you decide, think about outside modifications with attention to the future. Your entry needs to work for you and your increasing needs as time goes by. Even if you are not intending on staying in your home the rest of your life, no step entries are a universal design which means it will be beneficial to any buyer. A ramp is great for a wheelchair, but it is also great for everyone else (the elderly, young mothers with strollers, aging pets, furniture movers, Slinky, wait, nevermind, Slinky likes stairs… but you get the idea.)

4. If you have one, check with your HOA for modification guidelines. People tend to think of the ugly for ADA accessible modifications. Good design will help make your plans a reality. If your modifications blend with your landscape and home’s style you and your neighbors will enjoy looking at it day after day. It’s your home, make it yours.


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