How can I build a ramp for our house?
December 3, 2010 10:24 AM   Subscribe

How do you build a ramp (for a dog and a stroller)?

We just moved to a house with steps [1] [2]. It is a huge PITA for my older dog to climb up these steps (granted, he's a bit winded from the trip...) and when I have my toddler with me, I have to get him out of the stroller, have him climb the stairs himself, then I carry the stroller and whatever bags we have after him. It is not fun.

Thus, I want to build a ramp for the dog and for the stroller.

Amazon has this sort of thing that we could buy, but I imagine that we could just build one, right?

What would be involved in this? Any tips? (Note that we could have snow/ice, so that needs to be factored in.
posted by k8t to Home & Garden (28 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Before you spend any money, check the building codes for your local municipality to be sure this kind of structure is allowed.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 10:30 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I could think of a number of ways that you could make something like this, but the expense/time/effort of removing it every time makes me think that your best bet is going to be to buy a lightweight option like the ones you linked.
posted by Night_owl at 10:34 AM on December 3, 2010


@Night_owl, couldn't we put it up "permanently" on one side of the steps?
posted by k8t at 10:39 AM on December 3, 2010


Yes, you could build one. You won't be able to build a portable, folding ramp like the ones you linked to for anywhere near those prices, but you can build a heavier, semi-permanent wooden ramp without too much trouble.

You'll probably still end up spending ~$50 on materials, but you should end up with a much sturdier ramp. The ramps you linked to look pretty flexy, and the 200lb weight limit seems to confirm that.

As far as snow/ice, I would just worry about building a really heavy duty ramp and give it at least 3 coats of paint and add a stick-on, high traction surface. If it's well sealed (paint) and overbuilt a little bit, it should last at least 10 years of winters without any specific weatherproofing.

I'm not going to go into specific construction details, because I'm not sure if what I'm describing is what you are looking for (i.e. heavy, wood, functional vs. light, portable, slick) but you can memail me or reply here and I can give some specific tips.
posted by Anoplura at 10:43 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I hate to be a wet blanket, but I think you're just going to have to get used to what you're doing now. Neither of those ramps is even close to being long enough to achieve a walkable slope on stairs that are so high. It would be a BIG project to build a safe, walkable ramp onto that porch.
posted by jon1270 at 10:44 AM on December 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


@Anoplura - yes, building a wooden one with some sort of grippy material on top.
posted by k8t at 10:48 AM on December 3, 2010


Agreed with jon1270 that pushing a stroller up and down a ramp that's as steep as the slope of your steps sounds very iffy. One or two steps, maybe, but six steps worth of ramp is just asking for trouble.
posted by BurntHombre at 10:49 AM on December 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sorry - my answer above assumed you were looking for a permanent solution. A removable one large enough to handle those steps would be awfully heavy. Would you be able to lift it into place? And those stairs look pretty steep. Would you be able to maneuver the stroller up and down a steep angle?

You might be looking at something long that folds back on itself, like the picture on this page.

Also, my dog refuses to use the ramp I got for him to get up on the bed. So you might want to see how your dog reacts to a ramp before you buy/install one.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 10:49 AM on December 3, 2010


I hate to be a wet blanket, but I think you're just going to have to get used to what you're doing now. Neither of those ramps is even close to being long enough to achieve a walkable slope on stairs that are so high. It would be a BIG project to build a safe, walkable ramp onto that porch.

This.

I think you have three issues you need to face here before you start building. First, you need to confirm whether or not the planning and/or building departments have oversight of this, and if so, what your permitting and inspection process might be. Second, have you ever seen a wheelchair ramp in front of a house? To get a walkable surface (especially in slippery conditions) you need a surprisingly low gradient, which means taking up a lot of space in front of your house with a ramp, probably zig-zagging back and forth. Third, I think you are going to have width issues -- your stairs need to remain a certain width for safety and comfort, and your ramp needs to be a certain width for safety and ease of use; those two widths added together (plus allowances for handrails and the like) is probably wider than your current steps.
posted by Forktine at 10:50 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


And yes, we'd want to do something permanent.
posted by k8t at 10:51 AM on December 3, 2010


Having said all that, actually building a ramp is really easy, assuming you have basic tools (hammer, circular saw, etc) and can follow directions. But it isn't a place to half-ass things, because if it collapsed with you and the baby on it someone could get seriously hurt, and if it collapsed with your neighbor on it you are guaranteed a lawsuit. The construction part is comparatively trivial, compared to the issues involved in planning and designing the ramp in the first place.
posted by Forktine at 10:52 AM on December 3, 2010


If you go to a hardware store or probably even a bookshop, there will be books for sale with detailed plans for ramps, including ones the fit over stairs. If you want it to be permanent and stable, it's worth at least looking at the books for ideas.
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:55 AM on December 3, 2010


Hey, welcome to the neighborhood! If your house is in the historic district I think it would require approval for something like that. I know that the Historic Preservation Review Board can be sticklers.

Is there a back entrance off an alley you that might be easier to use, or at least have more space for a ramp?
posted by exogenous at 11:08 AM on December 3, 2010


After reading jon1270 and Forktine's comments, I took another look at the stair pictures. In the first picture, there is a second set of handrails at the bottom of the photo that I didn't notice before. Is this another full set of stairs? If so it complicates things, and I probably spoke too soon.

As Forktine said, the ramp will have to have a shallow slope in order to be useful. The rule of thumb is usually a 10:1 (length:height) ratio. (this is also within the specs of most building codes/ADA regulations) You'll have to take measurements to see if that's feasible.
posted by Anoplura at 11:10 AM on December 3, 2010


You might find this guide for designing wheelchair ramps helpful, or at least clarifying. The steepest ramp supposedly allowed by code is a 1:8 pitch. That means that if the porch is five feet above ground level, you need at least forty feet of ramp. This is why Forktine mentioned zig-zags; without them, the starting point of the ramp would probably be in the street.
posted by jon1270 at 11:12 AM on December 3, 2010


I have both types of ramps for wheel chair use.
Your steps seem to be at least 40 inches high from bottom to top. You would need at least 20 feet of ramp for adequate use. Actually ADA would call for 40 ft of ramp.
We have they folded type of ramp for the van and I will tell you that they are expensive. Ours supports 600 pounds of weight.
A ramp for the dog could be much steeper than for a person.
posted by JayRwv at 11:13 AM on December 3, 2010


Anoplura:there is a second set of handrails at the bottom of the photo that I didn't notice before. Is this another full set of stairs?

Whoa, I didn't see that. I really don't think this is feasible at all.
posted by jon1270 at 11:14 AM on December 3, 2010


@exogenous thanks! Yes, we do have a back set of stairs that goes into an alley. My other thought, out of laziness, was setting up a fake grass area for doggy pee pees (frequent) and we'll brave the steps for poops. Thanks for the head's up on the approval.

As far as the stroller, it is the lesser concern than the dog.

@Anoplura - yes it is two sets of stairs with an opening for the little lawn.
posted by k8t at 11:15 AM on December 3, 2010


I do think it's likely that JayRwv is right that the dog could handle a steeper slope. He wouldn't need a complicated construction with handrails and such, either, and he doesn't weigh as much as a person (he doesn't, does he?). So maybe a plywood deck covered with indoor-outdoor carpeting and supported by simple framing would be worth doing.
posted by jon1270 at 11:27 AM on December 3, 2010


Thanks for the help all.

I think that I'm going to buy one of those dog grass pads for either our front or back porch to eliminate a few of the up-and-downs each day.

Thanks again.
posted by k8t at 11:35 AM on December 3, 2010


First, on a house like that, if you were doing modifications for human accessibility purposes (wheelchair users), I would not recommend installing a ramp at all but rather a hydraulic chair lift beside the stairs, raising directly to the porch. As others have mentioned, your stairs are much too steep to simply cover with a ramp and ascend, even in the best of conditions; a safe ramp would have to zig-zag back and forth across your front lawn and porch. Wheelchair ramps tend to be about 1:12, or 12 feet of length for every 1 foot of height, so even a less gentle incline of 1:10 would still take up much of your lawn.

Secondly, I think a steep ramp would be just as troublesome for the dog to climb as the stairs, if not worse, depending on the level of traction. And even a zig-zagged gradual incline might not be a good solution for an older dog, at it would be exchanging a short steep walk for a much longer gentle slope.

If you're dead set on a partial ramp, I guess a possible solution would be to simply fill in an 12 to 18-inch wide section on the stairs with cement and create a permanent ramp for the stroller (example on subway stairs). You might still want to let the kid(s) go up themselves in wet/icy weather rather than risk everyone sliding down backwards, though.
posted by elizardbits at 11:35 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


er. concrete, I mean.
posted by elizardbits at 11:37 AM on December 3, 2010


A permanent legal ramp would be one that meets the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. With a 1:12 pitch assuming your steps have 9 inch risers you need a ramp approx 60 feet plus landings to meet code.
posted by pianomover at 12:23 PM on December 3, 2010


I built an indoor ramp between my kitchen and garage. This is only covering a rise of two steps, so it is considerably simply and smaller than anything you might build. I built it with a rise/run of approximately 1/3, and I'll tell, you, it's steep. I've got it covered in outdoor carpeting, and I can slide down it if I'm not careful. Add snow to the equation and it would be all over.

Judging by the picture of your place, a similar ramp scaled up for your stoop would end out in the street.

Anyhow, if you're curious, the way I constructed it was to build three longitudinal frames out of 2x4s; on the bottom, each of these follows the contours of the steps and the garage floor; on the top, they create the angle for the ramp. These are spaced out and held together on the bottom by a couple of stretchers, also made of 2x4s, and then a top surface of plywood is laid over it. I used deck screws as fasteners all around. It's sturdy but ugly. Something as big as you're contemplating would need a number of vertical braces to transmit the loads directly to the ground.
posted by adamrice at 1:35 PM on December 3, 2010


@ SuperSquirrel: I thought of getting one of those dog ramps for the bed, but they're ugly, I wasn't sure how sturdy they are and I didn't think the dog would like it. Instead, I went to Ikea and got an Ektorp ottoman and a slanted Poang footstool and placed them side by the side at the foot of the bed. I have a similar set-up in the living room: the ottoman is at the window, so she can sleep and look out, and the footstool is between it and the sofa, so she can easily get up on either one.
posted by bentley at 2:15 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you're dead set on a partial ramp, I guess a possible solution would be to simply fill in an 12 to 18-inch wide section on the stairs with cement and create a permanent ramp for the stroller (example on subway stairs).

This isn't actually something that a random homeowner could do, for both legal and technical (you can't just pour concrete on top of other concrete, for one) reasons. Plus the ramp would be impossible for the dog to use, it would be so steep. I wouldn't want to push a stroller up or down it, either- the BART station at 16th and Mission has a bike ramp like this, and it is hard to keep the bike from rolling away, and hard to push it up. Most people carry their bikes instead. A stroller would be worse.

I've had to design ADA ramps, and agree with everyone above that that is what you have to consider. If I were doing this house as a project, a lift would be the way to go. There's just no room for the ramps and landings.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:53 PM on December 3, 2010


On the stroller issue: My old neighbours built a narrow wooden ramp out of 2x4s that sat on top of their concrete stairs and seemed to work just fine for their stroller. I think it was designed such that the stroller wheels fit on two narrow surfaces so that the stroller pusher could walk between the surfaces to push the stroller up. They only had 4 or 5 steps though.

Unfortunately, I think that any dog that has troubles with stairs is going to have troubles with a ramp at the same slope.
posted by ssg at 2:05 PM on December 5, 2010


the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. With a 1:12 pitch assuming your steps have 9 inch risers you need a ramp approx 60 feet

The way I see that is that an eight inch step needs and eight foot ramp. The landings between ramps should accommodate a three foot turning radius, so maybe twelve foot back and forth per step.

An emphatic zig-zagging architectural feature like that might have some kind of visual impact, but a lot of materials and assembly would be required. The lift idea sounds more practical.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:50 AM on December 6, 2010


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