Prevent tripping while making a raised floor area?
May 12, 2024 11:39 AM   Subscribe

I'm making a platform area to raise floor level by ~4" in the galley kitchen here. I'm worried about tripping at the threshold, especially if I'm slightly out of it (late night, early morning, headache, etc.). Visitors are a consideration too. Ideas to make this safer?

I just realized that someone a few inches taller would be able to _use_ the upper shelves in the cabinets, and also might be able to wash dishes much more easily and with much less sleeve wetting.

So I'm planning to use some extra 3/4" planks on top of 2/5" cross-pieces to make a riser/platform area that covers the entire floor area of the galley kitchen. (Yes, I've checked clearances for lower cabinet doors, appliances, etc.)

I'm really worried about tripping on the threshold of this area. The first few times will be fine, then I'll forget or it will be very late night, then I'll trip a couple of times. Then I'll learn the step automatically and be good with it for a few weeks, then... who knows.

Also, of course, guests will need to be warned. I'm more confident about that, since they'll be in a new place and looking around more, and I can make a sign or an eye-catching marker which is likely to be seen.

For myself, though - any marker or warning will probably become invisible after a while.

Ideas I've considered:

- Make the threshold a ramp

- Install a motion-sensing light that will turn on at night

- Something that makes a noise?

There is no door at the threshold - it's a narrow entry, about 40" wide, adjacent to a large floor to ceiling window (actually a sliding glass door to the outside).

Thoughts? Thanks in advance.
posted by amtho to Home & Garden (18 answers total)
Four inches is a lot. That's a step up into the kitchen. Just face it with a riser and paint the riser in white so it's obvious it's a step?

If there's a reason that is no good, the motion detecting light seems like a good idea. Amazon probably has one that chirps?
posted by DarlingBri at 11:43 AM on May 12 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Since the color/contrast probably matters: the current floor is mostly white.

Also: I did the math again - the actual rise will be 3.25 - 3.5".
posted by amtho at 11:55 AM on May 12

Could you install pull-out steps under the toe space instead? Tuck them away when not in use, pull them out as needed.
posted by kate4914 at 11:56 AM on May 12 [8 favorites]

That is a really dangerous height change! I think the ramp is your best bet but it's entirely possible to trip on an unexpected ramp (and they're even harder to see than steps). Can you maybe put a railing or gate at the opening?
posted by mskyle at 11:57 AM on May 12 [4 favorites]

I don't know for sure about one isolated step, but minimum stair height per code (in the US and maybe other areas) is 4", and that minimum exists for the reasons that you're concerned about having the step in the first place. I'm also leery of the proximity of a step on the interior right adjacent to a sliding door, even if you don't use that opening as a door yourself - like, you have whatever step from the exterior to the floor level of the house (possibly nothing; maybe as much as 6") but then you have another step just to the interior of that door? Ehhhhhhh
posted by LionIndex at 12:01 PM on May 12 [4 favorites]

This feels like an overkill solution for something solvable by a step-stool, but if you're going to go through with it, I'd suggest a ramp as the best option. Everyone is likely to face difficulties walking at some point in their life and a ramp is very likely going to be the most navigable option with the lowest chance of tripping.

Another thought might be to look into getting the cabinets lowered? I feel like that would likely lead to a better outcome. Another consideration with your plan is if this will eliminate the toe kick under your counter cabinets; if you want to work close up to your countertop, not having that will make that a real pain.
posted by Aleyn at 12:08 PM on May 12 [6 favorites]

This also is big enough that any changes in mobility could make the kitchen much more difficult to access. If a ramp isn't doable I'd hesitate to do this.

Also have a tiny step into the kitchen maybe an inch? Grandma almost tripped once. I also can't tell you how many times my kid has crashed over it when doing kid things.
posted by AlexiaSky at 12:09 PM on May 12 [2 favorites]

This will also change the ergonomics of working on the kitchen countertop, which if you cook at all you'll be doing much more often than accessing the top shelves. I've cooked in kitchens with countertops just 2 inches too short for me and it's murder on the back even when you're young. Washing the dishes, even more so. Before you put money in it, get a board and two bricks and try working at this height for just one meal because tripping may not be the worst hazard this creates for your body.

I don't even have a step stool, I just use a chair and keep rarely used gear on the top shelf - doesn't everyone? (And I'm nearly 6 feet tall.)
posted by I claim sanctuary at 12:33 PM on May 12 [5 favorites]

Seconding that if you want to do something like this, lowering your cabinets is probably a better idea. You can bring the upper cabinets down a few inches. If the counter height is a problem everywhere you can put the cabinets on the floor without a toe kick; if it's just a problem with the sink you can just lower it.
posted by metasarah at 1:00 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]

IMO, either come up with a different solution (eg: put foldaway stepstools in the "toe kick" of the lower cabinets; I saw a place with that feature once and it looked awesome!) or increase the depth to make it a real step with nosing and everything.
posted by aramaic at 1:04 PM on May 12

Response by poster: Hey, 6 footer :) Countertops being too low is not something I'm worried about. And I'm talking about accessing a shelf level that probably doesn't seem "upper" to you.

Lowering the cabinets is not an option.

I'm doing something that's not a permanent alteration - just adding a platform, in several sections, that's easily removable with 15 minutes of carrying.

That said - you've convinced me that the change in height is just as worrisome as I thought. I might change plans to make two long narrow platforms at the counter/cabinet banks. It will probably still be imperfect, but at least if I do trip the counter is right there.
posted by amtho at 1:23 PM on May 12

Response by poster: Also - If I increased the platform/floor height to be like a regular step, it would block the lower cabinet doors, dishwasher, etc. If I'm obligated to raise the cabinets, or the sink, then this isn't really a workable solution.
posted by amtho at 1:32 PM on May 12

I just realised I could lower the upper shelves in my cabinets - the holes were already there to pop down the little plug guys that hold the shelf. If you don’t already have holes there maybe you can make new ones? And drop the upper shelves a couple inches.
posted by slightlybewildered at 3:05 PM on May 12

Response by poster: Thanks! I totally did that on moving in, years ago, but I'm commenting to tell you this: you can _add_ shelves this way, and it works for medicine cabinets too. Changed my life. I now have one very small shelf (short gap between it and the shelf above) in every medicine cabinet, which is _great_ because a lot of stuff that goes in there is very, very small,
posted by amtho at 8:18 PM on May 12

I have actual steps up to my kitchen, two of them... which is fine, and I genuinely like the way the height change separates the kitchen area from the rest of the open-plan living room; but the top step is about an inch taller than the bottom step, I'm guessing because they somehow forgot to take the thickness of the kitchen floor into account when speccing them(?!?), and I trip up on it every so often, even after nearly nine years in the house.

However, what I'm really coming in for is to express concern with your second idea, running a platform along the base of the cupboards/cabinets instead. It's a nice idea! I'm also shorter than the Default Person for whom kitchens are designed, and it's a nuisance! But I think a narrow, partial platform might actually be more dangerous than a whole-room one. Stepping up onto it would probably be fine, but the reverse direction is more of a worry, because you'll be standing there for long enough to do tasks, not just to put something away or get it down. If my kitchen had that feature, I guarantee I would regularly forget I was standing on a raised area, step backwards expecting a level floor behind me, and hurt myself. I've done that on literal step-stools, even, and they feel much less like floor than a proper platform would.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 8:36 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I put a version of the narrow platforms in place - they're 12" front to back, and about 7-8' wide. I had boards just on the floor in those locations for a couple of weeks without incident (3/4" high), but I love them at 3.25" high - my shoulders feel a lot better.

Your note about forgetting about them, ManyLegged, is worth considering. I've been thinking about this project for months, though -- maybe years -- so maybe I'll remember.

New worry: banging my head on the corners of cabinet doors. I've already read about padding for babies -- considering a DIY solution, but OTOH maybe I'll be less likely to hit them now that they're close to eye level.
posted by amtho at 9:11 AM on May 13

The reason for the minimum riser height is to avoid a tripping and interference hazard with the tread nosing when stairs are too shallow. But you aren't making a staircase and those constraints don't really apply. Your 3+ inches is more like the step up from a street to a side walk.

Which isn't to say there is no hazard just that it doesn't present the same hazard as a set of stairs.

Yellow and black stripes, either tape or paint, is the classic method of marking that sort of hazard but not very esthetic. I'd probably just make the platform's surface a different colour and texture. Possibly with a contrasting stripe at the edge. There are a lot of simple to install laminates or vinyl sheet flooring you could apply to top surface to visually separate the two areas.

If you have appropriate wall space at the step location mounting a short length of hand rail would both signal a change in elevation and give users a hand hold.
posted by Mitheral at 1:17 PM on May 13

For reasons having to do with multiple phases of building, water damage from a major flood a long time ago leading to a 4 inch drop across the flooring, and wanting to install radiant flooring (which included floating a gypsum concrete floor over the old sub flooring), I have raised thresholds (about 2 inches) between several of the rooms on my otherwise-contiguous ground floor, and a 2 - 3 inch step down into the ground-floor bathroom. We don't notice them any more, although I do try to remember to mention the step down into the bathroom when new folks come to the house.

All this to say, I'm not so worried about the safety issue, and as a 5' person, achieving the counters being a little lower would be great.
posted by leahwrenn at 5:04 PM on May 13

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