When one is considering ways to make the home safer for those who have difficulty getting around, the staircase typically presents the largest obstacle to a completely accessible home. This includes both the interior and exterior staircase and these areas can not only be difficult to use by those with mobility challenges, but also are a source of a number of safety concerns.
While both interior and exterior staircases must be considered, many homes today, especially those that were not designed with accessibility in mind, have a front staircase or porch that can be very difficult to navigate for those with difficulty walking or people who use wheelchairs
Utilizing a ramp or vertical platform lift is one of the most common ways of making an exterior staircase easier to use.
The alternative is to install a special type of elevator, called a vertical platform lift or porch lift. These devices, while very convenient, can be rather expensive. Porch lifts work by raising and lowering the wheelchair user vertically next to the staircase.
Ramps, which are often referred to as wheelchair ramps even though many people who use walkers or simply can not get around easily also use them, will often provide the most cost effective means of providing full access to a home.
Many people opt for a wood style wheelchair ramp, which is easy to build and relatively inexpensive. Most building contractors who are qualified to build a deck could also build a wheelchair ramp, but there are a few concerns, such as the degree of the slope on the ramp, so local building codes should be consulted. Also, especially for those who are using electric wheelchairs, the ramp must be engineered to support the entire weight of the user and their mobility device.
A number of modular metal ramps are also available, however these can be very expensive. For small porches, which are only a few steps, a rather inexpensive metal ramp is available, which basically is just placed on top of the steps forming a very short bridge between the ground and the porch.
One disadvantage of wheelchair ramps is that they, by necessity, often end up taking up a big part of the yard. As a general rule, the higher the porch, the longer the ramp, so the length of the ramp is directly related to the height of the homes front porch.
Usually, the ramp doubles back at least once in front of the home, rather than extended straight out, which allows the user to enter the ramp closer to the home in the driveway, while also preserving a larger chunk of the front yard.
Another consideration when installing this type of ramp is the cost. While a wood ramp requires a bit more skill and work to build, it is rather inexpensive. A modular metal ramp, on the other hand, ends up being very expensive, as they are divided into sections and you must pay for each section. Depending on how high the front porch is, this can end up being very expensive, more so than simply buying a vertical platform lift.
However, while wood is usually cheaper, aside perhaps from labor costs, it will not last as long as a metal wheelchair ramp.
One of the major advantages of a wheelchair ramp is that it is very simple and, if a wooden one is used, quite cost effective and relatively easy to build.
Wheelchair ramps also offer a very simple design that has no mechanical parts. As long as quality materials are used, it will last for a very long time and there is little that can break on it. Proper supports, pressure treated wood, to prevent rot, and a quality design will mean the wheelchair ramp will last for many years and require little in the means of maintenance.
A vertical platform lift will, conversely, require regular maintenance and, because it is mechanical and uses an electric motor to operate, there are a number of things that can break on it, not to mention losses of electricity* that could leave the user without a means of entering the home safely.
*Many porch lifts offer a battery backup, which should function to move the lift a few times in the event of an emergency.