The entry to your home should provide for safety and say welcome to all who enter. When I say all who enter, this means everyone including visitors of all ages and stages.
The entry should be easy to navigate with a zero step entry, a ramp or stairs. Each of these entrance choices has different safety and functional considerations. In addition to the considerations, local codes should be consulted for further guidelines. Let’s take a look at some things to think about for the entryway:
The single best entry to the home is a zero step entry. This means that there is no barrier into the home and the visitors do not have to traverse steps or walk up a ramp to enter your home. This is the safest but sometimes hardest to achieve because of the layout of your land or the design of your home. Now, with a zero step entry, there is still a low threshold for weatherization needs. The entry should be designed so that snow and rain are blocked from draining into the home. A landing of at least 60” (five foot radius) should be provided for maneuverability. Always provide a non-slip surface too. Do not paint a concrete surface unless it is a special textured surface treatment as this can be a slippery area and paint can add to the problem.
The second option for entry to the home is a ramp. This should be carefully considered. A ramp to the entry can create a security issue. It can be a signal to a criminal as to who lives in the home. A deterrent to this is to place the ramp in an inconspicuous location that is not so visible; consider placing it in the garage so that access is shielded and safer. A ramp should have a slope of at least 1:12. This means that for every foot in length the angle is no more than an inch in height. A good range for the slope is 1:12 to 1:20. The lower the slope, the easier it is to travel. To give you perspective, a doorway that is three feet off the ground will require a 36 foot long ramp. A few more things to consider with a ramp include a landing at the doorway (at least a five foot radius) so that there is room to get into the home and also have a flat place to stand at the door without being on an angle. The ramp can have a turn in it if the length is too long and the turn will need to provide enough space to turn safely. Hand rails are also a necessity. There should be a handrail on each side of the ramp. The height of the handrail above the surface of the ramp should be 34-36”. (A good guide and easy to remember is a yard above the floor). The best handrail is a contrasting color, is continuous, smooth, and round (ideally between 1 ¼-1 ½” in diameter. This is for gripping reasons. It should also be 1 ½” away from the edge of the side framing so the hand can get around the railing. The railing should also extend past the edge of the ramp at least a foot. A minimum two inch high boundary should be on each side of the ramp unless there walls so that a foot could not slide through or a wheel chair wheel could not de-rail. A second railing should be located between the higher railing and the top of the curb to prevent falls. It should have the same qualities as the upper handrail since it is sometimes used by those in wheelchairs to pull themselves up the ramp. The ramp must have a non-slip surface and if possible be sheltered from the weather.
The third entry condition are stairs. While this is not the best situation, it sometimes can not be avoided. Some necessities include a landing (flat space) that is wide enough for maneuverability (at least five feet for turning needs). Steps should be solid and closed at the back. The surface should be non-slip and wide; a good depth of the tread is 11” and a height of 6 ½” to 7” between the steps. All of the steps must be the same size and height. Handrails should have the same considerations as those used for a ramp. Stairs should be sheltered from the weather if possible.
All entries must have lighting that is bright enough to light the way but does not create a glare. The three access choices each allow entry to the home and each choice is acceptable and each should be explored for your best solution. While the no-step entry is the most ideal, it can not always be achieved. The ramp is a good choice but sometimes space requirements or safety considerations eliminate this option. Consider moving the ramp to the garage. Stairs make up the last choice and with careful planning and considerations, it can be a safe and functional choice. Consider meeting with someone who has training in Universal Design or someone who is CAPS (Certified Aging In Place Specialist) trained. They can help you make the safest and best choices for you and your family. After all, our home is our haven and it should be safe, functional and beautiful.