Wednesday, October 21, 2009

In Which I Go A Little Overboard Planning

I just spent two hours playing with my colored pencils.

We got the quote back yesterday for what it would cost to put a wheelchair lift in the garage. The bottom-of-the-rung lift with installation but without tax, would run a hefty 8,000 dollars. This is because Washington state law classifies the lift (which would go up all of two feet) to be an elevator, and thus is has to have a special door at the top that locks when the lift is at the bottom of the steps. This means that we also would have to put a call button in to bring the lift to the top of the steps if it is at the bottom. While it sounds cool in theory, 8,000 dollars seems like a whole lot of money just so that we have the convenience of unloading out of the rain. I'm also a little worried about the idea that the garage would be the accessible entrance, because if there was a fire and the power was out Jer wouldn't be able to get the garage door open.

So we're back to our first idea, which was to put a ramp on the front of the house. We'd build it out of wood so that if we were to ever sell the house we could potentially take the ramp out easily. I went over to the new house (which is now registered to us and officially ours, by the way, though we won't be getting the keys for another couple of days to give the sellers a chance to move out) and measured the height of the stairs up to the porch. They are fifteen inches high, which would mean that to meet ADA standards for ramp length/height ratio the ramp would need to be fifteen feet long. Now it just so happens that the porch is extra wide, and the extra space between the side of the house and the sidewalk currently has a flowerbed with several large bushes in it. I think we might be able to pull those bushes out and put a ramp in that would go straight out from the house and link up with the sidewalk. While I didn't take an exact measurement of the length from the house to where the sidewalk links up with the driveway, I'm pretty sure it's longer than fifteen feet. I'll take some exact measurements once we have the keys to the house. I would have done that today, but right about the time I started measuring the length the skies opened up and rain came absolutely pouring down. Normally it just drizzles here, but this was some serious rain. At any rate, I had to abandon my measuring and sprint for the car.

I came home and hopped on the Internet, eager to look at the various attractive ways people had incorporated wheelchair ramps into their homes, and I found . . . zilch. Well, scratch that-- I found one picture in which someone had planted a row of geraniums in front of the ramp on a house painted in 70's orange and brown. And that was pretty much it.

I'm rather shocked, actually. No wonder people think of wheelchair ramps as such eyesores! Surely there's something you can do with a wooden ramp to pretty it up other than planting a row of measly little flowers. And for that matter, can't you construct them in a manner other than that whole plywood-and-2-by-4 thing?

So I sat down with my colored pencils and started doodling. I like the idea of softening up a ramp with vegetation, but there seems little point in putting together a big ugly ramp and then smacking some bushes at the bottom of it and calling it done-- it would drive me nuts every time I saw it. Then I thought about those walls and fences you see sometimes with planters built in on top of them, and voila! A wheelchair ramp was born.
I'm not an architect or an artist, so sorry about the ridiculous pictures, but hopefully you can get the basic idea. Our house already has a whole bunch of tall bushes that essentially hide the entrance from the street, so it would only be when you started walking up the sidewalk that you would see the ramp. Instead of just building a railing for the ramp, I'd build a wall with planting space on top of it. There'd be a wide planter at the top (and because it's wider, we could run the handrail for the ramp down one side and a handrail for the stairs down the other) and then a series of narrower planters as the wall stair-stepped down, with additional planting space at ground level.

I realized after I did the drawings that it would be best to have the top of the wall stair-step and have a series of planters rather than having the wall stay at one level, because if we did that it would be 40 inches high at the top (about hip high on me) and by the time you got down to the bottom it would be 55 inches high (or about armpit level). This would look silly. So imagine that the height of the wall steps down every couple of feet or so, and there's a planting space on each level area. The wall closest to the house would be narrow so that we have enough room for the ramp, which was the whole point of this exercise in the first place. The handrail would follow the angle of the ramp and would be mounted 36 inches high.

I could either have the planters separate from the wall itself so I could lift them out, or I could have them built in. I'm picturing something sort of like this, but stair-stepping like this. I'd put something low-growing and evergreen in the narrow planters that would be soft and wouldn't trail over the side too much-- I'm thinking maybe various varieties of creeping thyme. The large planter would have some shade-loving flowers of some sort in it. The bottom flower bed would have another low-growing plant that could stand some shade: maybe lithodora.

The walls of the ramp would be painted the same color as the siding on the house (currently white, though that will probably change), which would tie the ramp into everything a bit better. The sidewalk is pebbled concrete, but we don't want a concrete base to our ramp so it can be relatively easily removed, and I'm a little leery of painting the floor of the ramp, so we'd probably stain it some attractive color.

I'm not sure whether or not I'd want the wall to be solid or more like a railing with planter boxes on top-- it would kind of depend on what it would do to the appearance of the house.

I have no idea if this idea is at all feasible or practical (it's probably not, or someone would have done it by now), but it at least gives me a place to start thinking about some attractive options. Of course, I also have no idea how much building a ramp like that would cost, but hopefully it wouldn't be 8,000 dollars. That would have to be one super fancy ramp.

If anyone else has any ideas, for that matter-- or attractive front-door ramp remodels to look at, let me know!



Bradley said...

maybe in the larger area at the top something a little more functional than flowers? Any suggestions escape me at the moment, but just a thought.

Anonymous said...

You and I think a lot alike. (Too bad for you.) Fortunately, you draw better.

I'm wondering if an attractive canopy over the ramp would cost less than than the elevator (for which the many regulations represent your tax dollars at work).

I doubt there is a room for a 24 ft x 3 ft ramp inside the garage.
I had to put groceries into my car during a heavy rain shower yesterday. Getting soaked

I can't look around for more info until later today. I'll send anything I find and can send easily. Barbara

Julia said...

Oooh, what fun. I'm going to get my vicarious jollies this season from watching you do the decorator-designer thing. If you end up with a lot of plywood, maybe you could bling it up a little. Maybe paint on a little border of "tiles" or fleur-de-lis using a stencil. Don't forget about lighting. And if there's any cement involved, say to anchor a post or two, maybe you could incorporate a Connor handprint for posterity.

Tom said...

Your planter boxes will obviously need to act more like a hanging basket than a flower-bed. You'll need to treat them like the planter box you would have outside your window in a downtown condominium, as you can't possibly fill the entire space with dirt and expect the structure to hold. If you can't find standard planters with a length that will work, I would suggest using aluminum gutters with periodic drainage holes drilled in them. The material is fairly inexpensive, you can mount it with screws, and you can size/stretch it to fit.

Tom said...

The other option of course is just mounting a "floor" with some L brackets and using the existing "walls" to create your planter box. The only downside of this is that if your wood isn't treated properly and begins to rot you are rotting out the side supports of your actual ramp structure.

Katy said...

Well, I'm wild about this idea. Now you've got my wheels spinning about our house and a ramp. I may have to outside and measure. You're right though--something a little better than stict utility would be great.

Anonymous said...

Like your ramp idea. Have seen several in my area. Here we have to deal with snow and ice, so the outdoor ramps have non-slip non-skid stair treads.

Check with the fire department for fire safety code about exits for both of your boys.

I love your flower/planter idea. Glad it is you and not me. I just grow tired in my garden. s

beauty obscure said...

There is a home improvement show here in Canada called Holmes on Homes where a contractor comes in and fixes past contractors mistakes... and there is an episode in season 2 called "ramp revamp" where he builds a wheel chair ramp to a front door. He is known for making things functional and yet attractive. Trying to find video of the episode somewhere online for you. He also did an episode where he modified an apartment to universal design for an elderly woman who used a wheelchair and another where he did an accessible bathroom for a little boy. I totally sound like an ad for the show!

Cathy said...

I am with Tom on the planters. You might want to make them removable. Easier to pull down to plant and clean, and it will protect your ramp structure from rotting too.
In the winter you are going to want to remove them so they don't get weighed down with water, snow, and ice.
The gutter idea is good, but I know there are baskets that hang over the edge of deck railings that would work.
Did you think about putting up some of that plastic lattice to hide the underside of the ramp? They make it in other colors than white now. Then you could plant climbing things to cover that space. We put up spacers and covered one end of our house with it to help keep Emily's end of the house cooler in the summer. The plants love it(clematis, roses, dahlias, & cosmos) house stays a lot cooler, and it looks much better than just siding. Just another thin gfor you to think about.

louralann said...

My moms been in a wheelchair for over 24 years and my dad has drastically remodeled over the years to make everything more accessible.

We have an main floor and a basement with a garage that is halfway in between, so it's almost like a split.

What he did was take out the inside stairs that led from the garage to the upstairs and downstairs, and he put an inside elevator that stops at the top floor, the garage (leading outside) and the basement.

He also put in an outside elevator on our outdoor balcony/patio that used to just be an enclosed area with no access to the ground, so when the garage was full she was able to go out that way.

There are about 12 steps up to the front door so he wasn't able to put a ramp in the front so instead dad put in a back deck with a ramp that wraps around to the front and connects directly to the gate.

It is very difficult to pretty up ramps and elevators, and the cost is ridiculous (although I was the coolest kid in school for having an elevator in my house). We do have carragana (sp?) bushes all around our house for privacy and that helps screen it a bit. I think your drawings and ideas are great.

Oh and just quickly (sorry for the novel), be careful not to push the slope of the ramp to the max, it will be extra slippery during winter. There are some types of outdoor "carpet" that are really useful for needed grip as well.

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