Making Our Home Accessible

Goooooooooood morning. Now that spring has sprung, it is time for home improvement projects (my favorite, seriously)! Pair that with the upcoming arrival of Mira’s SWEET NEW WHEELCHAIR, and we found the perfect opportunity for me to not only have a big project to keep myself busy, but also an incredibly practical, functional, and fun addition to our house that will allow us to easily get Mira in and out of the house once her chair gets here as well as give us some extra space to enjoy our home and pleasant neighborhood.  I’m talking, of course, about a DECK and WHEELCHAIR RAMP.

At this point, the deck and ramp are complete (for now – until I find extra shit to add).  So, I’ll sort of walk through the process on designing and building it and share a bunch of pictures.

I’d like to start by saying that having a nice deck has 100% changed my life and now its a “lyfe” instead.  Specifically, “deck lyfe.”  Those of you who have spent time on decks may share some understanding of what I mean.  Decking is not a thing you do, its a way of lyfe.  We live the deck lyfe now, and we encourage you to join us.

The initial idea:

With Mira’s new chair having been ordered, and with no real way to get it into the house aside from pushing it over a rough brick pathway and then lugging it up multiple steps, we knew we were going to need a ramp.  Here’s a picture of our house, pre-deck:

pre deckThis picture is actually from before we owned the house.  I took out the giant bush on the far side of the front door shortly after we bought the house, but you get the idea.  It was not going to be easy to get the chair inside.  So, I started trying to come up with a ramp that would be functional, but also look good.  A lot of wheelchair ramps are not very attractive, so we were looking for something that would enhance the look of the house as well as make it easy and safe to get Mira inside.  So, I took to the sketchbook and came up with this:

sketchbook drawing

After having an idea and talking it over with Nikki, I then moved to a slightly more formal design tool and drew it all up in Google SketchUp.  SketchUp is a 3D modeling tool that is a huge pain in the ass to use but allows you to get a better idea of how something will look from multiple views.  Here’s a shot from that:

sketchup drawing

Basically, the idea was an 8′ x 12′ deck with a modern look.  Horizontal slats for the railing, both for privacy and aesthetic purposes, a welded handrail on the ramp, and to make sure the whole thing was code compliant and that the ramp was ADA compliant.  We are like 90% ADA compliant, so that’s pretty good (the pitch of the ramp and the width are compliant.  I would need to do a handrail on the other side of the ramp, but I am not sure if we will do that or not).  Anyways, with the idea hammered out, I started planning the construction process with city codes in mind.

For me, planning construction is just mostly in my head.  I think about how I’m going to make something a whole bunch and don’t write very much of it down.  I knew I would need to remove siding to attach a ledger board (the board attached to the house, to which the floor joists are attached).  I also knew I would need to dig giant holes that went 6″ below the frost line, and fill those with concrete for the footings.  I bought some string and a string level, and staked it out to get my measurements.  Using my measurements, I could plan how much wood I needed.

So with a material list, and the gracious help of my Dad (thanks Dad), we set off on actual construction.

First: acquire materials:

lumber

This is about 1/4 of the total lumber for the project.  We made a bunch of trips to the Home Depot which is about a mile from our house.  I opted for pressure treated pine that was tinted to look like cedar.  With proper care, this product should last for 20 years or more.  I am also proud to say that I was almost exactly right on my lumber needs predictions – because my mental measurements are just THAT good.

The first day of construction it was chilly, rainy, and muddy – but we got a lot done.  The footings were dug and poured the week before, so it was just a matter of building the deck and not digging holes and mixing concrete, etc.

First step, attach the ledger board and layout the depth and height measurements:

construction 1

As you can see, the whole thing was built right over the existing brick patio and walkway.  I did not want to do any damage to the existing structure because if someone (undoubtedly a giant idiot) wants the deck gone in the future, they can get rid of it and still have a walkway, etc.

With the ledger up and the rim joist installed (the two large boards sandwiched together that hold up the front of the deck), it came time to install the floor joists.  These are the boards sticking out perpendicular to the house that the flooring is attached to.  My dad and I got all of these installed pretty quickly and were able to set the deck flooring on so that we would have a platform to walk on:

construction 2

This shows how we built around the brick with a little more detail.  The joists that had to go over the brick were trimmed down to rest right on top of the brick.  Nice and solid and no damage to the existing structure.  Next comes the ramp:

construction 3

The ramp was built right over the existing walkway.  The supports were not sunk into the ground, rather they just rest on the brick.  The ramp was maybe the most difficult part of the build, but it wasn’t bad.  That’s my dad down there at the end – I couldn’t have done this project without his help.

Here’s the progress after day one:

construction 4

Platform and ramp complete.  We cleaned up and called it a day.  As you can see from this photo, the deck sits pretty much flush with the door jamb.  There’s about a 1″ rise into the house, but it is super easy to wheel Mira over the door jamb.  I had originally planned to build the whole thing about 2″ lower than it is, but my Dad talked me into building it taller and I am really glad I did.

The following Saturday, we put up the railing.  The plan hadn’t changed, so we bought all the materials to do the horizontal slats.  I didn’t really take pics as we worked so here’s a couple of the deck with the railing up:

With the railing up around the deck platform, we had a deck party.  But, the project was not yet complete.  The only things missing from the structure at this point are the welded handrail for the ramp, and a built in bench on the deck.

The bench came first:

bench

You may also notice the beer opener on the railing support post (deck lyfe for lyfe).

And finally, the welded handrail:

finished 6

I welded this up using a mig welder and some 1 1/4″ square tubing.  I got it welded and ground the welds smooth, then painted the whole thing with a hammered finish paint to keep it from rusting.  And for some finishing touches, we planted some boxwoods, put down mulch and a rock border, and planted an azalea and some cabbage.

A few finished pics:

And, I am thrilled to report that Mira loves it and it has already made things easier for us.  Here’s a pic of Mira in her stander, which was easily rolled out of the house, down the ramp, and up to the sidewalk to take her for a walk:

mira in stander

We have been on the deck as much as we can.  And, we want to have people over!  We know that most people’s homes are not wheelchair accessible, and while it would be nice if they were, we don’t expect people to do these big projects just so we can come over.  But, we still want to party and so does Mira!  So come over and get in on that deck lyfe with us!

Be kind –

James

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