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Home & garden.

12 November 2021

Ramps and rails for the home

Grab rails are an inexpensive way to provide extra confidence when moving around the house. And if getting into and out of your home is a challenge, fitting a ramp could help.
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Which?Editorial team

Fitting a ramp

If you have limited mobility and there are steps into your home, then it may be necessary to use a ramp. Here are some important considerations to bear in mind.

  • Ramps can be permanent or portable: the best option will depend on your requirements. It may also depend on the owner of the property, because landlords have to give permission for installation. Read more below on the pros and cons of permanent and portable options.
  • The height of the steps: this will have an impact on the length and gradient (steepness) of the ramp. Gradient can be calculated by dividing the height of the ramp by the length of the ramp. It’s recommended that a ramp should have a gradient of at least 1:12 for a person self-propelling. For example, for every 30cm of height, the ramp should be 360cm long.
  • A steeper gradient: this could be considered if the person has assistance and there isn’t the space to accommodate a longer ramp. Bear in mind that it could be a hazard for both walking and assisted wheelchair use if it’s too steep. A recommended gradient would be no less than 1:8.

Whatever ramp you opt for, ensure it has a non-slip surface and, if commissioning a self-build ramp, ensure it has upturned edges to prevent wheelchair users from rolling over the sides.

When to install a permanent ramp

Permanent ramps are usually installed if a property is regularly used by a person who uses a wheelchair or mobility scooter. This may be a necessary adaptation to make to your home, but you could also consider a portable ramp if it will only be used occasionally.

Permanent ramps can be made from timber or concrete. There are also modular ramps that can be adapted to suit different locations.

A permanent ramp should have a level platform at the top, so that the wheelchair can safely stop while the door is being opened. A handrail can also provide additional safety for people walking to the door, but usually the best option is to consider retaining steps at the side of the ramp to provide alternative access.

Be aware that permanent ramps can be expensive and may take up a lot of space, as they will need to meet the recommended gradient requirements. Planning permission may be required, depending on the property, so make sure you research the subject before you make any decisions.

If you require a permanent solution, but a ramp isn’t suitable (for example, if space is an issue), an outdoor wheelchair platform lift could be a better option.

Portable ramps

If a permanent ramp isn’t suitable or necessary, there is a wide range of portable alternatives to consider. These are made of lighter materials and are usually less expensive than permanent options. 

  • Suitcase ramps are designed to be easier to carry.
  • Roll-up ramps are a good option if storage space is an issue.
  • Broad ramps, threshold ramps and oversill ramps are also available.

When choosing a portable ramp, consider where and how the ramp will be used. Will you need a ramp that allows you into and out of a vehicle, or will it only be used for home access? What type of wheelchair and/or mobility scooter will it need to accommodate? Also, check the weight that the ramp can safely handle, because some powered wheelchairs and mobility scooters can be very heavy.

Portable modular ramps and handrails are also available, providing a wide range of access options for different types of buildings and entrances.

For more guidance on making home adaptations to improve accessibility, read our guide to getting help with home adaptations

Where to buy ramps

  • Which? Trusted Traders endorses tradespeople and companies who supply mobility equipment or specialise in home adaptations for people with mobility needs. Search for ‘Disability and mobility’ providers in your area on the website.
  • The Living Made Easy website has a selection of reviews of portable ramps.
  • Prominent ramps specialists include Ramp People and Portaramp.

What are grab rails for?

If you often need to hold on to furniture and the walls when you move around the home, it’s a sign that you probably need more support. Grab rails (also known as grab bars) provide extra confidence when negotiating steps or stairs, or when changing position and needing leverage, such as when getting into and out of the bath.

There’s a wide range of rails available in various shapes, sizes and materials. Here are a few rules of thumb when considering which rails will be best suited for your needs:

Wooden rails

These work well for the stairs, as you can get them cut to shape and they can be joined to provide a continuous run. The normal cylindrical shape provides a good grip for most hands. You can also paint them to match your decor.

Metal newel-post rails

These are strong rails that fix on to the newel post, usually positioned at the bottom of the stairs. They have a twisted design, which turns 90 degrees around the post, so you don’t need to let go at any point. It’s excellent for supporting you until you can get a grip on the main stair rail or banister.

Straight metal grab rails

You can buy metal rails in different lengths. They’re typically available in white, but you can find different colours if required. Generally, a 300-450mm rail works well at the front door or at level changes around the home - for example, a step up or down between rooms.

Plastic grab rails

These work best in the bathroom, particularly around the bath and shower area. Added advantages of plastic rails are that they can have a raised surface to prevent wet hands from slipping. They can also be modular in design and be joined together to create a continuous rail, which can be designed to flow around a corner.

Bathroom grab rails

The bathroom is the most obvious place for support rails, as people are moving into and out of the bath or shower, where it can be wet and slippery. Plastic rails are the safest option in a wet area, especially if you choose one with a raised grip to prevent hands from slipping.

Rails in the bathroom should always be positioned horizontally or vertically, never at an angle. Horizontal rails work well to lead into an area - for example, a shower - or for pushing up on from sitting on the toilet.

Vertical rails work well when the person is standing but needs a handhold when carrying out an activity - for example when adjusting clothing at the toilet or for balance in the shower.

Our article on Bathroom adaptations offers more guidance on how to make using your bathroom safer and easier.

Rails for the stairs

If you need additional support on the stairs and have only one rail, then consider installing a second one. Match the new rail to the same height as the rail on the opposite side. If this rail feels too high or too low for you, adjust it accordingly.

It should run the length of the stairs, and best practice would be to butt and join the ends when the rail needs to run around a corner or up a second flight. This will provide continuous support and look neater, too. The rail should also extend beyond the bottom and top of the stairs to provide a handhold on the level surface.

Grab rails for front and back doors

Put rails next to the front and back door if there are steps leading up to them, as well as on uneven paths or steps within the garden area. They are especially important if the area becomes slippery in wet weather.

For doors with a wooden frame, position a rail on the frame itself, close to the door. However, rails can’t be fixed onto UPVC door frames, which are frequently found in modern homes. In this case, you’ll need to fix the grab rail to the adjacent wall, which can make it more difficult to find a good position close enough to the door to provide support when negotiating the doorstep.

How to fix grab rails

Rails are generally fixed onto a wall, but if the wall’s not strong enough to do this safely, you can find rails that are attached to both the wall and floor, or to the floor alone.

Solid brick or block walls will provide a good fixing, but it may be difficult to get a good, solid fixing on a plasterboard wall. Your builder should be able to advise, and you may need to consider a backing board, which can provide a more solid base but may look less attractive. 

Many local councils provide a handyperson service, which might be a good way to find someone to help with installing rails for you. Which? Trusted Traders can also help you find a reliable local trader.

Where you shouldn’t fit grab rails 

You shouldn’t fix rails to a bathroom floor that has been sealed and made waterproof, as it will destroy the seal and potentially become costly to repair. Similarly, floor fixings aren’t suitable when there is underfloor heating in the bathroom.