Volume 48, Issue 4 - June/July/August 2009


Hard Scapes™

Ramp it Up

Decking and Railing Materials Can be Used for a Variety of Applications, Not Just Outdoor Spaces
by Samantha Carpenter, editor of Shelter magazine.

William Orsi has built many ramps for both commercial and residential properties, but the owner of the deck building company, Deck Builders 4 Hire in Richmond, Va., says his favorite accessibility ramp was built for an area church in order to provide its physically challenged members easy access to enter.

For the project, Orsi used pressure-treated Southern yellow pine, concrete pier blocks and hot-dipped galvanized hardware (nails, bolts, washers, etc.). The project took him approximately two days, and he says ramps are usually straight-forward projects, but these types of projects do give him great pleasure.

“Instead of it being something for just one person, for instance, it will provide a greater service for many people, of various age groups,” Orsi says.

There is a market for materials usually used for decking and railing systems for aging-in-place and Americans with Disabilities (ADA) applications.

According to the National Aging in Place Council, “The entry to [a] home is [its] connection to the rest of the world … Barrier-free entryways make it easier for a family member or friend who uses a wheelchair, or a grandchild who’s on crutches because they’ve broken a leg or twisted an ankle, to gain access to [a] home.”

Many of you are already distributing outdoor products, including railings and decking, but you may not know that many of these products aren’t only used for decks but they can be used to build accessibility ramps to make a barrier-free entrance to a home or business.

If you aren’t familiar with the different attributes of the outdoor products you sell or distribute, then you could be missing out on a potential market.

“I think [constructing ramps] is an opportunity for contractors that maybe they haven’t thought of, especially contractors that have built decks,” says Huck DeVenzio, manager of marketing/communications for Arch Wood Protection in Smyrna, Ga. “Ramps aren’t that much different than a deck. With the ADA laws, there’s a need for ramps on a lot of buildings.”

Jerry Tracy, a sales representative for Fiberon products, located in Columbus, Ohio, backs up what DeVenzio says.

Tracy says his company, which manufactures a composite decking product, started using it mainly in commercial applications, but lately he has seen the product being used more in residential work.

“I had a builder who just called me up last week in Columbus that is going to put in a ramp,” he says.


Product Advantages
With any building project, companies say there are advantages to using different types of materials, such as treated wood, vinyl or composite products.

Wood proponents tout its products’ durability, rot resistance and more.

“Wood makes a good choice and treated wood is the sensible choice because you don’t have to worry about it rotting or collapsing,” DeVenzio says.

Richard Kleiner, director of pressure treated markets with the Southern Forest Products Association in Kenner, La., says treated wood has been used in access ramps because it has high strength and treatability.

“Most access ramps are usually installed in the weather and treated Southern pine has excellent resistance to rot and other pests that attack wood, such as termites. Treated Southern pine will last decades,” he says.

He does say that the species of wood used on these types of projects is a regional preference.

“Generally codes are going to require some sort of treated wood or a naturally durable wood like a cedar that can be very expensive. Southern treated pine is economical, widely available, easy to work with and doesn’t take any special tools,” he adds.

There are also wood products available that aren’t treated with chemicals.

Ron Long is president of Purewood in Kansas City, Mo., one such wood decking company.

“People like wood and working with it, and we make a little bit thicker board that’s 1 1/4-inch thick instead of standard decking that is 7/8- to 1-inch thick,” Long explains. “It’s a little bit beefier deck board. It’s a non-toxic, chemical-free outdoor wood product.”

Vinyl and composite decking materials also have their benefits, and most companies plug the products’ low-maintenance qualities.


The Low-Maintenance Appeal
Deron Manwaring, national marketing and sales manager for Royal Outdoor Products in Milford, Ind., says his company had one of the first vinyl deck products on the market.

“When it was designed it had codes in mind and especially ADA codes, such as slip resistance on any kind of ramp or the space between the boards,” Manwaring says. “Most of the ramps that are used are used in places and facilities that want to keep their maintenance to a minimum, and products that they don’t have to replace. Our decking has a great surface for ramps, but most of those ramps need railings to go along with it, and a vinyl railing system makes sense as it needs minimal maintenance, too.”

“TimberTech offers a 25-year limited warranty on the product, so those homeowners who are looking to design with the future in mind know they aren’t going to spend as much time as compared to a pressure-treated deck,” explains Rob Foster, TimberTech’s spokesperson. “It becomes a very low-maintenance option for them, and it can provide a greater benefit over a period of time. All the decking products are ADA-compliant for slip resistance.”

Foster says hidden fasteners are also important.

“These decks are grooved and allow for hidden fasteners, which are really important because with regular pressure-treated lumber, most decks are secured by nail and/or screw and with those boards expanding and contracting with the heat and the water, the fasteners can possibly pop out—and that’s about the last thing you want to have on a ramp when you are on a wheelchair. The possibility of having the concealed fastener is very important in terms of safety,” Foster says.

Not so Slick
Jodene Wheeler, marketing representative at CertainTeed in Valley Forge, Pa., for railing and decks, says because the company’s product is vinyl, there is not a lot of maintenance that is involved with it. “For a commercial project, our product is guaranteed for 30 years,” she says.

“Our products are used in a variety of places because they are vinyl. The deck material is cool to the touch and is very textured, [so it’s perfect for] someone that is a little unsteady on their feet or a wheelchair is needed,” Wheeler says. “When some people think of vinyl, they think plastic and think when it gets wet it is going to get real slippery, but our product is very slip-resistant.”

Brent Gwatney, vice president of sales and marketing for MoistureShield in Springdale, Ark., also boasts of the low-maintenance benefits of his company’s product.

“You aren’t going to have the standard maintenance you are going to have with a wood product. You are still going to have to wash and clean it, but you aren’t going to have to replace it, but it’s not going to wear like a treated lumber deck that’s wood in the same amount of time,” Gwatney says.

He says that his company’s product is used in a number of ramp projects, but he explains that these projects aren’t always without headaches.

“We do quite a few of them and there is some confusion out there on ADA Guidelines or what they would call acceptable. ADA doesn’t have … an official slip-resistant test, but they have recommendations. And while some products don’t meet the slip-resistance recommendations, it doesn’t mean that they don’t meet slip-resistance coding. So it can be confusing at times, and it depends on who you work with and in what area of the country,” Gwatney explains.

And Gwatney is exactly right. There are American with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG), but they are not binding on private residences. However, the ADAAG provides important guidance for building a residential ramp. When these requirements are used in the residential code, they are often the same or less stringent than the guidelines (see sidebar on page 18 for the ADAAG ramp instructions).

But codes and guidelines aside, if a customer comes in asking whether your decking and railing products can be used for aging-in-place and ADA-compliant applications, you can simply say, “yes.”

Southern Pine Ramp to the Rescue
An energetic group of volunteers, affiliated with the Home Builders Association (HBA) of Greater New Orleans, teamed up to construct a complex ramp. The ramp helped an elderly stroke victim confined to a wheelchair finally be able to safely enter and exit his home.

The Southern Forest Products Association (SFPA) worked with the local HBA and its Remodeler’s Council to ensure proper building practices and selection of durable materials. SFPA member Elder Wood Preserving donated the wood products for the entire project – all pressure-treated Southern pine. The bi-level ramp design specified No. 2 treated Southern pine 2 by 8s and 4 by 4 posts for the framing and standard radius-edge decking on the surface. The sturdy railing adds a nice finishing touch to the ramp.

“Using a versatile product such as treated Southern pine greatly simplified the construction process,” says SFPA’s Eric Gee: “Unlike other plastic and composite materials, treated Southern Pine requires no special tools or skills.”

ADAAG for Ramps

The following information can be found in the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG). As stated in the main article, these requirements are usually more stringent than are required in many residential codes. You can print a PDF copy of guidelines for ramps and other structures at http://www.access-board.gov/adaag/ADAAG.pdf.

4.8 Ramps.
4.8.1* General. Any part of an accessible route with a slope greater than 1:20 shall be considered a ramp and shall comply with 4.8.
4.8.2* Slope and Rise. The least possible slope shall be used for any ramp. The maximum slope of a ramp in new construction shall be 1:12. The maximum rise for any run shall be 30 in (760 mm). Curb ramps and ramps to be constructed on existing sites or in existing buildings or facilities may have slopes and rises as allowed in 4.1.6(3)(a) if space limitations prohibit the use of a 1:12 slope or less.
4.8.3 Clear Width. The minimum clear width of a ramp shall be 36 in (915 mm).
4.8.4* Landings. Ramps shall have level landings at bottom and top of each ramp and each ramp run. Landings shall have the following features:
(1) The landing shall be at least as wide as the ramp run leading to it.
(2) The landing length shall be a minimum of 60 in (1525 mm) clear.
(3) If ramps change direction at landings, the minimum landing size shall be 60 in by 60 in (1525 mm by 1525 mm).
(4) If a doorway is located at a landing, then the area in front of the doorway shall comply with 4.13.6.
4.8.5* Handrails. If a ramp run has a rise greater than 6 in (150 mm) or a horizontal projection greater than 72 in (1830 mm), then it shall have handrails on both sides. Handrails are not required on curb ramps or adjacent to seating in assembly areas. Handrails shall comply with 4.26 and shall have the following features:
(1) Handrails shall be provided along both sides of ramp segments. The inside handrail on switchback or dogleg ramps shall always be continuous.
(2) If handrails are not continuous, they shall extend at least 12 in (305 mm) beyond the top and bottom of the ramp segment and shall be parallel with the floor or ground surface.
(3) The clear space between the handrail and the wall shall be 1 - 1/2 in (38 mm).
(4) Gripping surfaces shall be continuous.
(5) Top of handrail gripping surfaces shall be mounted between 34 in and 38 in (865 mm and 965 mm) above ramp surfaces.
(6) Ends of handrails shall be either rounded or returned smoothly to floor, wall, or post.
(7) Handrails shall not rotate within their fittings.
4.8.6 Cross Slope and Surfaces. The cross slope of ramp surfaces shall be no greater than 1:50. Ramp surfaces shall comply with 4.5.
4.8.7 Edge Protection. Ramps and landings with drop-offs shall have curbs, walls, railings, or projecting surfaces that prevent people from slipping off the ramp. Curbs shall be a minimum of 2 in (50 mm) high.
4.8.8 Outdoor Conditions. Outdoor ramps and their approaches shall be designed so that water will not accumulate on walking surfaces.

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