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Building An Accessible Garage

Return home to an easy to enter, easy to access home

A univeral designed garage built for accessibility

The garage is the place we arrive when we come home. Stroke survivors must consider the spatial demands of new accommodating equipment, such as adaptive automobiles, walkers, wheelchairs or power chairs. There is also a need for  orderliness and a clean garage area in order to avoid  tripping and a need for adequate lighting, as a poorly lit garage could impair balance.

A No-Step Entry, Ramp or Chair Lift

In new home home construction a no-step entry is one of the most basic accessibility requirements. The no-step entry is prefered at all entires but absolutely needs to be in the rear carport or garage entry.

If you are remodeling, the obvious alternative is a ramp. Ramps however require a long length and will  use up much of the alocated area. The ADA maximum slope of 1/12 is often too steep for independent use without a power chair, especially for a stroke survivor using a walker.

A rise of 1/24 (Rise 1' for every 24' length) is preferable for a less dramatic slope. Don't forget going down the ramp can be more dangerous than going up.  There needs to be a 4" high edge curb on the ramp so the wheels dont role off.

A good alternative to the ramp is a chair lift that has a gate but is not enclosed and requires about 6 square feet. These will raise from 6 inches to 12 feet. This is often the best solution on remodels, flood prone areas, or hilly locations where the garage may be at a  lower elevation. Make sure it has a battery backup as is usually standard.

An Accesible Entryway

A 5'x5' non skid, flat space should be adjacent to the no-step entry. This allows for a 5' wheelchair turning diameter, making it easier for the wheelchair user to maneuver. This area should be absolutely flat. I remember even the slightest slope would throw my Grandfather (who suffered a stroke) off balance.

You want entry doors to have a maximum half-inch threshold, so wheelchairs and walkers can maneuver easily into the house. There  also needs to be 2'-0" clearance on the lever side of the door for wheelchair footrest clearance allowing you to reach the door lever.

Door knobs throughout the home should be changed to levers if your home is a remodel. Lever handles are easier to open for everyone and are especially appreciated by those who had limited hand motion or arthritis.

For the sake of convenience, have a bench or table nearby, so you can set down bags and easily open the door. This can also prove a useful safety feature, as it provides stability for anyone entering the home.

Size, Space and Slope

Some building codes require that the garage door is 6" min. lower than the house entry door. This may still be a code requirement in your area so be sure to verify this. This is so fluids and gases won’t enter the house. In new construction, I slope the slab 1/4" per foot ( which is 1/48 slope). This lowers the garage door bottom 6" over a 24 foot length. So the 5'-0" flat entry of which we just discussed is at the door in front of the 24 foot sloping slab. For this reason I design  wheelchair accesible enclosed garages 30 feet deep, not the typical 24 feet. The additional space along the front of the sloping slab is used for garage storage, which is always appreciated.

The accessible garage or carport also needs to be larger than the average garage to allow room at the side of the car  for the  adaptive ramp. The reasoning is similar to  wider ADA parking stalls and serves the same purpose. A 5'space between cars may be sufficient between cars in a double garage, but  a 8' wide aisle is prefered. This allows for a 5 foot car ramp to lower to the garage slab and then 3' for the user  to turn the wheelchair towards either the house or garage door.

There should also be 2'-6" to 3' space on the non- wheelchair user side so the door does not hit the house wall or carport posts and allow room for sidewall  passage in the garage. In new construction I design a double car garage from 30-32 feet wide and a single car garage or carport should be minimum 14 feet wide but 16 feet is preferred. A 8' carport clearance or 8' high garage door is required as some adaptive vans require a higher top clearance. I prefer a side load garage for double load garages so as to minimize the larger garage massing from the front of the house.

Electrical Outlets and Lights

It is important that all electrical and mechanical switches in the garage be no higher than 42 inches above the floor in order to be usable for everyone, including the seated user. Access to the door opener and garage lights  all need to be within reach and within that 5'diameter at the entry that we discussed above. Make sure the electrical panel ( if in the garage) is accessible and free of clutter and has  a minimum 36" x 48"clear space in front of it for a side wheelchair approach. Electrical outlets  should be a minimum of 18-24 inches above the floor so they can be reached without bending.

Task lighting should be included at the entry area and directed towards the door and switches and not towards ones face. An illuminated garage door opener and light timed garage light unit should be selected and with a battery backup.

Adequate light throughout the garage is also critical. In a double car garage that is 30-32 feeet wide I specify a min of 6 evenly spaced 1'x6' vapor tight fluorescent fixtures. You may wish to insulate your garage walls and install  insulated garage doors. With proper lighting and the additional space in front of the cars the garage  also doubles up nicely as a workshop area.

By: © 2012 Charles M. Schwab, Architect and author: Universal Designed “Smart” Homes for the 21st Century, 102 home plans you can order and build., Visit website

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"Stroke Survivors must consider the spatial demands of new accommodating equipment, avoid tripping, and need adequate lighting."

About the Author

Charles M. Schwab graduated from the college of Architecture at CU Boulder. After graduation he became a caregiver for his 83-year-old Grandfather. It was after his Grandfather suffered a series of debilitating strokes that he realized that the typical American home did not meet the needs of the aging population, or people with disabilities.

Now Charles is an architect, speaker, author and one of America’s leaders in Universal Design, home modifications and access remodeling. His book, Universal Design “Smart" Homes for the 21st Century, is available online. Send questions to CharlesSchwab @UniversalDesignOnline.com.

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