When I came home from the hospital after my spinal cord injury 10
years ago, my husband parked the car in our three-car garage, helped me
out into the wheelchair, then pushed me outside and around to the
temporary wooden ramp at the front door and up into our home. It seemed
odd coming into my home through the front door, typically reserved for
guests. But due to the three steps at the entry from the garage to the
laundry room, my typical route of entry into the house was no longer
Most of the time when a garage is attached to a home, there are
steps at the door between them. Building codes in many locations have
required this in order to prevent carbon monoxide produced from
gasoline engines from entering the home. I have found that many
building codes have changed and many variances are given when the
future occupants request that the garage floor be level to the entrance
of the home. As a precaution, the code may require additional outdoor
venting with an exhaust fan.
Another way to prevent carbon monoxide from entering the house is to
have a self-closing door. It’s always a good idea to have a carbon
monoxide alarm inside the home located near this entry. When the
building code allows a no-step entrance at the door between the garage
and the living space, it is possible to gradually slope the entire
garage floor from front to rear so that water drains away from the
house. When pouring the concrete, provide a level area at the entry to
When building codes restrict a no-step entrance, ramps are needed
for wheelchair access. I prefer a ramp sloped 1:20 over the commonly
used 1:12 slope. For every foot of height, there needs to be 20 feet of
ramp. Include a level landing at the top of the ramp.
Here are a few features to consider when designing a garage to make
it more accessible to people who use wheelchairs for mobility, as well
as modified vans, trucks and cars:
- A minivan or full-size van with a wheelchair ramp on the side will need the space of at least a one-and-a-half car garage.
- The interior space of the garage needs to be deep enough to accommodate a large van with rear-door openings.
- Height clearance must be adequate for the full size wheelchair van
with a raised roof. Include proper clearance of the motor housing for
the overhead garage door opener.
- Provide for enough floor clearance to allow a person in a wheelchair to travel around the parked vehicles in the garage.
- Install an electric overhead garage door opener with a remote control located at an accessible height for a seated person.
- Include motion sensor lighting with the garage door opener as well as on other lights in the garage.
- Skylights can provide additional day lighting as a safety factor.
- Add a long cord to the electric garage door opener emergency
release system so that a person seated in a wheelchair has access to
pulling the cord.
As we designed our new garage for the Universal Design Living Laboratory (www.udll.com),
we added a utility sink. This will come in handy for gardening purposes
as well as cleaning items too large to bring in the house. We also
included a door in the back of the garage that goes to the backyard.
This will save us many steps bringing items to and from the back patio
Since we will be storing many tools, gardening supplies, and
recreational equipment in our garage, we are installing cabinets,
organizers and work counters against the wall. We have selected Premier
Garage to supply and install these products to enhance our garage (www.premiergarage.com).
It is important to take into consideration the height of the countertop
as well as knee space that will be needed in order to work from a
seated position. There can be multiple heights of countertops (30 inch,
34 inch, 36 inch) included to accommodate various people’s needs.
Cabinets with full extension shelves and drawers will also need to be
installed at accessible heights.
If you look at the cost per square foot to build the garage versus
the cost per square foot to build a home, there is cost savings
involved in building a garage. As you analyze the items that you need
to store, consider the relative expense of storing them inside the home
versus in the garage. You can also create work areas in the garage when
the weather is mild and lighting is adequate. A garage can be
multifunctional, serving not only as a storage unit for your vehicles,
but also as an occasional shelter for informal parties that you host,
or place for you to tinker in your workshop.
Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D. is building a national model universal
design home in metropolitan Columbus, Ohio. To learn more about the
Universal Design Living Laboratory go to www.UDLL.com.
Contact Rosemarie with your ideas for future articles, questions, and accessible home problems she can solve at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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