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June 05, 2009

Designing an Accessible Garage

Ah-garage 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 accessible.

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 the home.

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 (, 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 areas.

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 ( 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

Contact Rosemarie with your ideas for future articles, questions, and accessible home problems she can solve at:


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