I’m currently working with two different clients with a similar problem. They each have a family member who is unable to manage stairs, yet they live in homes that have elevated front entrances. The front door in one house is about 4’ above the ground, and the other home’s front door sits about 3’ above the ground. If they were to install ramps to bridge the elevation difference between sidewalk and front door that still retain a comfortable slope, the ramps would need to extend anywhere from 36’ – 40’. A ramp that long in a small front yard would most likely take up the entire area in front of the house.
There is an alternate option when dealing with elevated entrances: the porch lift (aka the vertical lift). A porch lift is a type of vertical platform lift which is normally installed outside to provide access to a porch or deck for a wheelchair or scooter user. Porch lifts are equipped with a short metal ramp at the lift’s entry point, which folds up when the lift is raised to provide a safety barrier that prevents the user from rolling off the lift platform while in use.
The user rolls onto the lift platform, presses the lift button to rise to the porch level, and then rolls off the lift onto the porch.
Porch Lift Features
Size and Capacity: Not all lifts are built equal when it comes to the weight they can hold. Before choosing a lift, know both the weight of the user, the weight of the wheelchair or scooter, and allow for any caregiver that might be along for the ride. Most lifts have a 600 lb capacity, although a few will carry as much as 750 lbs.
Travel heights: There are lifts that allow for only 3’ of travel and those that will allow for as much as 10’ of travel. Generally, you only need to purchase the shortest unit possible which will still give you the amount of travel height you need. Since these lifts need to sit on concrete pads, if you are within a couple of inches of a lift’s travel height, select the shorter lift and thicken the concrete pad accordingly.
Enclosures: While these lifts are built to be used outside regardless of weather, most customers want an enclosure to keep the lift and the user out of the weather while in use. Some of the lift companies offer enclosures, but it’s really much more practical to install some covering yourself – either a roof or awning over the lift itself or a full enclosure. Building codes will dictate the structure you can build.
Safety: When the lift platform is in the lowered position, there will be a dangerous drop off to the lift where the porch railing has been opened. A self-closing gate needs to be installed to prevent anyone from accidentally falling off the porch.
Controls: Porch lifts have small control panels on the lift platform itself that usually house an emergency stop switch, an up and down switch and a key switch which turns the power on. Because the unit will not work without the key being turned on, others cannot use the lift without the owner’s permission.
Some porch lifts include an option for call/send switches. These switches can be installed at the bottom and the top of the lift’s travel. Having a switch at the top allows the lift to be sent down when not in use to prevent debris or snow buildup under the platform. Having a switch at both ends is useful if there is more than one person using the lift.
A porch lift is a simple accessibility solution that doesn’t overwhelm your living environment or require extensive construction. It’s certainly an option worth investigating.