Wheelchair Ramp or Platform Lift (VPL) – Which is Better?
If you need help accessing a porch or deck, you may wonder whether you should choose a ramp or platform lift. Both ramps and platform lifts have their strengths and weaknesses. We’ll review things to consider when deciding between a ramp and a platform lift to help you choose.
What is a Wheelchair Ramp?
Most people are familiar with wheelchair ramps – inclines used in place of staircases. We’ll focus on aluminum wheelchair ramps as they are the most durable (read our post here for more information about how to choose the right ramp).
Aluminum modular wheelchair ramps can be configured to fit many different spaces. They take little-to-no maintenance, and will last for decades.
What is a Platform Lift?
Platform lifts are usually seen in churches and restaurants. They look like elevators, with a platform that raises and lowers the user. They may be fully or partially enclosed, or may be completely open.
Despite usually appearing in commercial settings, platform lifts are great for home use. Platform lifts are sometimes called “porch lifts” because they provide access to porches and decks. They also work well for staircases in garages.
Wheelchair Ramp vs. Platform Lift: Factors to Consider
Ramp length varies based on how high the ramp needs to travel. According to ADA guidelines, ramps should follow a 1:12 ratio. This means that you should have 12 inches of ramp for every inch of rise. For example, if a home has three steps with a total rise of 21 inches, the ramp should be at least 21 feet long. ADA also requires a platform at the top and bottom of every ramp.
For small staircases with a few steps, ramps are great. However, with larger staircases (5 steps or more), you’ll end up with a very long ramp. Sometimes, there just is not enough space for the ramp. Other times, a homeowner may prefer not to have such a large ramp as it may take up too much space in the yard.
Platform lifts can travel up to 14 feet. The platform size remains consistent, regardless of staircase height. With a 3′ x 4′ platform (914 mm x 1219 mm), the total footprint is very small. Platform lifts are ideal for high rises (5 or more steps), small spaces, or when homeowners want a discrete solution.
Verdict: Ramps are perfect for small staircases; platform lifts are best for high rises or areas with limited space.
Regardless of where you live, both platform lifts and ramps can withstand the weather. Even so, climate can still impact which solution you choose.
A ramp is open to the elements, and requires the same care as any other outdoor walkway. In cold and snowy climates, you will need to clear snow and ice from your ramp. It is also subject to yard debris, such as leaves and branches, which could act as obstacles for the user.
Consider the user, as well. Whether it is sunny, snowy, or rainy, anyone using a ramp is exposed to the elements. If you have a short ramp, this is not an issue as the user will only be on the ramp for a matter of seconds. If you have a longer ramp, it may take a few minutes to travel up, making exposure to the elements undesirable.
A platform lift can be built with a cover or even an enclosed shaft, so the platform and user are protected at all times. In especially cold climates, you may opt for the “cold weather package”. Because of their small footprint, you can even install a platform lift in a garage. This provides ultimate shelter from the elements.
Verdict: Platform lifts can provide protection from the elements and may be better in harsh climates. In more moderate climates or when ramp length is very short, this may not be an issue.
It is important to consider who will be using the ramp or platform lift when deciding which to use.
Nearly anyone can feel comfortable using a platform lift . The platform can accommodate most mobility devices, including wheelchairs and scooters. Their simple paddle-switch controls are easy for users to operate. They can also be remotely-operated with call/send switches at the top and bottom landings.
Ramps can make it difficult to use some mobility devices. Power chairs and scooters work best with ramps as the device does most of the work. Manual wheelchairs, walkers, or rollators may be more challenging. When choosing a ramp, make sure that the user or caregiver is comfortable with the slope and distance. Short ramps may feel too steep for some, while others may find traveling the length of a long ramp to be too tiring.
Verdict: Platform lifts are easy for anyone to use, while ramps require more effort. Some users might be unable to use ramps – consider the primary user when making your choice.
Duration of Need
Platform lifts and ramps are both great options for long-term needs. But what if you only need something for a few months?
Modular aluminum wheelchair ramps are ideal for short-term rentals. Our experts design and assemble your ramp from a selection of existing pieces. Professional installation and removal can are fast – often just a few hours.
Platform lifts are usually best for long-term use, though there are portable models. Portable lifts are small and only work for short distances. They must be placed on firm, flat surfaces, like a patio or garage floor. If you have a space with a low rise and an existing concrete pad, you may be able to rent a platform lift. However, these limitations make platform lift rental difficult or impossible for most homeowners.
Verdict: Both platform lifts and ramps work for long-term needs. For temporary needs, ramps are often the better option.
While most people think a ramp is less expensive than a platform lift, this isn’t always the case. Cost will vary depending on the height and layout of your staircase, porch, or deck.
Ramp cost is based on the length of the ramp and the number of platforms. While exact pricing varies, a ramp to travel up 30″ often costs less than $6,000. As the ramp length and complexity increase, so does the cost.
A platform lift to travel up 4 feet (48″) usually starts around $6,000. Cost varies depending on make, model, additional features, and whether any site prep must be done (leveling ground, pouring concrete, etc.).
If you have a porch that is 36″ high and has a level concrete pad, a platform lift may be more cost-effective than a ramp.
Verdict: Ramps are more cost-effective for lower rises. Platform lifts may be more cost-effective when the rise is 36″ or higher.
If you live in a neighborhood with a Home Owner’s Association (HOA), you may have limited options. Some neighborhoods prohibit ramps, or only allow you to put them in your garage. Our experts can help you work with any local restrictions and find a solution for your home.
Even if you don’t have any restrictions, you may prefer the look of one over the other. Platform lifts are often more discrete since they can be enclosed or colored to match your home. Aluminum ramps have a clean and neat appearance, but often take up more space.
If you have a garage, you may prefer to install your ramp or platform lift there. Platform lifts fit in most garages and leave space to park your vehicle. Some ramps are too large to fit inside a garage.
Verdict: If curb appeal is a concern, you may prefer a VPL that is disguised to match your home or hidden in a garage.
If you need a solution to help overcome a staircase or access a raised porch or deck, 101 Mobility can help. We sell and install ramps and platform lifts to fit any home. Contact us today for your free consultation, and our experts will find the solution for you!