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Design Considerations in Walkways, Steps, Fencing and Yards

Worksite Redesign Technical Advisory Project

Designs of group home exteriors must address the ingress and egress of the staff and residents. Transfers and transitions require careful management of ramps, thresholds, steps, parking areas and walkways.
  • Eliminate stairs whenever possible
  • Provide handrails at all risers, maximum height 33"
  • Provide guardrails on all elevated surfaces, minimum 42"
  • Sidewalks 60" plus are ideal, 36" wide are a minimum. Infill inside corners at turns
  • Maintain level grade and transitions between all walking surfaces and surrounding areas
  • Provide adequate lighting along all walking areas
  • Keep lighting low and diffused
  • Maintain all walking surfaces with regular cleaning and inspection
  • Provide for drainage to keep water from accumulating on walking surfaces
  • Changes in surface texture, material or color, accentuate transitions
  • Provide a storage place for tools, hoses, outdoor furniture and equipment
  • Fencing needs to be designed to address the privacy and security needs of the home
  • Do not create hiding areas or places staff can become trapped or cornered
  • Fencing must not prevent residents or staff from reaching a safe zone in the event of a fire
  • If smoking is permitted on the premises:
    • Provide fire suppression equipment
    • Address second-hand smoke issues
  • Covered loading areas are desirable
  • Provide protection for staff and residents from vehicles entering walks-use curbs, bumpers, posts or rails
  • Ensure that sidewalks and paved areas are flat, well-drained and free of tripping edges. Sidewalks ideally would be 42" wide and up to 60" (recommended), depending on the extent of assistance necessary for safety. The wider sidewalk surface is recommended to accommodate the width of the resident equipment and staff attendant.
  • Ensure that water from drains, condensate lines, and irrigation systems does not discharge on walking surfaces. Standing water on these surfaces, especially in winter, presents icing conditions. Water alone makes for slipping conditions.
    • Keep free from all debris
    • Loading areas should be well-lit
    • Ideally, these areas should be covered. If covered, lighting becomes even more essential
    • Identify walkways with reflective devices
    • Maintain level transitions between walks and paving, lawns and parking areas
Stairs and Steps
  • Stairs should be as wide as practical. Within the confines of the existing structure design, all efforts should be made to give staff the benefit of adequate space and clearance on staircases. Stairs present particular danger since loads are being carried or transferred in many instances.
    • Minimum tread width of 10" and a maximum rise of 7" should be used
    • Stairs must be well-lit
    • Non-skid surfacing
    • Well-braced handrails on both sides of the steps
    • Provide handrails at all risers
Decks and Patios
  • Decks and patios present problems with storage, obstructions, and surfacing. Typically decks are made of wood construction, which in wet areas of the state present extreme hazards if not steam- and brush-cleaned frequently. Mold and water cause slippery conditions which will require frequent inspection and cleaning.
    • Non-skid surfacing may need to be applied to provide grip for walking and wheelchairs or other transport needs, especially on wooden ramps
    • Patios must be wide enough to accommodate furniture without impeding pathways
    • Furniture must be kept out of the way of doorways, door landings and all egress points, including windows
Fencing and Yards
  • It is necessary to provide adequate yard space for therapeutic and aesthetic purposes while assuring a safe, even-surfaced space, which allows residents and staff freedom and obstacle-free movement. Fences should be well-maintained and secured.
    • Avoid concealed or hiding spaces
    • Provide storage for hoses, lawn furniture, and garden tools
    • Keep walks and patio areas clear of obstacles and clutter
    • Ensure fences do not obstruct egress or keep residents from reaching the safe area in case of fire
    • Grass is the preferred surface over chips outside of walkways, especially in behavioral homes
    • Rocks are discouraged in landscaping
    • Wood fences are preferred over cyclone fences. Cyclone fences provide finger and toe holds and encourage climbing, and have very sharp edges which present hazards

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Enclosed yard, no gate.


  • All stairs must have rails 32" to 34" above tread, and extending 6" beyond nose of the last tread
  • A guardrail would improve safe use of this deck
  • Periodic cleaning and pressure-washing prevent slippery conditions
  • Lights are required outside all exterior doors

  • A 36" wide landing would reduce risk of falling on stairway
  • Wooden steps must be maintained, use non-skid surfacing on treads
  • Handrail is too large to allow safe gripping--1 3/4" diameter maximum  
  • Stairs need opposing handrails
  • Optimum diameter for a handrail is 1 3/4 inches to be gripped effectively
  • Rug poses a tripping hazard, and should be replaced with flat, walk-off mat with beveled edges
  • Sidewalk to the entry is in good repair, edges are level with the yard, and surface is well-maintained


  • Maintain the area around egress doors to keep paths clear and unobstructed
  • Rug on this sidewalk may pose a tripping hazard
  • Condensation from the heat pump drains onto the sidewalk, creating a slip-and-fall hazard
  • Do not store chairs or other furniture on the sidewalk 


North A Street

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Pioneer Pike
  • Covered entry keeps the loading area dry and protected from the elements
  • Concrete bumper protects ramp from vehicles
  • Good transition ramp, 60" wide with a curb and rail to assist staff and residents with balance
  • Elevated edge of the sidewalk is a tripping hazard-should be ramped, or curbed and provided with a rail
  • Good overhead lighting activated by a motion sensor
  • Recycling should be relocated to keep ramp open

  • Entry to parking lot and sidewalks is level and accessible
  • Unloading can occur at the covered entry quickly, with less exposure of staff and residents to the elements
  • Large box lights on 15' poles placed to illuminate the parking area may also intrude on neighbors
  • The grade away from the house helps direct water into a catch basin in the parking lot 
  • Do not place furniture or other objects in front of egress doors
  • Hoses pose tripping hazards-use hose stands and reels
  • Good illumination outside all exit doors
  • Area drain makes cleaning and maintenance of courtyard/patio easy
  • Smoking area too close to door and poorly maintained

48th Street

  • Wooden decks and walks present problems-wet wood becomes slippery and fasteners can fail
  • Non-skid strips or coatings should be installed on all wooden ramps and decks
  • Provide handrails and guardrails at all edges
  • Inspect surfaces frequently and pressure-wash as needed 


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Pioneer Pike
  • Tapered entry to the patio door supports access to the patio by mobility- and sight-impaired residents
  • Entry should be kept open and clear of obstructions
  • Screen door may present an impediment to free passage into the house
  • Windows within 18" of grade or within 12" of doors must be tempered glass

  • Good transitions from walks to house
  • Keep walk open and maintain level edge between yard and sidewalks
  • Patio door is blocked by storage-items must be stored appropriately
  • Special considerations must be made for smoking area-addressing fire and respiratory health
  • Covered area well-lit and good for outside activities
  • Glazed double door enables staff to maintain visual contact with residents; wide entry accommodates side-by-side ambulation and wheelchair access
  • Traffic paths should be free from obstructions-chairs and cigarette cans should be removed from path
  • It is necessary to keep smoke from entering the house, and to have a fire suppression plan


  • Good level transition from porch to yard
  • Large windows help staff maintain visual contact with residents in the yard
  • Porch used for smoking; prevention of smoke entering the home and fire suppression are important issues 

Oak Street

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East 15th Avenue
  • Fence designed to make it difficult to scale
  • Large yard space provides a safe, secure area for therapeutic movement and freedom
  • Staff can maintain visual contact with residents from anywhere on the porch or in the yard
  • Yard is easy to maintain-level and free of obstacles

East 15th Aveue
  • A handrail should be added to the stairs on the porch
  • Add lighting at stairs and sidewalks, possibly on fence posts
  • Broken walks and uneven pavement create tripping hazards
  • Patch walks as needed, and eliminate the half step with a 1:12 ramp
  • Historically-registered home fits into the University neighborhood 
  • Fence within a fence developed in response to needed privacy requirements
  • Egress requirements are met and privacy issues addressed
  • Yard is flat and free of any dangerous objects
  • Outside view of a three-railed security fence-boards are screwed to the rails and the fence is 7' tall. Placing the rails on the outside prevents climbing
  • Fence provides secure and free movement in the yard by residents and staff
  • Yard open and level, providing no concealed areas
  • Large fenced yard allows reaching a safe distance from the home for fire safety 

Oak Street

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Dean Avenue
  • These pictures are of the same home. All of the transitions are managed and have no edges that might cause tripping

  • Provide lighting for all exterior walking surfaces 
    Contrasting finishes for walkways and driveways support the sight impaired
  • Lighting of walks, parking and grounds placed low to the ground to reduce glare
  • Open-faced yard and grounds allow freedom of resident movement while allowing visual monitoring
  • Regular maintenance and inspections reduce slip-and-fall

Dean Avenue

Good Path 

Bad Path

Inside corners of sidewalks must accommodate the turning radius of wheelchairs and other wheeled vehicles.
  • Good transition from the sidewalk to the entry way is pictured here
  • Walks must be kept clear of obstacles
  • Sliding gate would make access better for all users
  • Uneven grade along most of the porch length. A curb and rail added between porch posts would help protect users


  • Unramped stairs are difficult for anyone with a gait disturbance and difficult for a caregiver to assist a resident
  • Lawn grade does not meet the cement path, allowing for tripping and falling. Path does not have adequate horizontal space for side-by-side ambulation
  • Provide handrail at all risers and guardrails along the walks
  • Eliminate or contain vegetation growing into the walk 


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  • Keep walkways clear and open, and keep vegetation trimmed back
  • Garden hoses pose a tripping hazard and must be stored away from walks
  • No yard lighting illuminates this area-a dangerous condition in a night-time emergency

  •  Keep stored outdoor furniture and garden tools away from entries and off the walkways
  • Light source for this patio is a high, wall-mounted sconce (between double bedroom entry doors) that causes deep shadows and a glare at night
  • Transitions are well-managed in this home
  • These walks and ramps are 60" and quite adequate

48th Street

  • Good rolling surface

    Bad rolling surface

    Privacy fencing for open porch and bedrooms at one end of the house
  • 48" wide walk with inside corners "flared" to help when turning wheelchairs
  • Rocks used as a border may present a hazard
  • Walkway lighting provided by a wall-mounted sconce that casts the light downward

48th Street
  • Hard surfaces like VCT or sheet vinyl are preferable in locations where wheelchairs or rolling equipment will be used
  • Level transition between sidewalk, entry and parking, with contrasting surface finishes, defines walkways and parking areas
  • Covered porch reduces the time staff and residents are exposed to the elements
  • Low ballard light fixtures reduce glare and direct light where it is needed in the parking area
  • Large clear numbers on the house help emergency personnel find the home quickly. A colored light at the street can help speed location

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  • Good access, parking and lighting plan
  • Tall garage permits loading and unloading in a secure space if needed
  • Property is enclosed by fence, with gates at exits
  • Transitions are level and even
  • Low lights illuminate walks and paths at the house and parking areas 

Oak Street
  • Parking is a major consideration for group homes. Staff and residents can be put at risk if the space is not well-designed and adequate size
  • Parking areas must be well-lit, with provisions for traffic volume and patterns
  • Edges and transitions must be flat and level
  • Runoff water from all sources must be well-drained

Oak Street

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