Best floor for a wheelchair

What is the best floor for a wheelchair user?

If you have a wheelchair user in your home, you have probably thought about what kind of flooring is the best floor for a wheelchair. You want something that is slip-resistant, but also some surface that would allow the wheels to roll freely.  You want something that is easy to clean and will look nice for as long as possible. The ADA accessibility guidelines and the Accessible Design Guidelines can help make appropriate flooring choices.

Slip Resistance

Slip resistant floors are those which have a friction coefficient of around .5, according to flooring manufacturers.  These include hardwood floors, laminate floor boards, some kinds of ceramic tiles and vinyl inlaid tiles and sheet vinyl.  Look at the manufacturer’s information about material specifications to find the friction coefficient for slip resistance if you are not sure.

Read about Slippery Ramps.

Wood Flooring 

Wood floors have been around for a long time. They are durable, long lasting, look great and work quite well for wheelchairs. Just be sure if you go outside that your wheels are clean when you return. Dirty wheels can wear and scratch the surface.

Standard wood flooring is normally ¾” thick, unfinished and can be rather expensive to install and finish correctly. If you’re looking for the best floor for a wheelchair, there may be a more affordable way to go.

Laminate Wood Flooring

When looking for laminate wood flooring the very first question you should ask is “What is the AC Rating for this floor?”  The European Producers of Laminate Flooring (EPLF) has developed the Abrasion Rating System also called AC Rating. Every laminate is rated based on a series of rigorous tests, including abrasion test, burn resistance, impact resistance, stain resistance, and swelling under moist conditions. EPLF adopted a standard based rating which helps buyers understand the differences in durability among laminate flooring products.  For higher traffic or for heavy users, choose the higher AC number.  The laminate flooring that is AC3 /23 Heavy Residential is good for all residential applications. And the AC3 /31 Moderate Commercial is ideal for all residential applications plus light commercial such as hotel rooms or small offices.  These should work for wheelchair, power wheelchairs, and walker users.

Vinyl Flooring

Vinyl flooring is a good choice because it is easy to maintain and water resistant.  Inlaid sheet vinyl and tiles are more likely to be slip-resistant than sheet vinyl flooring.  Vinyl tiles which have a foam backing are also slip-resistant and they install   like laminate flooring boards; however, these are higher priced materials.  Also, it is easier to replace a few vinyl tiles if there is damage to them, than to replace a whole-room of sheet vinyl.  Vinyl is easy to clean also. If you do get a black scuff mark on vinyl, just use a soft pencil eraser and rub off the mark.

Ceramic Tiles

Ceramic tiles are more water-resistant than hardwood or laminates. The ideal tile size is 2 inches square. With a 2-inch tiled floor, there are enough grout lines to improve traction.  Larger tiles are more fragile and likely to crack under the weight of a wheelchair. Tiles with greatly textured surfaces are more slip-resistant than smooth, slick surfaces.  If ceramic tiles are in a bathroom, kitchen or any area around water, residents need to take precautions about slipping.

Some believe this is not the best floor for a wheelchair.  That’s what takes ceramic tiles off my list of top choices for flooring in homes of patients and caregivers.

Carpeting

Carpeting has some advantages and disadvantages for wheelchair users, depending on the kind and pile.   Carpets with a  high pile won’t let the wheels roll easily.  A  very low pile carpet or a commercial carpet made for high traffic would be the best kind for wheelchair users. Carpeting should be firmly attached to the sub-floor and have a pile less than 1/2-inch high.  Often wheelchair users find that the carpet’s seams do not stay secured and form humps and bumps.  Durability is also an issue; wheelchairs are heavy and can make “tracks” in the carpet. Carpets are not good in areas where water is present. On the other hand, carpets are easy to vacuum and may be professionally cleaned.  The best choice for those who want carpet may be to use commercial carpet tiles which are glued down. Commercial carpet tiles have a firm face and a vinyl backing, and no padding is required.

 

The quality of installation of any of these products makes a big difference in how they perform over time.  Tiles or laminate boards which come unglued and pop-up or crack are safety hazards for everyone. Carpets which bunch or tear are barriers.  Hardwood floors can be slippery when wet and can swell and buckle, which are safety risks.   To get the best floor for a wheelchair, find a responsible installer and get a warranty on an appropriate product when you buy flooring.

13 thoughts on “Best Floor for a Wheelchair

  1. Very Useful Article!

  2. Thank you for the kind response Barbara.

  3. My wife is in a wheelchair and we have carpet in our master bedroom which is not working very well. I have inquired about hardwood but it is very expressive. I also inquired about tile and it also is expensive. Do you have any other ideas that we can do. Our house is mostly hardwood.

    Thank you
    Mr. James Panzullo

  4. Thank you for your comment Mr. Panzullo,
    There are several options that you might consider.
    1. A good quality vinyl may be a good choice because it’s more affordable, quite durable and cleans up easily. It comes in sheets or squares with many choices of colors and patterns. But be careful. Make sure what you get is slip resistant.
    2. A commercial grade low-pile carpet might work. They’re usually made for heavy traffic and the short pile should be easier to roll on. However, you may want to try it out somewhere before you commit to install.
    3.If you have a slab foundation (you mentioned tile) you might also consider removing your carpet and cleaning and refinishing the cement slab. You can even stain the floor to your choice of colors and finish.

    There are many choices in today’s flooring market. I have only mentioned a couple. It might be best to check with you local Flooring store or even a big box store like Home Depot to see all your options and costs.

  5. Great advice! I use a Rolator (rolling walker with breaks) due to balance and coordination disability. Wheelchair is in my future, but now I need soft, padded, and durable as well. Falls are highly possible, so padding is important. Currently the carpet we have has wrinkled looks awful as well as creating more fall risks. I was thinking about a kind of indoor outdoor flooring. Used in schools, but need padding. Any ideas? Of course expense is important.

  6. Well Jogi, there’s a lot of things happening in your situation. Let me just make a few points.

    -It would be best to adapt a plan of “fall prevention” instead of “surviving a fall”. You asked for the best carpet to help when you fall. Consider that fall injuries usually involve striking home furniture or bath and kitchen appliances.

    -If you use thick padded carpet, it may prevent easy use of a wheelchair, making mobility difficult. A wheelchair may become your best fall prevention plan at some point in the future. So a very low-pile carpet will be best for the wheelchair but not so good for an accidental fall,.. and vice-versa. I don’t know of one that does both well.

    -Wrinkled carpet is a trip hazard everyone, whether mobility impaired or not.

    So, I think it’s best to evaluate every room of the house for fall hazards and make the necessary changes to reduce the risks as much as you can. If necessary, use a wheelchair when you need to.

    I believe preventing a fall could be a good first priority.

  7. My 96 year old mother lives in a condo in an independent adult retirement community with concrete slab floors. A recent pipe leak destroyed her existing low pile carpet and we are looking for the best floor covering replacement. Mom uses a walker, is very hard of hearing, and has taken several falls despite the walker (she gets mini blackouts). She will not use a wheelchair. What type of floor covering should we consider? Would carpet be better if she falls? What about sound echo of solid flooring …would it make it more difficult to hear others who visit?

  8. Carole,
    It’s possible that using a wheelchair is the best. It sounds like she has health problems that make her a high risk for falls. This is a serious issue. It’s good you’re searching for the best & safest answer. I understand that she refuses to use the chair,.. I had a parent that did the same thing. But hoping to make the floor safe for when she does falls is not good. Falling is never good. And there’s always the risk of striking her head if she falls on furniture about the house.

    Maybe you could ask a doctor to intervene about the advantage of using a wheelchair.. Sometimes an older person will listen to a doctor’s advice when they won’t listen to anyone else. Might be worth a try.

    About the hearing. Hard surfaces might interfere but the honest truth is, I really don’t know. What I do know is that hearing-aid technology has really improved. They can be adjusted to work well in many different environments.

    Also, if you install a very low-pile carpet (the type used is commercial applications) it should eliminate the chance of echo.
    Wheelchairs will roll easily on it as well. :)

    I hope this helps.

  9. Thank you for caring enough to offer some good free suggestions. The people I’ve encountered regarding accessibility recommend what benefits them and not you. Hubby and I are both disabled; he’s in a chair. We had a local contractor install a walk-in tub. When I requested an invoice for tax purposes he had erased all the numbers on the store receipt, including sales tax, and doubled the costs for the walk-in tub, faucets, shower and everything else. The bill was changed from $2000+ to over $4000. We were clearly taken advantage of. We had verbally agreed on a budget to work with but no written contract. Expensive lesson. We now need a new kitchen floor that can handle the wheelchair but don’t know where to turn.

  10. Hi Mary,
    Sorry to hear about your bad experience. Unfortunately, that type of bad experience is fairly common. Not only for disabled persons, but for ANYBODY who has to deal with contractors. A comprehensive contract is the best friend of the homeowner and contractor. If you have a contractor who resists having a contract, that’s a big red light. Say “thank you for stopping by” and then move-on.

    Just remember this; a business professional will NOT be offended when a homeowner asks about contracts, liability insurance, licensing, city building permits and codes and even for local references. Legitimate contractors work in this type of business environment daily and are asked these questions frequently. That’s part of the job.

    As far as you kitchen floor, it may be best to shop at one of the “big-box” hardware stores. They usually have local professionals that work through their stores that are competent and legal. Just visit the store and ask for the store employee that will guide you through the process. In addition to the questions above I would also ask if the work is “satisfaction guaranteed”, will the store stand behind the contractor’s work and what’s the phone number for the person in charge that will fix any problems.

    If it’s convenient, you might try more than one store and compare.

    I know this all sounds like it over-kill, but I’m afraid the day of “hand-shake” agreements are gone.

    And yes, there are predators out there looking for a disadvantaged person to take advantage of.

    Be careful and good luck,
    Greg

  11. Greg,

    Your response is appreciated! I’ll be writing down and asking all the questions you recommend! My husband is a retired farmer who sealed all deals with a handshake. How times have changed. I still believe there are more good people than bad. Thanks for being a good guy!!!

    Regards,
    Mary

  12. Greg, I’ve read all your answers given to those with questions. I’m in a powerchair myself, I just moved in my Dad’s home he left me. My son completely remodeled it, he installed Home Depot’s most expensive laminate in it. However, I has not worked for me.
    Nearly all the laminate in the kitchen has peeled up (more than half) and I believe it it from water getting under it because it started in front of my kitchen sink. But once it starts, it keeps tearing away from this heavy power chair. Everyone I’ve talked to at Home Depo, Lowe’s, a local flooring company suggested the square vinyl’s. The underflooring is wood, so all of them said tile was out of the question because the weight would definitely break them. They said no to laminate. No matter what kind of how expensive it is, laminate is the worst if any water gets under it, it will end in a catastrophy with a powerchair on it. My question to you (for the rest of my home) is
    this, would a short pile berber work better than short pile regular carpet. I was just thinking that it would get more traction and not leave marks. I tried it on a sample that was 6 X 6 and it seemed to work well. But, would it need to be glued down and what about the foam underneath they normally put under carpet when installed?

  13. Hi Linda,
    Sorry to hear about your flooring problems and your powerchair.

    As far as your question about the short pile carpets. I’m not sure about the different durability of each. However, if you’re happy with the berber’s performance, it sounds like it could be good choice. As far as gluing down carpet, as you probably know, carpet is usually stretched/tacked down. An experienced carpet installer would be the best person to address such an issue.

    Powerchairs are tough on floors, as you know. You might consider how to improve your powerchair. Contact the manufacturer and discuss the problems you have had. I am sure you are not the first person with this problem. If you could change to a lighter chair, or do something to reduce the weight of the chair, then that might be helpful to you. A wheelchair should fit the person AND the environment where it is used.

    Another alternative might be to change to a manual chair you propel yourself when you are indoors, and save the powerchair for use at the mall, stores, or sidewalks outdoors. A physical therapist could evaluate your physical abilities to use a manual wheelchair and could help you set up your kitchen and other rooms so that you can get around there with minimal effort and maximum safety. You could contact a physical therapist at a local hospital or at a home health care agency for such an evaluation. A manual chair would not be as heavy as a powerchair, and would not take the toll on your floor and carpets as a powerchair does.

    I hope this is helpful to you, and that you can get your flooring and wheelchair to be compatible and trouble-free.
    Thanks for contacting Caregiver-Aid.com
    Greg

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *