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Porch Steps for Senior Safety

Porch Steps

Safe Porch Steps

One day I went out the front door and proceeded to tumble down the front porch steps.

What the ~ !?   Those same steps caused my mother-in-law to fall. Come to think of it, our neighbor once fell down the same steps.

I think I’m seeing a pattern here. Fortunately, no broken bones were involved.

Safe porch steps are an essential part of living accident-free in your own home. This is true, particularly for seniors. Falling is a serious problem for seniors. Though there’s no way to guarantee they’ll never fall, we should take every precaution to remove apparent risks. There can be many. But often what has been perfectly safe for many years, has become more precarious as it ages.

Like the porch steps out our front door.

I’ve heard it called “Peter Pan Housing” – houses built for people that never age. Works great when you’re young,… not so much when your older.

Click link to learn more.

Wheelchair Ramp – Wood vs. Aluminum – Which is Best?

Stair Safety for Porch Steps

There are a few things to consider when determining the risk level of your stairs.

*Note  –  The International Building Code has regulations for keeping steps and stairs safe. Be sure to check with your city  inspector’s office as well before you make any changes to your steps.

  • Make certain the porch steps are level, stable and in good shape. Repair or replace any damaged, loose or worn-down areas. Each stair should be a minimum of 11” deep and at least 36” wide. Each rise (amount of travel, up & down between steps) should be no more than 7”, and no less than 4”.  They should vary only ¼” difference between each step’s height (rise) from top to bottom.
    This is important so the user will experience uniformity, top to bottom, with no “surprises” as they use the steps. Encountering a step that is significantly different in height, width or depth than other steps on a stairway may upset the user’s balance, causing a fall. Step-building codes are based on the fact that people using stairways expect each step to be the same height, thus making sure people using stairs don’t encounter the unexpected.
  • Hand rails are probably the single most important feature to you can add to your Porch steps - handrailssteps. Handrails will assist with balance and mobility while giving the user an improved sense of self-confidence as they use the steps. Rails can be installed on one side or on both. They can be made of many different materials including wood and metal. Hire a local handy man or check with local builders to find help. Just make sure the handrails are firm and rigid.
  • You can reduce the chance of slippage by installing abrasive strips to each step. You could also install rubber tread covers which are made to be slip-resistant. You can also check with you local hardware store for some slip-resistant porch paint.
  • Consider hiring an electrical contractor to install appropriate lighting around the stair area. Make sure the lighting is positioned in such a way that shadows don’t interfere with user’s perception  and the edges of the steps are clearly illuminated. 

Balance Issues and Mobility

Persons with mobility or balance issues may not be able to use a regular set of stairs. Generally, persons who use mobility aids like walkers or wheelchairs will need to completely replace their stair with some sort of ramp or lift in order to safely exit or enter the house. We’ll cover those options at a later time. It’s enough for now to understand  that stairs and wheelchairs don’t mix.

  • You can however remodel your steps, so they’ll work for a person using a standard walker. A standard walker is the type without wheels. You should first discuss these plans with a Physical Therapist. They’ll want to evaluate the user to determine if they can use the steps safely. Don’t just assume the steps are safe for the  patient.  It really depends on the capability of the user.


  • Typically, the steps are designed to be large and deep.  The steps must be large enough to easily accommodate the four legs of the walker with room to spare, so that each individual step is similar to a landing. The user is then able to set the walker on the next step, and with it firmly in place, safely step down (or up) into the proper position for walker usage. There must be ample room for the user to move around without moving off the security of the step until they are  ready to do so. Then it’s time for advice from a physical therapist and  guidelines on how to safely use the stairs with the walker.

If you have any tips on porch-step safety,  let me know.

2 thoughts on “Porch Steps for Senior Safety

  1. Certainly a valid concern. If your considering moving your parents, it might be possible to find a place that has Universal Design or some handicap friendly design attributes already built in. No steps, walk/roll in showers with bars, improved lighting and wide doorways. I’ll admit, they can be hard to find but its worth a try. Additionally, if you do have steps to deal with, and you don’t want the cost of remodeling (especially if it’s a rental property) you may be able to rent a portable wheelchair ramp. They do not alter the original property and can be removed at a later date.
    Hope this helps. Good luck with your caregiving.

  2. This is just what I worry about as my parents are elderly. They live in an apartment currently but when and if they ever move into a single family home or condo, I worry about the front steps, even if it is just one step. Renovation could be an option but expensive and/or impractical of course, depending on where and what kind of home it is.

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