Access Remedies for Your Home

Lucile Guidry  |  7/7/2008 11:09:42 PM

How easy is it for you to get into your house today? Will you be able to get in it 20 years from now? 40 years from now? What if you broke your leg? Or when your arms are filled with packages – is it still easy?

When most folks buy a home they are considering their current lifestyle, not the distant future lifestyle they might be living. Owning a home is a big investment—one of the biggest most people ever make.

A majority of home-buying decisions are made when buyers are in the prime of life and health, often with a young family when considerations are safety for children, budget, soundness of structure, color, floor plan, neighborhood, school districts and so on. In a society where people live longer and where many medical conditions are treatable, planning for future lifestyles can be very important.

Key phrases may be "design for life," "aging in place," "universal design" and others. The meaning is the same—a dwelling designed to safely accommodate anyone, in any physical condition and at any time and age in his or her life.

Important design components include:

  • Selecting wider doorways (to accommodate wheelchairs and walkers)
  • Allowing clearance around design features to accommodate wheelchair turning radius
  • Allowing the capacity to install a lift or elevator (at time of construction or later)
  • Selecting placement of entries to accommodate ramps and landings -- either in the future or built in at time of construction
  • Considering ergonomically appropriate cabinet and counter heights in service areas (kitchen, workroom)
  • Ensuring appropriate transfer heights and access for bathroom fixture placement with guidance from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines.

Choosing these design options results in a more comfortable home that keeps its value longer, is more attractive and marketable to future homebuyers and keeps you and your family safer.

If you are not in the market to buy a new home right now, there are still several things you can do to make your home more accessible that do not involve a rebuild or major renovation.

The following are simple things you can do at very little expense to increase accessibility. The products to perform these upgrades are available at your local hardware store.

  1. Install handrails on both sides of all steps (inside and outside)
  2. Secure all carpets and area rugs with double-sided tape
  3. Install easy-to-grasp-shaped handles for all drawers and cabinet doors
  4. Use brighter bulbs in all settings
  5. Install nightlights in all areas of night activity
  6. Add reflective, non-slip tape on all non-carpeted stairs
  7. Install lever handles for all doors; levers in place of doorknobs can be a vital solution to maintaining personal independence
  8. Place benches near entrances for setting down purchases and resting
  9. Install closet lights, as well as adjustable rods and shelves
  10. Install rocker light switches; consider illuminated ones in select areas

There are many reasons to consider making your home more accessible. In the event you are planning a major renovation, repair or other change, this may be the perfect time incorporate designs to increase and adapt your dwelling to easier, safer functionality. Here are simple things you can do at very little expense to increase accessibility.

Some of these components are primary as new design elements, but are also appropriate to retrofit applications.For instance, if you have to elevate your home, this creates an opportunity to explore several options:

Shallower steps—decreasing the height of risers and increasing depth of the treads on stairs significantly makes them easier and safer to navigate.

Gentler slopes on ramps—in homes where the added elevation makes ramp access a feasible option, a shallower slope than the minimum standard can result in making the difference between accessibility and inaccessibility.

If the height of your additional elevation makes it necessary to equip it with a lift or elevator -- once the option of only the very wealthy -- this is very doable and is gaining in popularity in many homes. Even if you feel you do not need one now, remember how helpful it can be when moving heavy items or lots of packages. (Much more affordable and available, it is very important to make sure the device meets all the safety codes and requirements for the building code in your area.)

If your present lifestyle includes a decrease in mobility, now is a good time to increase the width of the doors in your home to accommodate a wheelchair

Be sure your renovations include additional electric outlets and the wiring to serve them, and make sure your house has adequate load capacity in the event the need for any additional medical equipment arises. (As always, make sure that outlets are installed wherever they might be needed.)

Now is a good time to consider the accessibility of your bathroom. Personal hygiene is a lifelong need. Some questions you may ask yourself include:

  • Are the countertops -- and basins -- at the most accommodating height?
  • Is the toilet the right height for easy transfer from a wheelchair if that becomes needed?
  • Is there enough room to use a lift into the tub?
  • Can the shower opening allow someone to wheel right into it?
  • Are the faucets correctly placed?
  • Do you plan to include ‘grab bars’?
  • Grab bars now come in decorative styles, and should you decide not to include them now, the proper bracing can be built into your walls at the time of renovation or rebuild to add grab bars in the future.

What about the exterior of your home? Many people make building decisions based on the lowest costs offered, but this is not always the best choice -- or even the cheapest -- in the long run. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter what you pay but what you get. Investigate all the materials you plan to use with an eye toward the lifespan of the item, its function and its appropriateness for your life now and also for the future. (We don’t have much need for snow shovels in Louisiana, but they are very functional where it snows! Use the same common sense approach to selecting sheathing, siding, roofing, paint, etc.)

While we often consider the previously cited concerns as a challenge associated with the elderly—which it often is—its is also important to consider disabling conditions that we may experience throughout life: disease, broken bones, muscular damage, congenital diseases and conditions and other functional considerations such as simply having your arms full of packages.

Make careful decisions when you do anything to the structure or functionality of your dwelling. Plan ahead and make choices you can live with the rest of your life. Remember, many of us will be living the rest of our lives with the home design choices we make now.

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