What to do if you find yourself unable to climb stairs anymore? Or if you or a family member are in a wheelchair or have other physical disabilities? Or even if you are just starting to look towards future accessibility needs as you age? These days, more and more builders and designers are recognizing the importance of accessibility, and are offering many excellent solutions for clients looking to include accessibility features in their homes. But, to be clear, accessible features aren’t only for the aging and disabled. A well, and beautifully-designed accessible home will include many features that will make life easier for everyone, regardless of age or physical condition. They are simply features of excellent design that can make life better for every resident of a house or condo. Let’s take a look!
Unless you live in a condo apartment building, the first barrier to accessibility you will often encounter on arriving at a home is the entrance into the house. Someone who has difficulty walking or who is in a wheelchair will have a problem entering if there are stairs leading up to the front door. (Stairs are just as much of a problem for a parent with little ones in a stroller!) The solution is to install a ramp, which can be constructed of the same wood, stone, or concrete as your front porch, to minimize the visual impact. You may also consider planting tall shrubs or grasses along the sides of the ramp, to help it blend into your yard’s landscaping. Alternatively, you may be able to build a ramp leading to a side or back entrance of your home instead.
And what about the front door itself? Is it wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair if necessary? Consider installing an extra-wide door, or even double doors if space permits. (And remember to consider the need for wider doors and doorways throughout the house.) The transition from the front porch into the front hall should also be level, both to accommodate a wheelchair and to eliminate the tripping hazard for someone who can walk but has some difficulty doing so.
Once you’ve entered your home, think about how easy it is to move about from room to room. Something as small as ensuring that furniture isn’t blocking the traffic flow makes a big difference. Built-in furniture can minimize this problem, as well as make the most efficient use of wall space.
Traditionally-designed kitchens can present challenges, in terms of accessibility, so you might want to consider a kitchen that features counters, sinks, and appliances installed lower than standard height; plenty of storage on shelves and in base cabinets; and a sink area that is open underneath, to allow a wheelchair to slide in.
Like kitchens, bathrooms have to be designed differently to be fully accessible, but this doesn’t mean that they can’t be both practical and beautiful. Wall-mounted sinks with open areas beneath them make it easy for someone in a wheelchair to wash. And a mirror mounted above the sink, at an angle that allows a wheelchair-bound person to see their reflection, or a full-length mirror elsewhere in the room is an easy change to make. A large, roll-in shower with a built-in bench and lower niches or shelves is another must in the bathroom, as is a non-slip floor.
One of the major accessibility issues in a home is how to get from one floor to another, when stairs are a problem. You can install chairs that ride up and down your staircases, but the increasingly popular choice these days is to install an elevator. Josh Sanders, of Cambridge Elevating Inc., says that many people are choosing to include an elevator in the plans for a home they are building, and this constitutes most of his company’s work. (Take a look at our listing at 132A Balmoral Ave., a refined, Richard Wengle-designed new-build, which features a Cambridge elevator that services all four levels of the home.)
Cambridge is also starting to field a lot of requests for elevators to be installed in existing homes. Some homeowners take this decision to enable them to stay in the multi-storey home that they love, rather than have to sell and move to a condo apartment. Others, like clients of Cambridge’s who made the move from a house to a two-storey condo penthouse, may decide to add an elevator to a multi-level condominium.
The cost of installing an elevator in your home will vary. If you’re constructing a standard two-storey house with a basement, you can include an elevator in your plans for $25,000 to $35,000. If, however, you are retrofitting an elevator into an existing home, the task is more complex and can cost $50,000 to $100,000.
Cambridge offers standard-size elevators for the home, but also works with architects to design custom elevators, tailored to the client’s specific requirements. Need a larger elevator that will accommodate someone in a wheelchair, along with a caregiver? No problem. Claustrophobic? No problem. Glass-walled elevators are the latest trend, serving as a focal point in the home, as well as providing relief to the claustrophobic! What if the power goes out? Again, no problem. All of Cambridge’s elevators come with a back-up battery, to allow you to get downstairs from an upper floor, even during an outage. However, if you need to get upstairs, you’ll have to install a generator, for the extra power required to send the elevator up. (Take a look at our listing at 47 Poplar Plains Rd, a Danish modern design with oversized elevator servicing 6 levels – from the side of the house to the rooftop deck.)
There are many more accessibility issues to think about as you carry on your day-to-day life at home. How about fitting interior doors with lever-style door handles, which are much easier to operate than door knobs, which can be difficult and/or painful to turn? (And much easier for someone carrying a full basket of laundry too!) Likewise, paddle-type hot/cold water taps in the kitchen and bathrooms are a better option than taps that must be turned. And wheelchair users will be thankful for light switches that are installed low enough on the walls for them to be able to use. Accessibility is all about designing with the user in mind, and that is something that we should all aspire to, in our homes, don’t you agree?