The heart of the home is the gathering areas, or the sanctuary of a private bedroom, depending on who is asked. Here are some tips to Make a Home Safe and Accessible Affordably Without Looking Like It’s Handicapped Only for laundry areas, the kitchen, bedrooms and bath, to maximize accessibility and safety.
Kitchen and Laundry Area
1. Consider whether it would be best to have a side-by-side refrigerator/freezer, one with the fridge on top and a bottom freezer, or the standard set-up with the refrigerator on the bottom. The space needs to be accessible to users with varied heights and range of motion.
2. Create a space where all outlets that are within 4’ of a water source have GFCI shut-offs.
3. Install cable, Wi-Fi, USB ports, and other electronic charging items at an easy-to-reach height for all. This may be near shelves on an island, or at an open multi-purpose kitchen prep/desk area to be used by a seated person.
4. Make sure the stove, oven, dishwasher and garbage disposal switches are reachable by someone who must remain seated.
5. Think about purchasing a stove/oven with controls directly on the front, so the person doesn’t have to reach across hot burners to turn them off and on.
6. Consider placing a microwave on a countertop, on a cart, or on an open shelf (no cupboard door), or built into an island, as over the stovetop microwaves may be out of reach.
7. Consider buying a high-end (the Cuisinart is my favorite), free-standing combination convection/toaster oven with automatic shutoff for a similar space. There are door options that open up, down, or from the side, depending on the person’s abilities. This allows the person to have an option other than an oven, which can easily cause burns if leaning in from the side while using crutches, a walker, or a wheelchair.
8. Wayfair carries a few nice dual or triple sinks that are ideal. It’s nice if one has a drain at the rear, and even better if one of the sinks are shallow (5” to 7” deep) to accommodate a limited reach.
9. Insulate and cover the hot water supply pipes under the sink. Aesthetically, one of the easiest ways is to cut countertop or matching cabinet wood at an angle, and place the base part nearest the wall, so a seated person can get their knees under the sink area.
10. Use single control, lever or push-type handles, or motion-detected water start/stops, along with a sprayer hose—most are around $200, but the Moen line is my favorite. Often, it is easier for a person in a wheelchair to wash their hair in a sink, than risk transferring to a tub or shower when there is no one around if they could slip between positions, or fall out of a wheelchair.
11. Place “D” or closed-loop handles on all cabinetry. It is easier for the disabled person to thread a towel or rope through the handle to aid in pulling them open.
12. Try to have a mix of deep drawers and cabinets with pull out shelves, so people don’t need to dig deep into cabinets.
13. The base of kitchen base cabinets should be about 10” off the ground, and the tuck-under portion should be at least 8” deep, to allow for the footrests on wheelchairs. (Lesson learned—few things damage a home more than a wheelchair where the foot rest doesn’t fit under cabinets, along with hallways and doorways that are too narrow, as noted in Part 1 of this 2-part blog.
14. One of the most convenient pantry cupboards are those that fully pull out once the door is opened. Look for shelving that is deep enough to hold heavy and bulky items.
15. Place a lazy Susan turntable inside corner cabinets.
16. Laundry—whether it’s located in a kitchen, bathroom closet, hallway, or other space, make sure it is front loading, and that there is adequate accessible storage for detergents, and for hanging or folding items, whether the person is seated or standing. Regardless of location, there needs to be a minimum of 5’ in front of the machines, particularly for wheelchairs that require such space for an adequate turning radius.
17. If laundry is located near or in the kitchen, consider hiding a built-in ironing board and/or steamer in one of the cabinets.
18. Ideally, attach a rod support to a shelf frame that can be anchored above the washer and dryer, and pulled forward at a height to hang clothes.
19. Have one bedroom on the main level that is at least 12’ x 12’, ideally with tightly grouted tile or vinyl plank flooring (such space may initially be used as an office or den).
20. Select furnishings with rounded edges, and avoid glass tabletops.
21. Install enough outlets so that cords are never a tripping hazard.
22. Install multiple switch plates with dimmers, so that lights, fans, and other items plugged into outlets may be managed from the wall plates.
23. Build a ¾ or full bathroom on the main level. Many recent designs look like ½ baths initially, with a secondary interior door (again 36” wide)—think of a room within a room. It may appear to be a closet to guests. This will allow a bath to be used on a daily basis, but still available in the future, should an office be turned into a bedroom).
24. Make sure the bathroom is large enough for a person in a walker or wheelchair to use all fixtures.
25. Like with the kitchen sink, buy easy-to-use faucet and cabinet handles, and cover heated pipes.
26. Use a raised toilet so that the seat is 19” to 20” above the ground. Have 32” space on BOTH sides of the toilet, along with 42” or more of clear space for transferring.
27. Place grab bars in strategic areas—side of cabinets, above toilet tank, inside AND outside of tub or shower, etc. While there are many brands out there, the link goes to Moen, because they specifically explain where and how the bars need to be placed to be effective.
28. It is easiest to hang large mirrors horizontally, with the bottom a minimum of 40” from the floor, and the top 72” from the floor.
29. Consider a 60” roll in shower that is at least 42” deep to accommodate wheelchair users.
30. Have a permanent or portable seat for the shower that is at least 16” square, and 16” to 19” from the ground. Amazon and many other retailers have multiple styles to choose from.
31. In showers, again make sure the faucet can be operated from the outside without getting wet.
32. Consider dual shower heads with a long hose to accommodate varied mobility issues. While Kohler’s isn’t the sleekest-looking of the bunch, it has a longer hose than many, making it more practical for someone who must be seated in a shower.
33. While it may seem awkward at first, consider mounting the bathroom door so that it opens out, rather than in, as the majority of home falls happen inside of a bathroom.
34. Install slip-resistant flooring to minimize falls. Avoid rugs that can slip.
Following these simple tips and suggestions to make a home both accessible and adaptable will help to minimize future costs. Many studies show that it’s 1/4 to 1/3 the cost annually to keep someone in their own home, as opposed to transitioning to assisted living or a nursing home. At Parallel Realty, we encourage people to plan mindfully, and to recognize that the planning may mean the difference between relative freedom and dependence on others to live productively at home. Many of the pointers we provide are considered “tried and true”. With the advent of technology, many of these features will continue to be adapted to make aging in place easier than ever.