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.

AuthorBrett Foss

Adaptable home design and modifications being good investments for Independent Senior Living, leads us into a general discussion on adaptable home design to maximize independence. If done during the planning stages of a build or remodel, it really makes good economic sense, relative to the cost of assisted living and other more cost-intensive housing options.

This kind of housing is called various things—universal housing, aging in place, life cycle housing, adaptable housing, handicapped housing and more. It includes a mix of fixed accessible features, like an open floor plan, wide hallways and doors, as well as adaptable features that are appealing to all of the home’s residents, while not compromising property values (in fact, in many communities, it will add to the value).

Having both disabled and aging family members myself, I am keenly aware of how accessibility can impact the quality of day-to-day life.  For this reason, I will address overall safety issues, as well as the exterior of the home and getting around common areas of the house, along with simple kitchen, bedroom, bath and laundry considerations. Some may be done out of necessity, while others may be on your long-term wish list.

So, where should you start? Think of worse case scenarios, and work backward from there. How can your home be modified or adjusted, so that its exterior and interior are esthetically pleasing, yet practical for someone with mobility issues. For purposes of discussion, think about if you were in a wheelchair, had no one to assist you, and had limited hand grip strength to not only maneuver around, but to transfer to a sofa or toilet, or push yourself up a ramp or over a threshold.

1.     The home should have an exterior ramp or “zero entry” way of entering—no stairs

2.     There should be a “curb cut” from the street level to the sidewalk (either the driveway, or have the City modify a 5’ wide piece along the boulevard, if necessary.

3.     There should be two peepholes on exterior doors—one at 3’4” and another at 5’ for extra safety.

4.     Consider an alarm system or personal “health panic alarm” in the event that there is an intruder or a fall.

5.     There should be a 5’ or greater space near a primary entry door, so that a ramp can be built. It should be a 5% incline or less (in other words, the height doesn’t rise more than 12” for every 12’ of length. At the top of the ramp, there needs to be a minimum of 2’ on the side of the door nearest the lock.

6.     Ideally, all doors will be 3’ wide—2’8” is “doable”, but you will likely find a lot of scuff marks from your or your guest trying to maneuver a wheelchair in such a tight space.

7.     There should be a full bathroom and at least one bedroom on the main level—no steps to climb.

8.     Build or remodel hallways so they are at least 4’ wide to allow two people to pass one another, or a walker or wheelchair to be centered without crowding.

9.     Make sure all ramps, the garage, kitchen, bath and at least one bedroom have an open space of at least 5’, as it takes that much room for a wheelchair to pivot or make a U-turn.

10.  Consider vinyl or tile flooring—it is much more forgiving when using a wheelchair, and also much easier for the person to push themselves around. If you must use carpet, select the lowest, most dense pile available. A person in a manual wheelchair on plush padded carpet is the equivalent of a person walking on a sandy beach—each movement takes twice the effort!

11.  Try not to have any raised thresholds in doorways. For exterior doors, make the “bevel” part as shallow and wide of a transition as possible. Simply going over the “hump” is enough to throw someone from a wheelchair.

12.  Put cabinetry storage at heights that are accessible heights for everyone—place frequently used items at standing chest height or below. This includes varying closet rod heights between 42” and 6’ from the floor.

13.  Make sure that a seated person can easily see out of all windows.

14.  In homes with stairs, avoid open risers at all cost. Treads should be 1’ deep if at all possible (some people who are mobility impaired “scoot” up and down stairs, rather than walking and risking a fall). Exterior stairs should have a solid railing and risers that are 4” or less—particularly in places that get snow.

15.  There should be at least one desk height (29”-30”) countertop that is 3’ or wider in the kitchen (e.g. a computer desktop) and the bathroom or dressing area.

16.  While people are tempted to place all smoke detectors in strategic areas (hallways, bedrooms, kitchens) on the ceiling, some should be placed 40” from the floor.

17.  Mount kitchen and bedroom fire extinguishers 40” from the floor.

18.  Depending on the resident’s needs, they may need to flash as well as being audible.

19.  Buy slip resistant, skid resistant flooring. Even very dense, low-pile carpeting is difficult for a person in a wheelchair or one who uses a walker to maneuver.

20.  Install all thermostats and wall switches 40” to 48” from the floor.

21.  Consider installing jacks for landline phones in strategic areas (yes, even in 2018), as emergency service providers and security systems like to have them for households as a back-up. Even if a phone line is not active, so long as a phone is plugged in, someone may dial 911 in an emergency. Also, if someone is alone and a cell phone is in an unreachable spot, missing, or has a dead battery, the person will know the location of the landline, and can hopefully reach it.

22.  Extend stair handrails at a minimum to one side, and ideally, to both sides of the stairs.

23.  Place handrail extensions 18” out at the top and bottom of the railings, so that users can maintain a grip on approach to the area.

24.  Use Velcro to mount flash lights inside of a closet or behind a door or other convenient area on each level of the home.

25.  Use nightlights, “disguised” vents with lights, or LEDs on the edge of the walls nearest to stair treads (make sure edges/nosing is smooth). Rig it so that the low voltage lighting cannot be turned off.

This offers the best in convenient, yet beautiful life cycle housing. While many of these pointers may not be at the top of a person’s list at the time of building or remodeling, they should be. Many of the safety tips hold just as true for a parent carrying an infant, as they do for a senior with mobility concerns. Making many of the noted simple adaptations are cost-effective, and can increase a home’s value if done properly and with quality materials.

A home that seemed to be barrier-free can suddenly turn into a hazard for someone who becomes mobility-impaired due to a birth defect, illness or accident. Some of the most critical financial investments in creating or renovating a home to make it adaptable to a variety of health needs are creating a safe environment in the kitchen, bedroom and bathroom.

The need for accessible and flexible homes has increased dramatically, and is expected to grow exponentially as aging parents opt to age in place in their community of choice—often near their grown children and grandchildren. Given the monthly expense of assisted living, retirement communities, senior cooperatives or co-ops, or advanced care in nursing homes and hospice, staying in one’s home as long as possible is likely a wise financial decision.

As I noted earlier in this blog, it’s easy to build or modify a home that is appealing to able-bodied and disabled individuals AND make the spaces adaptable, so that anyone can easily function and live in the home. Many of the guidelines in this blog are based on research and outcomes noted by the American National Standards Institute, Inc. What should be the focus of adaptable home design to maximize independence in the most-used areas of the home?

AuthorBrett Foss

 Unless you or a family member has had a physical injury or impairment that impacts every day life, you probably haven’t thought about buying, building or renovating a home to make it handicapped accessible. As more and more people opt to age in place, rather than move to assisted living, retirement or nursing homes, the need for accessible and flexible homes has increased dramatically. Many people want to age in place, rather than moving.

It’s easy to build or modify a home that is appealing to able-bodied and disabled individuals and make the spaces adaptable, so that anyone can easily function and live in the home. Most of us take getting around the house easily for granted until we have a car accident, a broken bone, or a hip replacement, or need a wheelchair due to a degenerative disease.

Research from the Centers for Disease Control indicate that 4 out of 5 adults will, at some point, have a physical ailment that precludes them from living independently, whether temporarily or permanently. For this reason, it’s becoming increasingly critical to build or remodel living spaces so that people can comfortably move around, prepare meals, do laundry and clean their homes with as few challenges as possible.

"If you own a rental home or homes, think about the amount of time you spend of advertising, marketing, showing, screening, running credit, collecting rent, going to the bank, calling the tenant for collection of rent, receiving calls from the tenant about possible required repairs, calling an scheduling repairs with a contractor, etc. These duties can really add up. It takes time away from you that you could be spending with your family, your work or business, travel, etc."