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Accessible Home

Accessible Home Design

By Laura BourlandRise Writer
Jan 24, 2019

Home is where the heart is. It’s where you’ll build your family, create memories, and eventually grow old, surrounded by all that hard-earned, glorious love. 

Building or remodeling your home for long-term sustainability can reduce your carbon footprint and positively impact the health and happiness of everyone who dwells within its walls. We’ve discussed earth-friendly options in flooring and countertops, technology to help manage and reduce utility consumption and systems to reduce construction waste and daily household waste. Today we’re diving beyond the surface of sustainability to consider the overall design and long-term plan of your home.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if your home were designed to accommodate the changing needs of you and your family? Building your home to evolve and adapt to life’s inevitable changes is the pinnacle of sustainable living. Because face it, we all grow old. A consciously built home has the potential to grow with you and eliminate the need to move post-retirement.

Plan to Grow Now, Downsize Later

When our families are young, growth is widespread. Children are born and grow, pets are adopted, and relatives may even move in to lend a helping hand. When we first build our homes, most homeowners seek large homes with lots of rooms. But as the kids grow up and move out, you may be left with more house than you need. 

Forethought makes it possible to build your home with growth and downsizing in mind. Some types of homes, like modular and manufactured houses, are prefabricated as building blocks in a factory. These kinds of houses are easy to add to as more rooms become necessary. Rooms can also be removed and resold down the line when they are no longer needed.

You might also consider designing your home to make it easy to section off and rent out extra space when the time comes. For example, you might choose to build your master bedroom downstairs, making it possible to convert a second story into a rental apartment and create post-retirement income.

single story house
Single Story Living. Photo Credit: The Plug Los Angeles

Single Story Living

There are many benefits to building your home all on one level. While stairs can be challenging for young children and pets, they can be downright impossible for anyone with limitations in mobility.

Think about the day your soccer star comes home with a fractured ankle. Standing at the foot of the stairs, balanced precariously on crutches can quickly transform a flight of stairs into the likes of Mount Everest.

As we age and become reliant on walkers, canes, and wheelchairs, homeowners with a second story can become incredibly frustrated being unable to use half their home. After all, what good are three large upstairs bedrooms, a game room, and a luxury bathroom if all they do is collect dust once the kids move out?

A single-story house makes it possible to continue to enjoy your whole home through injury, surgery, and aging. Single story homes are also easier for keeping on top of regular chores like laundry and vacuuming when cumbersome stairs don’t stand in your way. (Of course, single stories require more land for the same square footage; the tradeoff here is that the building footprint will be larger.)

Wide Access Doors and Hallways
Wide Access Doors and Hallways. Photo Credit: Philipp Berndt

Wide, Accessible Door Frames and Hallways

When building, few homeowners take time to consider the width of hallways, doors, and entryways, but almost everyone recognizes a narrow hallway when they see one.

Hallways and doorframes should be built wide to accommodate life’s changes. Wide hallways and doors make it possible to move in new furniture without the worry of whether that beautiful new couch is too wide to be carried through the front door. They make it easier to carry the little ones off to bed after they doze off in front of the TV. Most importantly, wide hallways and entryways may make it possible for you to remain in your dream home rather than relocate to an assisted living center.

The average wheelchair requires a minimum of 32 inches to pass through without scraping the wall or doorframe. Similarly, walkers need 25-29 inch-wide hallways; crutches are easiest to maneuver in hallways about 42 inches wide. So, a sustainably built home should be designed with doorways and hallways of at least 32 inches wide to accommodate the possibility of wheelchairs.

Few people ever complain of spaces that are too wide, but spaces built too narrow can force you to move out before you’re ready.

Entryway Ramp
Photo Credit: Prairie View Industries Entryway Ramp

Think Ramps, Not Stairs

We’ve already talked about single-story homes, but even some single-story designs might incorporate stairs. While three small accent stairs in a split-level house can visually improve the layout of a house, they can significantly impact the long-term livability of your home. Likewise, steps leading up to your front or back door can inhibit any friend or family member reliant on a wheelchair from crossing the threshold.

Consider installing an attractive and accessible ramp rather than more cumbersome stairs. If you must install stairs, consider adding a ramp that leads to the same place, just in case. Lucky for you, ramps are often cheaper to build than stairs because they require fewer materials and less work to install.

Wheelchair ramps can also be purchased pre-assembled and ready-to-install if you opt to build standard sized hallways and doorways as discussed above.

purple lighting
Photo Credit: citycollegeinc.com

Consciously Placed Lighting

Lighting is essential for not only lighting a room but its impact on the design and comfort of a room. As you work with your contractor, discuss lighting and the long-term livability of your new home.

Mood lighting may be cozy now, but as we age, vision can waver. Light dimmers make it possible to have that romantic lighting now and create brighter spaces when needed.

It’s also important to consider lighting placement. Well-lit entryways and corners can improve the safety of your home, and adequate lighting over cabinets and drawers reduces the frustration when digging for that lost pot lid or a pack of new batteries.

smart home automation
Smart Home Automation. PhotoCredit: Bence Boros

Smart Home Automation

Smart home technology makes it possible to manage everything from lighting to smart device use remotely. Automation may be attractive for its ability to control and check in on your home from the office and vacation, but as you age, that automation will become even more valuable.

Home automation gives us the ability to turn electronics and appliances on and off at a preset time or manually without getting off the couch. It can also track energy drains, keep your family safe, and call emergency services should they ever be necessary. Your investment in home automation now may enable you to stay in your home for life!

A Sustainable Home Grows With You

Retirement may still be a long way off, but the passage of time is inevitable, as is the deterioration of the human body.  Building your home for the long-term sustainability of your changing family will help ensure your home never limits your life.

From wide, handicap accessible hallways and ramps to your overall home style and imbedded automation, it’s entirely possible to build your home for the long haul.

Retain your independence and comfort. Talk to your chosen homebuilder about your options in building a house that accommodates your vibrant and ever-changing life.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2020-11-17T00:25:55+0000
Laura Bourland

Article by:

Laura Bourland

Laura grew up in the California suburbs, far removed from environmentalism, but nature always has a way. She uprooted her life in 2015, moving to the countryside of Washington to live a more sustainable and simple life on 12 acres. She and her fiancee are learning on the job as they attempt everything from gardening and natural pest control to eco-friendly building and home improvement.