Building a new home gives you the unique opportunity to customize its features and functions to match your lifestyle. If you intend to retire in the home, have a family member with special needs, or just want to accommodate all types of guests, making smart decisions during the design process will ensure that your home is suitably prepared.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 7 percent of the population has a disability that makes it difficult to walk or climb stairs. The total number of people who have any type of disability—including ambulatory, vision-impaired, and difficulty with independent living—is closer to 13 percent. The percentage is much higher for older adults, with almost half of people over the age of 75 living with a disability. Whether you’re planning ahead for potential future needs or have an immediate requirement for a handicap-accessible bathroom, there are some general guidelines that can help you keep your home safe and comfortable.
The general recommendation for handicap-accessible doorways is a minimum width of 32 inches, and ideally 34 inches. It’s also important for the threshold to be either flat or less than half an inch higher than the floor. If there is a height difference, install a rounded threshold to make the transition easier for wheelchair users and anybody with limited mobility who might be using a cane or walker. If the door swings outward, there will be more usable floor space in the bathroom, which makes it easier to maneuver when inside. If an outward-swinging door is not possible because of space considerations, pocket doors are also an option as long as they are easy to open and close.
Purchase door hardware that is designed to be opened with minimal effort, such as a lever style instead of a knob. If there is a lock on the door, make sure it is a push-button or easy-to-turn lever so that people with limited hand mobility will feel comfortable using it.
Handicap-accessible bathroom sinks should be lower (no higher than 34 inches) than a standard sink and have knee clearance under the bowl so wheelchair users can pull up to them and reach the faucet. Install wall-mounted or drop-in sinks and be sure there are no cabinet doors or other barriers underneath that would limit wheelchair access. Because you will also have to mount the mirror lower, consider installing an extra-long one so that all people can easily use it.
Install fixtures that enable easy use with lever handles instead of knobs. You might also consider adjusting the water heater or installing anti-scalding mixing valves to maintain a safe water temperature if mobility issues cause an individual to move more slowly when using the faucets in the sink and shower. Electronically controlled faucets might also be easier to use and adjust for those with limited hand mobility.
If you don’t have a handicap-accessible toilet, you can install a riser to make the toilet taller so less effort is required when using it. These often have integrated grab bars for people to use while standing and sitting.
In addition to those on the riser, install grab bars near the toilet area to help people who need to maneuver in and out of a wheelchair or away from a walker. The general recommendation is that it should support up to 250 pounds of force, which may require reinforced walls. Even if you don’t plan to install grab bars right away, consider reinforcing the walls during the building process to make it easier in the future. Toilet-paper dispensers should be located to the side or in front of the toilet so users don’t have to twist or turn to reach them.
Showers and Tubs
The main goal when designing a handicap-accessible bathing area is fall prevention. Falls can be caused by wet floors, not having enough space to maneuver, or having to reach too far. Avoid tubs with high sides and install step-in or roll-in showers instead. If your family has a regular wheelchair user, you will want a roll-in shower that has no curb. You might also consider a walk-in tub if your budget allows and you want the option for both showers and baths.
Grab bars meeting the same weight-bearing requirements should also be installed in and near the bathing areas. In the shower, they should be placed on all three walls for optimal safety. You can install either a built-in seat or bench, or purchase one that is sturdy and designed not to tip over if you want the option to remove it. Consider a removable handheld showerhead or one for which the height can be adjusted to accommodate everybody in the household.
When possible, avoid shower curtains and use translucent glass doors that are easy to open and close. Install overhead lighting above the shower itself to ensure adequate visibility. Make sure the towel bar or hook is located close enough to the shower or bath so that it is easily reachable before exiting.
There should be enough floor area in the bathroom for a wheelchair user to be able to enter, close the door, and maneuver around the space. The general guideline is that a wheelchair must have a space of at least 30 by 48 inches in order to properly use the sink. If you have a roll-in shower that requires turning a corner, there must be enough space to do this, which could increase the minimum recommendations. Also, think about whether you will need enough space for two people to maneuver if a personal care assistant is required now or in the future.
Avoid using bath mats that could impede a wheelchair or snag a cane or walker. It’s also important to use flooring material, such as a textured tile, that does not get slippery when wet. If you have a walk-in shower, install nonslip rubber grips or a slatted wood mat on the floor to provide traction and further reduce the chances of a fall.
Make sure all switches for lighting and exhaust fans are within easy reach for people in wheelchairs. Install large toggles or push buttons rather than the standard switches to make them easier to use. If you have a consistent need for a handicap-accessible bathroom, consider installing motion-sensor lighting for hands-free use. Smart home products can also be used for voice-activated lighting and outlets in the bathroom.
Make sure there is enough room for storage solutions that are accessible to people in wheelchairs and those who can’t safely reach with one hand. Medicine cabinets over the sink are often too high, and shelving in linen closets might be too deep or otherwise difficult to access. Low drawers and floor cabinets with open shelving are good options for storing linens, accessories, and any other items a wheelchair user will need to reach. In the tub or shower, make sure there is a place to store toiletries so they are easy to reach and not likely to fall on the floor.
Accessibility in the Whole House
In addition to the bathroom, if you need to make other rooms in your home handicap accessible, use these tips:
Install wide pathways with firm surfaces on the exterior of your home.
Put a ramp with sturdy handrails at the entry if there are stairs.
Design for single-level living with the kitchen and master suite on the main floor.
Make sure doorways are at least 32 inches wide and hallways are 36 inches.
Put smooth transitions between flooring materials and at door sills.
Place outlets 15 inches above the floor for easier access.
Place light switches no higher than four feet above the floor.
Install multilevel countertops in the kitchen.
Use smart home features that allow voice control of outlets and thermostats.
If you are considering building a new home, think about whether you will need handicap-accessible spaces now or in the future. If you think it’s a possibility, it’s often more cost-effective to integrate these features during the design and build process rather than retrofitting later.
Adair Homes is here to help you make smart design choices so you can enjoy your new home for a lifetime. We offer several handicap-accessible floor plans that you can customize to meet your family’s needs. Schedule an appointment in one of our branch offices today to learn more about building a new custom home with Adair.