How to adapt your home to suit your family’s changing needs

Roll in shower

You invest hundreds of thousands of dollars into buying your home. Then one day—as a result of sickness, an accident or just plain aging—your home doesn’t work for you any more. Managing stairs becomes difficult or a new wheelchair won’t fit in a hallway. What are you supposed to do? Sell the home you adore and have invested so much into? 

Luckily there are many ways you can adapt your home for your new needs, particularly in the kitchen and bath areas.  Here are some ways to make baths and kitchens even more “user-friendly.”

Kitchen Ease
When building new kitchens, think ahead. Years ahead. Consider not just your family’s current needs, but your family’s future ones as well. There may be a time when a family member with limited strength or mobility will need regular access to your kitchen.

“It is important to build kitchens ergonomically, for all ages, because it is never too early to think about making things easier to use,” says Angela O’Neill of Wellborn Cabinets, Inc. “No matter what the age of the occupants, features such as ‘touch to lift,’ ‘touch to light,’ ‘touch to open’ and ‘touch to close’ make life a little simpler.”

(This is a wonderful feature to consider even if you don’t have limited mobility or strength. Being able to tap a cabinet door with your elbow and have it magically open is also a convenient luxury!)

“Let’s look at a typical kitchen,“ says Monti Marsters of Totally Accessible Homes. “The typical kitchen will include countertops that are all at 36 inches high. Kids stand on chairs to reach them, adults under 5’2” tend to use more step stools than other adults, and people in wheelchairs can have great difficulty in reaching items on the countertops.

“Now let’s look at a kitchen designed with Universal Design  principles,” Marsters says. “The kitchen will have two or three different countertop heights. Many times a UD home will have a second sink, often in an island, which is at a different height than the main sink. This sink can easily be made without a cabinet base under it, creating a beautiful yet functional design. It can also be easily used by children on stools or our friends that happen to visit with walkers or wheelchairs.”

There are a lot of other new advances in kitchen technology that can make your family members life so much easier, according to Barbaro Ponce, owner of Adapted Living Spaces. Some dishwashers are now designed as drawers to make them easier to load and unload, and some ovens now can be installed at a lower level, with doors that are hinged on the side instead of the bottom, making them easier to navigate around and use.

“Remember to install cooktops with controls near the front,” Ponce says. And when possible, opt for glass top ranges. Pots are easier to slide around and help prevent spills. 

Don’t forget lighting either, says designer Robin Lamonte. “Adding more lighting in the rooms is key to Universal Design. Installing pre-lit switches to both the kitchen and bathroom for those last night trips is important.” Try an amber tone for this kind of lighting feature. Soft amber is more conducive to keeping you in a relaxed “sleep mode” than colder, more blue-toned LED lighting.

There are other ways to adapt your lighting for those with dexterity problems. “If turning on lights is an issue, you can have motion detectors that can turn the lights on and off automatically as you enter and leave a room,” Ponce says.

Marsters agrees that lighting is key. “When you add lighting under your upper cabinets to highlight and help light your countertops, you are showing off your kitchen, improving visibility, all while creating a workspace that helps people with limited visibility better see what is on the countertop.”

The Adapted Bath
It’s even more crucial to adapt your bathrooms because, unlike cooking in a kitchen, spending time in the bathroom is unavoidable.  Luckily, there is a whole host of ways you can adapt this space.

Simple fixes include installing drawer guides that allow the drawers to roll 95 percent out, versus the usual 50 percent. This helps provide access to the harder to reach backs of the drawer. You can also easily switch out any small round knobbed drawer pulls and door handles to lever type or long handles, which are easier to grab onto.

A more extensive remodel of your bath might include the installation of a new vanity that has room under the sink to fit a wheelchair.  Ponce also recommends installing grab bars by the toilet area and in the shower. 

And speaking of showers, you might consider installing a “roll in” shower. These have no lip and extra room, allowing a shower chair to be rolled right into the shower itself.

Whatever room you adapt, and however extensive those modifications are, know that this is the best kind of “home improvement.” It’s the kind that doesn’t just make your home more aesthetically pleasing, but also more welcoming and more comfortable for the people you love.

What does “Universal Design” mean?
By Monti Marsters, Totally Accessible Homes

Universal Design (UD) is a term used to describe a building and home layout that provides maximum amount of accessibility for a home, regardless of age or physical abilities.

A UD home is one that allows accessibility for the majority of the people, thus the term “universal.” It is designed in such a way that an entire family may grow up and later retire in it. Instead of the one-size-fits-all-homes that were commonly built up until the 21st century, contractors and remodelers that understand Universal Design have started to build homes for your comfort.

Universal Design, when well adapted, it is not even noticeable. Take your luggage for example. Twenty years ago, only children used luggage with roller wheels. Today 99 percent of all luggage sold has wheels on it. It’s a universal design that works very well and is used by the vast majority of travelers across the globe. Well designed homes will be just as convenient and considered much more attractive.

Your Holiday Home Safety Checklist
The holidays are here! Family and friends of all ages and abilities will be visiting your home. Keep your home safe by using this checklist to ensure that your home is free from obstacles. Most of the items on this checklist can be easily corrected, but consult a professional for any item that you are not comfortable completing yourself.

• Do all doorways have 32 inches of opening at the doorway?
• Are all pathways into the home clear of clutter?
• Are the steps and stairs clear of clutter and household items?
• Are all your stair treads securely fastened?
• Ensure there are no missing or damaged steps.
• Are all entryways and stairways well lit?
• Is there a light switch at both ends of your stairs?
• Are all carpets secure to the floor at the edges and corners?
• Are all stair runners attached securely to the stairs and landings?
• Do your doors have levers style hardware for easy opening?
• Are all light switches within 48 inches of the floor?
• Do you have ample floor space in your kitchens and bathrooms?
• Do you have a step stool in the kitchen so people do not have to stand on chairs to reach the upper cupboards?
• Do you have at least one shower with a no step entry?
• Do you have non-slip floors, or non-slip throw rugs in the bathroom?
• Do you have non-slip strips in the bottom of the shower or bathtub?
• Do you have grab bars installed for comfortable entry and exit of the tub?
• Are the hallways clear of clutter?
• Is the path to the mailbox clear of clutter and obstacles?
• Do you have a night light lighting the path to the bathroom at night?

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