Making homes user friendly for people of all abilities is something we are getting more requests for as we remodel kitchens and baths.
Historically, homeowners did not consider accessible design until a family member had to use a wheelchair or had other ambulatory issues. Now it’s becoming more talked about as baby boomers that want to stay in their homes prepare for aging issues as well younger families who see a multigenerational household in their future.
Often the terms accessible design, universal design, and aging in place are used interchangeably. While they embrace many of the same principals and philosophy, they really do have different meanings and applications. Accessible design is meant to comply with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). This means that spaces must be barrier free and accessible to the disabled, including wheelchair users. Many aspects of universal design can accommodate wheelchair users, but its intent is also to make the home easy to use for all, regardless of physical capacity. This includes people with arthritis, the elderly, injured, or movement impaired as well as small children. Aging in Place is geared toward making the home a place where seniors can live as long as possible, incorporating many of the universal design elements and a few others such as home health monitors and alarm systems.
The main component of universal design is to make the home more open and provide flexibility for future use of the rooms. Many components of universal design have become regular features in home remodeling such as walk-in or curbless showers, wider doorways and hallways (at least 36 in. wide), comfort-height toilets, multiple layers of lighting, step-less entry doors, and lever handles (easy to use whether you have arthritis or when your hands are full of packages or groceries).
Some modifications to include universal design elements can be done on a modest budget but other construction, such as widening doorways and hallways to accommodate a wheelchair would be a much more significant undertaking. That’s why if you are considering a kitchen or bathroom remodel, you might want to consider accessibility features, rather than having to redo it in the future. For example, in a bathroom remodel, considering the placement of a toilet to accommodate the possible use of a wheelchair, doesn’t change the aesthetics, it just gives you more room. (Note: Wheelchairs require a space at least 30 in. wide by 48 in. deep in front of the toilet.)
Manufacturers have been on trend for this for many years and the annual kitchen and bath show always has its share of new and improved universal design or aging in place products. Here are a few things we have seen at trade shows and have already used in some of our remodeling projects:
Comfort Height toilets: Two inches taller than standard models, they make sitting down and standing up easier for people of all ages. Every manufacturer now offers comfort height models so there are plenty to choose from. One of Kohler’s popular models is the San Raphael Comfort Height with bidet functionality. At your command, heated water sprays out of two wands with adjustable pressure and temperature. A night-light, air blower, remote control, and automatic deodorization offer added convenience. A plus with the toilet/bidet combinations is it saves on space.
Shower systems: Delta Universal Design Shower Systems offer a flip-up seat. Grab bars come preinstalled and are flangeless for easy cleaning.
Showerheads: Many manufacturers now offer handshowers with slidebars, which can be mounted low enough to accommodate both seated and standing users. Moen’s Pause Control Handheld Shower is a high quality shower sprayer specially designed to be easy to use for all ages. Its unique soft grip handle allows the user to reduce and restart water flow with the touch of a button. A push-button pause control slows the flow of water. Kohler offers the Flipside™ 01 multifunction handshower with four distinct showering sensations, each with its own dedicated spray face. The sprayhead flips on its axis – no twisting.
Bathtubs: For those that prefer tubs to showers, or who just want a soak, Kohler’s Elevance™ Rising Wall Bath has a wall that opens for access and with a touch of a button, slides up and forms a water-tight seal. Integral water fill enhances the bathing experience by providing a waterfall effect and eliminates an impeding spout in the bathing space. Delta’s Transfer Tub offers an exaggerated side ‘bump” to offer a safer bathing experience for people with disabilities as well as provide assistance to caregivers. A flip-up bench allows bathers to sit at a comfortable height that makes it easy to get in and out. The bench can be flipped up or removed completely, allowing the Transfer Tub to be used like a conventional bath/shower unit. Ergonomic handles positioned on the sides of the tub provide stability and assistance during entering and exiting the tub. A backrest molded into the tub basin adds comfort
Grab bars: Helpful for anyone of any age. They used to be very institutional-looking but now they come in a variety of shapes and colors to coordinate with other bath accessories.
Faucets: Delta’s Touch20®Technology and Touch 20.xt™ Technology are available on kitchen and bath faucets, providing the option of touch and hands-free activation. The user can tap the faucet on or off anywhere on the spout or handle. The “xt” line offers an entirely hands-free experience.
Kitchen cabinets: Can be made more accessible by replacing base cabinet half shelves with roll-out trays, which also increase storage capacity. For corner cabinets, swing-outs or lazy Susan’s make them more accessible.
Drawers for appliances: Includes refrigerators, freezers, microwaves, and food warmers. Under the counter installation makes them easy to use for children, people in wheelchairs and those who have trouble bending. Dishwashers also can be installed as a drawer for easy filling and emptying. Some homeowners prefer to have both a standard and a drawer model, depending on their needs.
Cooktops: Electric or gas cooktops with continuous grates are helpful because pots and pans can be moved without lifting. Staggered burners and controls on the front of the stove eliminate reaching back over a heated surface. Induction cooktops, which use magnetic energy and only generate heat directly below and next to the pot, can reduce the chance of someone with vision or memory challenges from burning themselves on a hot surface. For the same safety reason, they’re great for kids, too. Induction cooktops also use far less energy and, because they don’t heat up your kitchen, save on your air conditioning bills, too.
As you read this, you can see there are many options available to incorporate universal design elements. If you are interested in making your home a little more user-friendly, Callen designers can help you. We have on staff a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS), who can advise you on what will work best in your home.