Building an Accessible House in Kalamazoo MI

businessman in wheelchair

Renovating a house to make it accessible is sometimes more expensive than building a brand new, fully accessible home! What are the features you should consider when you build a new accessible home in Kalamazoo MI?

For the purposes of this post, we will assume that the house must be used for someone with arm canes as well as a wheel chair.

In our opinion, the best accessible houses are houses that are great for ALL people, not just the people who need accessibility features.

Building a house with accessible features and designs may cost about 5% more than conventional construction depending on what features you build into the design. That’s not bad when you consider what it costs to remodel an existing home for accessibility.

When done correctly, the accessible features of a new house will not drawbacks for resale. They don’t have the “industrial” or “hospital” feel that you’d expect. Many accessible homes are simply homes with good design, open floor plans and “friendly” features.

What makes a home handicap and wheelchair accessible? It’s the ability to     enter and move around without any of the obstacles such as steps and narrow  doors. The bathrooms, bedrooms and kitchen are wheelchair accessible. Everyone’s     needs are a little different, so you’ll have to make a few changes to any     plan to suit your individual requirements and physical limitations.

Foundation of Accessible Homes in Kalamazoo

From the outside an accessible  house often doesn’t look any different from any other new house in the neighborhood.

You may notice that it sits a little lower than normal and that there is no step up to the front door. Or, you may realize that the no step entrance is from the garage into the house.  When building an accessible house in Kalamazoo, this is often the most desirable no step entrance since this also provides a covered entry and no need to worry about the weather when going in and out of the house.  You might also find that the front door  of an accessible house sits at grade so you can roll a wheelchair from the sidewalk straight into the house.   You may find that the sidewalk goes all the way around the house and connects to a patio in back.

DeLoof Builders are skilled at building accessible housing.  If you are considering a new accessible build,  DeLoof Builders are a great choice.  They have accessible floor plans that are proven winners or you can bring your own plans.

One accessible house that was built  started with a foundation which was built as they normally would with 12-inch block. But on top of the last course the builder ran one more course of 6-inch block. When the builder installed the floor joists, they set them on the 12-inch blocks and butt them up to the 6-inch course. This way the 6-inch block acts as the barrier between the soil and the framing.

The builder also ran ice-and-water protection (like the stuff you put on roofs) around the base of the building to give them another layer of protection between the soil and the framing.

Accessible Doors

In order to accommodate a wheelchair, (a standard wheelchair is 24-27″ wide), doorways should be a minimum of 32″ wide. If the doorway is located  in the typical hallway and requires turning a wheelchair, you’ll need a 36″  door. Stay away from swinging doors unless you have a clear floor space (18-24″) on the pull side of the door.   We don’t recommend any use  of accordian doors either because of the space it takes up in the door opening.  Pocket doors can be an option.

Planning the General Living Space in an Accessible Home

Most of the living space in an accessible home is on the main floor. A good floor plan often contains a large entry and wide hallways which give the house an open feeling.

One thing to consider is installing windows which are taller and are installed lower than standard windows.  If you install the windows about 22 inches off the floor you will have a nice view whether you’re standing or sitting in a wheelchair.

Another feature to consider is tandem latches on the casement windows. This means the two handles are linked together, so if you open the bottom one the top one opens too.

One way to make an accessible house the most flexible is to incorporated a lot of bi-fold doors and pocket doors in the house. These waste less floor space than swinging doors, and a pocket or bi fold door is typically easier to use for someone with limited mobility. When regular doors are added to the plan, they should have large lever handles that you can open with just one finger.

Rocker switches for the lights are easier to use than standard switches. They help whether you’ve got stiff joints in your fingers, or just an armful of packages.

All of the wall outlets un an accessible house are about 20 inches off the floor instead of the usual 12 inches. This means less bending over when picking up things and are easy to reach from a wheelchair.

Another great option to consider when building an accessible house in Kalamazoo is to add an automatic garage door opener to the door leading from the house to the garage.  You can then have a button on the wall which opens it up.  The door stays open long enough for someone to get through, then closes.

Be sure to purchase garage doors which are 8-feet high.  This is a bit  higher than normal but can then accommodate a raised roof van.

If you are interested in adding additional accessible living or storage room in the basement you can consider installing a platform lift. Normally it’s parked at the bottom so the stairs can be used by anyone, but when it needs to be used, the person can bring it up and stand or roll on to it. At the bottom, the platform fits into a recessed floor so a wheelchair can roll right off or a person can step off at the same level as the floor. The lift may be an expensive option to the house, typically in the neighborhood of eight thousand dollars, but you might consider this a good investment, depending on your circumstances.

Any fireplaces in the house or basement should be gas and should be equipped with a remote starter so they can have instant fire no matter where you are.

Creating an Accessible Bathroom

When building a new home, you might want to consider installing the subfloor to the bathroom about an inch lower than the rest of the house. This will allow for enough room to put in a ceramic tile floor with a mortar bed, while still having the floor finish flush with the carpet in the bedroom for a smooth rolling surface.

When you consider a bit lower sub-floor as described above, then you can also slope the floor down to a drain in the roll-in shower area. This way you don’t need a curb to separate the shower from the rest of the bathroom.

When you are constructing the bathroom, consider putting in several 2×10’s at a standard height for bracing the grab bars.  You might also ask your builder to instal plywood on the outside of all the studs to support any other bars or shower chairs that may be needed in the future.

Actually putting in this additional bracing may be a good idea for anyone building a new home. The small added cost of putting in additional supports now definitely out weighs the cost of having to tear into the walls later.  It is a very good idea to keep a builder log of all the accessibility features added to the house for future reference or future homeowners.  I can imagine that it would be VERY EASY to forget that additional supports were added in the bathroom.  Forgetting this (or never knowing in the first place) may cause unnecessary tear outs in the future if additional accessiblity features are added.

While building an accessible bathroom, be sure that the sink vanity is open at the front so that someone can sit by it with a chair or so that someone can roll up to it with a wheelchair.  Be sure that you consider a way to protect the knees from the hot pipes too.

After reading the guide by Larry Adkins, you might want to consider installing sturdy support bars  or a partial wall around the toilet. It may also be wise to consider a walk through closet which would allow someone the ability to get into the closet from either the bathroom (so it’s easier to go straight from the shower to the dressing area) or the bedroom.

Wheelchairs need a minimum  32″ door for a straight in approach. If the doorway is located in the  typical hallway and requires turning a wheelchair, you’ll need a 36″ door.

Planning an accessible kitchen with your Kalamazoo builder

The kitchen is a place where a lot of little features can be added that will make cooking easier for someone needing accessibility.

Consider addeing a pull-out breadboard which is a little lower than normal height so someone in a chair or wheelchair can work at it comfortably.  Consider moving the outlets ad the switches for sink light and disposer out on the front of the cabinets.  You might also want to consider hiding switches for range vent and lights inside a cabinet where a wheelchair passenger can reach them.

Consider makeing the cabinets under the sink have doors that are retractable so it would be easy to sit by or wheel up to the sink.  Instead of installing a typical back-splash between the upper and lower cupboards,  consider turning that into a window.  It would be a source of wonderful natural light and beauty in  the kitchen and it would be about  eye-level for someone in a wheelchair.


To see all the uniform accessiblility standards, click this link. 


Click here to see a GREAT plan for that Kalamazoo accessible home! Contact us to meet with the builder!


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