By by Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D.:
As others plan to remodel or build a new home, they need to build in features that allow the occupants independence. Empowerment is a primary objective of a universal design home. Accessibility, safety, convenience and usability features need to be top of mind in the design phase.
One example of a universal design feature is a no step entrance, a feature that was not present in my previous home. Previously I had to use a porch lift at the front door and was exposed to bad weather. Rolling into our new home is achievable independently at any entrance. The low door thresholds and wide doorways are especially appreciated. This allows me the ability to park my van in the garage and roll right into our home through a choice of three separate entrances. Guests in wheelchairs and walkers can park under the portico and easily roll to the front door. There are no steps anywhere in the home except those leading to the basement. There is an elevator to the basement and loft.
My favorite room is the kitchen and the independence it's design and appliances offer. Visitors are most surprised when they see the side hinged oven in the center island. The microwave is located just left of the oven. This island has three countertop heights: 30 ½ inches, 34 ½ inches, 40 inches. The countertop by the sink and cooktop is 34 inches. The lowest section provides me access for food preparation, as well as enjoy a meal. Guests gravitate to the countertop height of their choice. The convenience electrical outlets on the center island are useful when plugging in small appliances. All light switches and electrical outlets are reachable from a seated position. More than 50 percent of the storage space is accessible from my wheelchair.
The cooktop and sink have plenty of knee space underneath. The cooktop has three low profile modules consisting of three gas burners and an in-counter steamer/pasta cooker. Water in this cooker can be drained by turning a knob, so there's no risk of getting scalded. Having the deck-mount pot filler at the cooktop is convenient when filling the steamer and pots. The articulating swing spout offers clearance for filling pots and can be positioned out of the way when not in use. The lever handle is easy to operate. There is a control panel at waist height for the ventilation fan and light above the cooktop. The dishwasher is raised 15 inches off the floor and easy to utilize. The side-by-side refrigerator/freezer has full extension adjustable height shelves and drawers, reachable from a seated position.
The 4 foot by 7 foot no step entry master shower is build for two. The adjustable height handheld shower nozzle that I use is on the wall to the left of my shower seat. This seat is mounted on the wall and is adjustable in height. The opposite wall has a stationary shower nozzle for Mark. We each have grab bars for safety. The heated tile floor is sloped allowing water to exit by way of the channel drain. The 42 inch wide doorway allows easy access for me in the wheelchair. The guest bedroom no step entry shower is a one-piece module with a built in fold-up seat, grab bars and adjustable handheld shower nozzle.
The whirlpool bath tub has integrated grab bars on the sides and is surrounded by a wide deck at the same height as my wheelchair seat. I am able to transfer from my wheelchair to the deck and pivot my legs into the tub for an independent transfer.
Doing laundry is no longer a frustrating experience as it was in our previous home. The wardrobe/laundry room is adjacent to the master bathroom. It contains a sink with knee space; pull out ironing board system; 34 ½ inch high center island with drawers and hampers; full length mirror; hanging rods; and shelves for shoe and clothes storage. The washer and dryer are front loading and are on pedestals for great access. There is plenty of room for me to navigate around the center island and appliances. Natural light comes into the room from the high windows on the east wall as well as the remote controlled venting skylight. LED ceiling can lights are activated by a motion sensor and illuminate the room.
Our home has lots of windows to take advantage of passive solar heating. We selected casement windows because the cranks are easy to operate, and the locks are reachable from a seated position.
The first noticeable improvement when I moved into our new home was the ease in navigating on the hardwood and tile floors. My shoulders were no longer strained as they had been on carpeting. I realized that my carpal tunnel syndrome pain and numbness in my hands was lessened.
The central vacuum system in the walls provides a much cleaner way to remove dirt from the floors. Dirt is sent through hoses in the walls into a canister in the garage. By not having carpet, there is a lot less dust in our home. I'm not sneezing and blowing my nose as often and my nose isn't stuffy at night. This could also be due to banning our cat from the bedroom by closing doors!
The air filtration system uses a MERV 16 air filter which removes airborne particles. The clean air quality has also been preserved by not using paints, stains, and adhesives with volatile organic compounds that pollute the air.
With 3500 square feet in the home and access to the 2000 square foot landscape paver area, I have plenty of room to walk with my walker. This gives me the opportunity for more exercise and weight bearing as I stand. The frequency of leg spasms is directly related to how often I walk and stand. As a result, I don't need to take anti-spasm medicine and get a good night's sleep. My muscles, bones and joints benefit from walking and standing. I've noticed a big improvement in my health since moving into our home.
For the first time since my injury I can close the door in our home when I use the toilet. All toilets seats are 17 ½" from the floor. The 2 1/2 bathrooms were sized to accommodate wheelchairs with pocket doors, privacy panels and telescopic doors to ensure that the occupants have adequate space for any size wheelchair.
My husband and I each have a home office at opposite ends of the house. Mark's office was built with a sound damping drywall and recycled cellulose wall and ceiling insulation to keep his conversations private. Both of our offices have art glass doors to ensure a quieter day.
The home design considerations for me have not had a negative impact on Mark. Our home is usable and inclusive to people of various sizes and abilities. That's the beauty of universal design!
Doing the Impossible Takes a Lot More Time
Mark and I approached this project with a passion and dedication that has been with us since the idea was initiated. We have learned to persevere in spite of adversity and setbacks. We have met amazing people who have championed our cause and helped us along the way. By putting a team of architects, designers, marketing experts, public relations specialists, lawyers, manufacturer representatives, and construction managers together, we learned the importance of pre-planning and getting advice from a variety of people. As we look back and see the immense challenges we faced and financial investment we made, we turn our attention to the project's mission. Our home serves as a catalyst for change in the building and design industry. We are hopeful that our home makes a significant positive difference in people's lives and gives others hope.
Notes: Selected Products Used at the Universal Design Living Laboratory
Adhesives - Henkel www.henkelna.com/index.htm
Art Glass Doors - ODL www.odl.com
Cabinetry - KraftMaid www.kraftmaid.com
The cabinetry in the UDLL was contributed by KraftMaid. We selected their Passport series because of the 9" X 6" toekick. All cabinents were standard sizes and it was easy to have the kitchen cabinets made so there were multiple heights of countertops. Features include: full extension drawers in the wall cabinets and center island; large under counter drawers for dishes, pots and pans; pull out spice racks; pull out pantry cabinet; floor to ceiling narrow pantry shelves; pull out closest organizer for cleaning supplies/products; rolling cart for food preparation and serving.
Cellulose Insulation - Nu-Wool www.nuwool.com/
Central Vacuum System - Vacuflo www.vacuflo.com/
Closet Storage System - ClosetMaid www.closetmaid.com
Drywall - National Gypsum www.nationalgypsum.com
Elevator - Garaventa Lift www.garaventalift.com
A Garaventa Lift,model Elvoron HR residential elevator, 42" wide X 60" deep, three stop elevator with automated clear acrylic accordion car gates; roped/hydraulic drive. This elevator was sized to hold a person using a power wheelchair or scooter and boxes. It is quiet and has self closing car gates allowing total independence to get from floor to floor. There is ample room to turn my manual wheelchair in a circle in the cab, as well as room for boxes that I transport with me.
Hardwood Flooring - Mannington www.mannington.com
Heating & Air Conditioning - Lennox www.lennox.com
Ironing Board System - Iron-a-Way www.ironaway.com
Landscape Pavers - Reading Rock www.readingrock.com
Microwave, Ventilation Hood - Thermador www.thermador.com/
Oven, Cooktop, In-counter Steamer/Pasta Cooker - Gaggenau www.gaggenau.com/us/
Paint - Sherwin-Williams www.sherwin-williams.com
Refrigerator & Dishwasher - KitchenAid www.kitchenaid.com
Silestone Countertops - Cosentino www.cosentinousa.com
Sinks, Shower Module, Toilets & Faucets - Kohler www.kohler.com
All plumbing fixtures including: toilets, sinks, faucets, and the step free shower stall at the UDLL were contributed by Kohler. The toilets are Comfort height providing an easy transfer and using only about a gallon of water. The sinks are stylish and allow me access for my knees. The hand held shower nozzle is light weight, and conserves water , yet is powerful in delivering water where you need it. The Freewill barrier-free shower stall was complete with the fold down shower bench, hand held shower nozzle and grab bars.
Stains - Gemini Coatings www.gemini-coatings.com
Tile Flooring - Florida Tile www.floridatile.com
Washer and Dryer - Whirlpool www.whirlpool.com/
Windows & Patio Doors - Marvin Windows and Doors www.marvin.com
Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D. is an internationally known speaker, trainer, consultant, and author. To contact Rosemarie and learn about her speaking services, go to: www.RosemarieSpeaks.com To learn more about her national demonstration universal design home, the Universal Design Living Laboratory, go to: www.UDLL.com
Copyright by Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D. 2013