Question from Mary - Universal Design


"Part of our goal for our home renovation is to help us deal with, well, getting older… We love our two-story home, and don’t want to give it up, but stairs are already a problem for my husband. Can you help?"

Answer from Ross Sanders

Dear Mary,

Don’t worry, what you are facing is very common and is in fact becoming a trend amongst the baby boomer generation. With all of us living longer and more active lives, we find ourselves wanting to be independent as long as possible. However, mobility can become a major issue as we age and the homes we raised our families in for so many years may not be ideal for us anymore. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to address the needs of our aging population, so I’ll touch on a couple of them that I’m currently working into a residential project.

As you mentioned, stairs can be a major obstacle as mobility decreases. If your home wasn’t designed for single-floor living, chances are you have stairs to negotiate to get from the private areas of the house (bedrooms and bathrooms) to the public areas (entry, kitchen, living room, etc). One solution is to install a residential elevator but there are many hurdles to overcome; namely, they’re expensive, require inspections and a fair amount of space. Open-platform residential lifts are another option, but although they’re far less expensive than enclosed elevators they are still fairly costly, require major remodeling and can be rather unsightly.

If you watch as much TV as I do, you have likely seen the commercials for in-home stairlifts. I used to scoff at the notion but as it turns out, they are actually pretty amazing. Far more affordable than even the simplest lift, they require minimal home remodeling and can be adapted to fit almost any stair. These lifts are electric, typically feature a bottom rail which must be attached to the wall and/or floor and have automatic controls including the all-important top/bottom call buttons. Most stairlift systems include batteries for backup so that the chair can complete its cycle should a power outage occur during use. They also include a number of other options, but features like seat belts and folding footrests are standard.

The 3-story home I am currently designing, features an underground garage, “one-level-livable” ground floor and a loft. To make the garage accessible, I am designing a stairlift into the bottom stair run that will allow the homeowners to park their cars in the garage and take the lift to the ground floor without having to manually climb stairs. It is important to note that the stairs are designed at a low-slope, comfortable width and with railings on both sides, so that stair use is as safe as possible without the lift.

To add to the functionality of the garage stairlift, I have also borrowed an old idea, the front loaded dumbwaiter. The dumbwaiter runs from the basement (by the stair from the garage) up to the ground floor (by the kitchen) providing easy access for groceries, firewood and other heavy or bulky items. Dumbwaiters do not take up much space, so I was able to place it into the inner void of my u-shaped staircase. This was a relatively inexpensive addition and is cheap to operate which only adds to its usefulness.

The combination of these two items will work wonderfully to allow my clients to continue living their independent lifestyle with added safety and convenience.

Check back next week for my video segment about Universal Design, which goes hand in hand with home accessibility. .

All the best,

Ross

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