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Assess Your Home for Safety, Comfort and Independence

Take a Tour With These 21 Questions to Analyze Your Home's Accessbility

Health issues can hit us suddenly and without warning. These changes can throw us into a frenzy of hospital stays, doctor visits, rehabilitation, caretaking, frantic scheduling and general chaos. While the patient is in the hospital and then rehab, the caretakers are so busy with managing the details they often don’t think about what will happen when the patient comes home. Ensure your home is ready for the lifestyle changes that can happen when tragedy strikes.

Universal Accessible Design addresses safety issues, mobility and function and should be built into every home. As the wave of Baby Boomers is hitting retirement age, many builders and designers are incorporating accessibility items into new homes as standard features. But what if you have an older home and plan to live in it for as long as possible? Will it accommodate your needs today and the future?

Take the time now to tour your home and see how safe and accessible it truly is. Use the following questions as a guide to determine what repairs or additions need to be made now or in the future.

1. Are doorways wide enough for wheelchair, scooter or walker access?
A minimum 32 inches of clear opening is needed. If there isn’t enough room, a swing door could be replaced with a pocket door (a door that slides into an opening in the wall).

2. Do doors have knobs or levered hardware?
Levers are a must. Knobs are difficult or impossible to use for arthritic hands or for those with limited manual dexterity.

3. Are there covered entries into the home that do not involve steps?
There should be at least one entry into the house that can keep users out of the elements and could be ramped if necessary.

4. Is the main living area (including bedrooms) all on one floor?
A ranch style home is the best for accessibility.

5. Are the bedrooms on the second floor?
Make sure there is a place where an elevator can be added or an electric stair lift can be installed.

6. Is there a room available on the first floor that could be changed to a bedroom?
Often, a bedroom on the main floor can be used during the day so the caretaker doesn’t have to continually climb stairs to attend to the patient’s needs. If the patient is ambulatory (or if there is an elevator or electric stair lift), he or she can be moved to the upper floor for the night.

7. Is that room located near a full bathroom?
A full bathroom includes a shower or tub.

8. Are all bathrooms equipped with grab bars that have been properly installed to support 250 to 300 pounds?
Grab bars should be provided near the commode and in the shower/tub. They should be installed into the wall by a professional contractor.

9. Are hallways wide enough for easy passage of wheelchairs, scooters and walkers?
A minimum of 36 inches of width should be provided.

10. Are main living areas and bathroom facilities wheelchair accessible?
A minimum 5 feet by 5 feet of clear turn space is needed within the room.

11. Does the kitchen have multilevel workspaces?
Standard height for countertops and islands is 36 inches. A high bar at 42 inches is great for tall people or those with back problems that would rather stand when doing prep work. Low countertops, about 30 inches high, would accommodate those of short stature, children, those in wheelchairs and general seating.

12. Is there countertop space to be used as a “landing area” adjacent to all appliances?
A 24-inch-wide area is a minimum requirement next to or directly across from an oven, cooktop, stove, microwave or refrigerator. This gives a spot to immediately place hot or heavy items when transferring to and from appliances.

13. Do the base cabinets have roll out shelves or drawers?
Shelves and drawers provide easy access to items in the back of cabinets without bending and crawling in to reach.

14. Are appliances of appropriate style and heights?
Here are some considerations:

  • Side-by-side refrigerators provide easy access as opposed to those with upper doors.
  • Drawer-style dishwashers and microwave ovens installed below countertops are easier to operate than door styles.
  • Front loading washer and dryers offer accessible doors rather than reaching over the top.
  • Electric ceramic cooktops with level burners are safer for transferring items between burners.
  • Front controls offer safe access without reaching over hot pots or burners. Burners with lights indicate when surface is hot.
  • Wall ovens can be installed at lower- or higher-than-standard heights to accommodate the user’s needs.

15. Are the controls on appliances easy to read?
If numbers or letters are worn, rewrite them with a marker or highlight regularly used numbers with red nail polish or paint.

16. Is there good task lighting in all work areas of the home?

  • Kitchen: Under cabinet lighting as well as over the cooktop/range
  • Kitchen and baths: Above the sinks
  • Laundry: Above the washer/dryer
  • Garage: Over the workbench

17. Are light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats and other controls located in accessible locations no higher than 48 inches from the floor?
This height is accessible to people of various heights as well as wheelchair occupants.

18. Is there good lighting at exterior entries, in interior halls and stairways and in main living areas?
Ensure lights of the proper wattage are in place in a fixture with at least two bulbs. That way if one bulb goes out you won’t be left in the dark.

19. Are floors smooth, hard surface and free of scatter rugs?
Hard surface flooring (tile, wood, vinyl, etc.) is easily maneuvered by slow walkers and wheelchairs. If carpeted, a low, dense pile with firm pad or glued down installation should be used.

20. Do you have an exterior flashing porch light or 911 switch?
These can be found at local hardware or lighting stores. Flip the switch to alert responding emergency vehicles to your location after you’ve called for help.

21. Is your home wired for security, including a personal emergency response system?
Home security systems can be retrofitted (and include smoke detectors and fire alarms) and installed for small monthly payments. Personal emergency response systems (pendants or wrist watch models) are not only for the elderly or infirmed. Even young, single people can need medical attention if they’re injured when no one is around.

Some of these items are easy to fix and installation could be a do-it-yourself project. Others might take some planning and need professional installation.

Have the contact information of licensed contractors, subcontractors and certified aging-in-place specialists (CAPS) designers that you know (or have been recommended) in your phonebook. This eliminates the rush in stressful times to find someone. If you don’t know of anyone, call your local home builders association for a recommendation of licensed, insured members.

By: Carole Ponzio CAPS, CGA, Design Solutions! Port Charlotte, FL is a member of NAHB, FHBA, CDBIA & NKBA., Visit website

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Home Assessment List

  • Doors: 32 inches clear opening and levered hardware
  • Hallways: Minimum 36 inches wide
  • Lighting: Task lighting as well as good overall lighting for stairs, halls and living areas
  • Security: House alarms, personal emergency response systems, exterior flashing light
  • Flooring: Stable surfaces (tile, wood, vinyl or low nap carpeting) without throw rugs
  • Kitchens: Roll-out shelves, accessible appliances at appropriate heights
  • Baths: Grab bars and 5 feet by 5 feet of open turn space
  • Resources: List of contractors, sub-contractors and designers for current or future use
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