Design features intended to help elderly homeowners “age in place” are now being marketed to much younger buyers as accommodations that can not only serve them far into the future but also make their lives easier now.
To be specific, every family member from the oldest to the youngest will benefit from a “curbless” or “zero step” entry at the front or back door or in the garage, said Bill Owens, a Columbus, Ohio, home builder. When an entry can be reached without having to negotiate steps, a person using a wheelchair, walker or crutches has no difficulty getting in and out. This also helps the parent of a small child who simply wants to take him out for a walk. Instead of struggling to get the stroller down the front steps and onto the sidewalk, you can open the door and roll right out.
An absence of steps is not the only critical aspect of the curbless entry, Owens said. The opening itself should be three feet wide, so that a person with a large stroller, walker or a wheelchair can effortlessly pass through. Even the crew bringing in your furniture on move-in day will appreciate the wider doorway because it will make their job easier and reduce the possibility of damaging your belongings.
Once you’re inside the house, wider doorways throughout will make every room accessible and ensure that the furniture is put in place without incident. How much wider? Six inches more than the standard 30 is optimal, said Vince Butler, a builder and remodeler in Clifton, Va. How much does this add to the cost? About $2 to $3 for each door, he said.
Wider hallways will also make a difference to someone using a wheelchair or a scooter. A standard 36-inch hall width requires that person to do a lot of maneuvering to get into a room, but when the hallway is six inches wider, the turn is a “cinch,” said Owens. A wider hallway will not affect overall house size because removing a minuscule amount of floor area from the rooms to either side of the hallway to make it wider is inconsequential to the function of those rooms. In fact, the wider hallway and doorway will make the room being entered seem bigger, he said.
A wider stair, which adds about $200, can also make things easier for the household. Add six inches to the standard 36-inch width and two people can use it at the same time. With the extra width you can also move around a chair lift with greater ease, said Butler, who speaks from experience. He installed one for his mother’s use on his own standard 36-inch wide stair and “it’s always in the way,” he said.
A chairlift has other negatives, Butler added. If the person is not ambulatory, you need a wheelchair at each stair landing and a space to park it. Though an elevator is more costly ($15,000 to $20,000 vs. $6,000 to $8,000), you avoid a chairlift’s shortcomings. To prepare for this possibility, he recommends stacking five-by-five-foot closets that later could be converted into an elevator shaft. In the meantime, you get a walk-in pantry on your first floor and an extra walk-in closet upstairs.