Draw­ing Board

The ac­ces­si­ble home

Timber Home Living - - Contents -

If you’re think­ing of build­ing a tim­ber home, chances are you’re think­ing about for­ever. The fre­quent re­sult of years of plan­ning, re­search­ing and dream­ing, tim­ber homes are hardly ever built for the short term. In fact, they’re typ­i­cally built for the cur­rent home­own­ers as well as gen­er­a­tions to come.

So, how can you make sure this “for­ever” home ad­dresses your wants and needs now and down the road? Ac­cord­ing to au­thor and ar­chi­tect Deb­o­rah Pierce, the an­swer is ac­ces­si­bil­ity.

“When most peo­ple think of ac­ces­si­bil­ity, they think about a house that looks like a nurs­ing home, but that couldn’t be fur­ther from the truth,” says Pierce. “An ac­ces­si­ble house is re­ally just one that’s easy to take care of and live in. It’s low-main­te­nance and has low-op­er­at­ing costs. Sure, if a per­son is get­ting older or has a dis­abil­ity, then clean­ing a house or get­ting around is

go­ing to be dif­fi­cult. But wouldn’t we all ben­e­fit from a house that’s easy to clean or easy to ma­neu­ver no mat­ter our stage in life? That’s the prin­ci­ple be­hind ac­ces­si­bil­ity.”

Pierce goes on to ex­plain that ac­ces­si­ble homes are re­ally just uni­ver­sally de­signed, mean­ing they’re de­signed to be used eas­ily by all peo­ple, re­gard­less of abil­ity. “I think it’s help­ful to re-think ac­ces­si­bil­ity as be­ing user-friendly. Build­ing this type of home from the start just makes good sense,” she adds.

But will build­ing an ac­ces­si­ble home in an­tic­i­pa­tion of your needs down the road mean you’ll have to live in a home that doesn’t feel com­fort­able right now? Ab­so­lutely not, says Pierce. “When you look at it in a medic­i­nal en­vi­ron­ment, I can see why peo­ple would shy away from the idea. But if

you look at this de­sign method fea­ture by fea­ture, I think it’s eas­ier to see the ben­e­fits,” she says. “For ex­am­ple, if you ask peo­ple if they’d like a pass-through be­tween the garage and the kitchen so they won’t have to lug gro­ceries through the house, they think that’s a good idea. Any­time you can sim­plify the ac­tiv­i­ties of ev­ery­day liv­ing, we’re re­ally stream­lin­ing our life­styles and tak­ing away a lot of our stress. When you look at it as easy liv­ing, peo­ple get on board.”

TIM­BER-HOME AC­CES­SI­BIL­ITY

For­tu­nately, if you’re read­ing this, you’re al­ready on the right track since tim­ber homes are nat­u­rally ac­ces­si­ble. Be­cause the weight of a tim­ber home is car­ried on posts, you’re given max­i­mum flex­i­bil­ity for how you de­sign the in­te­rior spa­ces since in­te­rior walls are

usu­ally non-load bear­ing. This gives you the op­por­tu­nity to open up the hall­ways, en­tries and main liv­ing spa­ces — all im­por­tant de­sign fac­tors in an ac­ces­si­ble home, says Pierce.

“I de­signed and built a tim­ber home years ago and raised my chil­dren there, so I know first­hand how ac­ces­si­ble th­ese struc­tures can be,” Pierce ex­plains. “There are no in­te­rior par­ti­tions, so you have the ben­e­fit of wide ma­neu­ver­abil­ity. Sturdy, ex­posed tim­ber ceil­ing joists mean nat­u­ral block­ing for over­head lifts. Lights are wall­mounted, not re­cessed into the ceil­ing, so it’s easy to change bulbs. All of th­ese things make for a more liv­able home.”

So, what other el­e­ments should ev­ery ac­ces­si­ble home in­clude? Whether you’re start­ing from scratch or ren­o­vat­ing an ex­ist­ing home, plan­ning a ma­jor over­haul or mak­ing changes in­cre­men-

tally, Pierce sug­gests fo­cus­ing on four main ar­eas: en­try­ways, kitchens, bath­rooms and cir­cu­la­tion.

EN­TRY­WAYS

In an ac­ces­si­ble home, you want your house to feel wel­com­ing and com­fort­able from the start, which means in­cor­po­rat­ing wider door­ways, safe stair­ways and zero-step en­trances. Also think about in­stalling grab bars, rail­ings and safety han­dles. (For a per­son that doesn’t have good up­per body strength, you might need to put them in mul­ti­ple places around your house.) For­tu­nately, Pierce says you can in­cor­po­rate grab bars in a stylish way, through func­tional chair rail or elab­o­rate handrails. “Any place where a per­son might be dis­tracted or try­ing to get from one place to another, you re­ally need to pro­vide them with some­thing to grasp,” she says.

KITCHENS

Many peo­ple give up their houses as they get older be­cause their kitchens are just too hard to nav­i­gate. “Think about how much you’d pay eat­ing out if you couldn’t work in your kitchen” says Pierce. “Hav­ing a kitchen that works well for you is an eco­nomic fac­tor as well as a con­ve­nience.” Her sug­ges­tion: De­sign the space so that ev­ery­thing is within reach and the coun­ter­tops are cus­tom­ized (height, depth) to how they’ll be used. Should fre­quently used ap­pli­ances be placed on pull­out shelves or draw­ers? And what types of hard­ware will be eas­ier to grasp as you get older? In gen­eral, pulls are a smarter choice than smaller knobs.

BATH­ROOMS

In ac­ces­si­ble homes, bath­rooms are es­pe­cially im­por­tant, says Pierce. “When

peo­ple spend a lot of time in the bath­room, hav­ing that space be safe and pleas­ant makes it eas­ier to live well.”

To cre­ate an ac­ces­si­ble space, re­ally look at how you use your bath­room. If a per­son has a dis­abil­ity or is a bit older, it might take longer to bathe and more space to move around, so an ac­ces­si­ble bath­room should be big­ger than a stan­dard bath­room. Tubs and show­ers (Pierce rec­om­mends cur­b­less mod­els) should be over­sized, too. Also think about vis­i­bil­ity. “Ameni­ties like non-glare light fixtures, anti-fog­ging sys­tems and proper ven­ti­la­tion make it so that ac­ci­dents are less likely to hap­pen,” says Pierce.

CIR­CU­LA­TION

Per­haps the most im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tion when build­ing an ac­ces­si­ble home is how you’ll get around the in­te­rior spa­ces, says Pierce. “If you can’t get around or get in and out of a room eas­ily, it’s not go­ing to be us­able. Whether that means in a wheel­chair or just walk­ing safely, it’s some­thing you re­ally need to think about when plan­ning your space.”

To achieve this, make sure any paths or travel are clear of ob­struc­tions, wide enough, well-lit and free of glares. “Many peo­ple think of pas­sage­ways as left­over space in a home, but they are ac­tu­ally re­ally im­por­tant,” Pierce ex­plains. While you don’t need to in­cor­po­rate all of th­ese ideas in your de­sign, you should think about things like ramps or sloped in­te­rior walk­ways. Will you even­tu­ally need lifts on your stairs? Ac­com­mo­dat­ing stair­ways, gen­er­ally have wider treads with shal­low ver­ti­cal ris­ers.

In the end, ac­ces­si­bil­ity is re­ally about liv­ing com­fort­ably, says Pierce. “It’s the peo­ple who live with a dis­abil­ity on a daily ba­sis who are rais­ing the bar for the en­tire de­sign and con­struc­tion in­dus­try. They are the ones that are de­mand­ing homes that work bet­ter and are safer, eas­ier to main­tain and less stress-in­duc­ing,” she says. “In do­ing so, they’re bring­ing ideas into the home that have uni­ver­sal ap­peal, mak­ing it eas­ier to build our homes right the first time in­stead of hav­ing to make ma­jor changes in the fu­ture.”

This 1,200-square-foot barn-turned­home fea­tures non-slip floors, main­level liv­ing and an el­e­va­tor to cre­ate a home that’s en­tirely ac­ces­si­ble.

Low­ered coun­ter­tops and pull-out fea­tures make the kitchen an easy space to nav­i­gate, re­gard­less of age or abil­ity. The home also fea­tures an open floor plan with wide hall­ways for easy ac­cess.

To tour this ren­o­vated barn­turned-ac­ces­si­ble home, log on to tim­ber­home­liv­ing.com. All of the home’s ser­vice ar­eas are in­cluded on the first floor, in­clud­ing the garage, laun­dry room, of­fice and art stu­dio.

This home tour, as well as many oth­ers, can be found in The Ac­ces­si­ble Home by Deb­o­rah Pierce. ($27.95,TheTaun­ton Press)

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