Full Episodes of Today's Homeowner with Danny Lipford

How to Make Your Home More Easily Accessible

By: Danny Lipford

Watch this video to find out what to look for when buying a home to make sure it will be easily accessible for those with physical limitations, and how to modify to these areas of an existing home:

  • Doorways
  • Bathrooms
  • Kitchen
  • Entranceway
  • Yard

Read episode article to find out more.

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Danny Lipford: This week on Today’s Homeowner, we’re talking with homeowners who face some unique physical challenges.

Phil Garner: I found myself paralyzed.

Danny Lipford: And looking at ways to overcome them by creating a home without limits. Everybody loves their home. And we all enjoy improving our homes to make them a little more attractive and a little more functional. But you know, sometimes things happen in our life, whether it’s illness or an accident or just getting a little older, that may limit our accessibility in and around our home. This week, we’re looking at what’s involved in making a home without limits. Phil Garner, a homebuilder, has recently found himself with some of those limitations. About 18 months ago he was paralyzed by a rare neurological disorder called Devic’s disease.

Danny Lipford: Well, Phil, it’s a great looking house. How long you been in here?

About four years.

Danny Lipford: Is that right?

Phil Garner: Yeah.

Danny Lipford: And I understand you were in a situation that you had to build it fairly quickly.

Phil Garner: We did. We had sold a home and they only gave us about 75 days. So, we had to hustle.

Danny Lipford: Well, I know with the disease that you had and everything, you were a builder. You didn’t build this with the intention of spending time in a chair. That’s kind of a unique perspective from the standpoint of when you’re building something and you know you’re going to be faced with that, you would have done a few things a little different, I guess.

Phil Garner: Absolutely. You know, I certainly would have never imagined I would find myself in the condition I am in. You know, 40 years old, life was going great. And one night, here with the family, we were putting together a puzzle, and within a couple of hours I found myself paralyzed. And I went to the hospital and after an extreme number of tests, they said, “Mr. Garner, you’re never going to be able to walk again.”

I found myself making adjustments not only to my life but also to my home. And that’s where I am today, is, you know, trying of retrofit a lot of things in my home. And going back and looking now, there’s some things that I would have done differently.

Danny Lipford: Right. I’m sure you never realized the things like the doorways. I noticed the doorway behind you there. That’s a pretty narrow doorway for anybody.

Phil Garner: It is, and I can demonstrate. One of the things is I thought a doorway that’s 32 inches wide should accommodate anyone, right? As you can see, it’s almost wide enough.

Danny Lipford: Oh, man.

Phil Garner: You know, my chair, it kind of nicks it. It’s little tight near my elbow.

Danny Lipford: Yeah.

Phil Garner: I’m a wide guy, I realize, but one of the things is a three-foot wide or 36-inch opening really is necessary.

Danny Lipford: Yeah.

Phil Garner: And I’d always thought about that in my head; but now as I’m in this condition, I really do realize it.

Danny Lipford: Phil has removed this door from its hinges to allow access. But a helpful solution for this situation might be the swing-away hinge, which allows the door to move out of the opening as it’s opened.

Fortunately you had an open floor plan. I know that’s a real important part of it. Big openings here, you’ve got like a five-foot case opening there, going into the kitchen and everything.

Phil Garner: We knew, for resale purposes that we wanted to have the most marketability. And we knew that we needed to have an open floor plan.

Danny Lipford: Boy, this is very important. It’d be rough if this was all carpet.

Phil Garner: The hard surfaces really do make a difference, Danny. I know if I did not have the tile and the hardwood, it would be impossible to navigate.

Danny Lipford: One of the key things, that when we’re doing renovations for someone that is in a wheelchair are the bathrooms. That’s a lot of work involved in the bathroom.

Phil Garner: It really is. One of the things that you don’t think about is hygiene. I mean one of things, but that’s something that’s a daily issue.

Danny Lipford: But I tell you what, you had all this space to work with. Boy, that’s a change in terms of a lot of the bathrooms that we’ve dealt with. Because the traditional bathroom hardly has enough room to get in, certainly not enough room back to a toilet, and certainly not a shower like that.

Phil Garner: Right. We have a separate shower and bathtub. When I got home, I realized quickly that of course, I didn’t want to get in the bathtub, and I really couldn’t accommodate with a bench getting into the bathtub. I needed a shower. Well, my shower had a four-inch curb that you had to step over to get into the shower. So I couldn’t get into there, as you see, we have a chair. And that chair just rolls in there.

Danny Lipford: A dedicated shower chair can solve a lot of issues for people with limitations. But another great option is the walk-in tub which allows easier access from the side. And I guess, you had to modify, add the hand-held and so forth. There’s a lot of this available these days. Certainly looks residential. It’s not an institutional- looking type of a faucet or anything.

Phil Garner: That’s right. It has a valve on the bottom. So, my family can use the upper shower head, and then when I get in there, of course, I just shift the valve over and I use the hand-held.

Danny Lipford: Yeah, what about accessibility to the vanities and everything? I mean, you have pretty good mobility in terms of your arms and so forth. So, I guess it would help to have a little bit of modification there?

Phil Garner: Well, you know, some countertops are built more kitchen height.

Danny Lipford: Fortunately for Phil, his bath vanity was already at a workable height.

Phil Garner: My wife and I, neither are actually very tall, so we built ours down at 36-inch height.

Danny Lipford: Oh, that’s good.

Phil Garner: Yeah. So, some people who may have a higher counter may need to lower theirs to a 36 rather than the 42.

Danny Lipford: While I continue visiting with Phil, Joe has an accessible Simple Solution.

Joe Truini: Whether or not you’re planning on doing your own plumbing projects, every homeowner should know where the shutoff valves are under the sink. In this case, we have a kitchen sink which is pretty typical, it’s full of clutter, and the valves are buried in the back. Now in this case, they’re really inaccessible because the garbage disposer is blocking one valve and the trap is blocking the other one.

But all you need to do to make it easier to turn the valves on and off, is make a tool out of the length of a PVC pipe. This is one-and-a-quarter-inch diameter, schedule 40, PVC pipe, and at one end I cut a notch using a jigsaw. It’s about one inch wide, and it’s just the right size to fit over the valve handle. You can slip it over the valve handle and now from right outside the cabinet, you can very easily shut the valve off or open it up. And if you cut the pipe to the right length you can even store it right inside the cabinet, so, it’s always there when you need it.

Danny Lipford: This week we’re getting some perspective on creating a home without limits. And sometimes financial challenges accompany the need for accessibility. So, the local construction director for Habitat for Humanity, Josh Shedeck, is showing me around a renovation project they recently completed for a wheelchair-bound mother of four.

Josh Shedeck: When the homeowner picked out the house we realized there was only one access that she could use to exit the home. There was a slider that was sitting in here, and due to the budget and the money that we had to work with, we were trying to figure out ways to make this house as much handicap accessible for her and stay within our budget. So we took out the slider and we put in the door and it was a very cost-efficient way of making it to where she has two exits and entrance into the house in case there’s an emergency.

Danny Lipford: I think someone in a wheelchair has a really hard time with those sliders. Having to reach and slide that. It usually has a pretty good size fin on the bottom of it to get over. It just doesn’t seem like that would be a good way to go.

Josh Shedeck: It’s like rolling over a terrible speed bump.

Danny Lipford: Yeah, right. Well, that works out great. And the kitchen, this looks awesome. But I noticed the elevated kickplate right in here. So, y’all decided to go with all new cabinets in here.

Josh Shedeck: We did. One of the things that she was asking for was being able to access the kitchen, she is in a wheelchair. So we wanted to make something that she can get as close to the counter as possible. It was a tight budget, but we were able to get a dishwasher. So that’s easier for her to take care of her own dishes for her family. She does have four kids.

Danny Lipford: Oh, boy.

Josh Shedeck: The other thing that we did while we were in the kitchen is we were able to open up the laundry room. Structurally, it didn’t impose any threat to take out the door that was here. It was 2’0.

Danny Lipford: With four kids, that place would get a work out.

Josh Shedeck: There you go. Absolutely. We were also able to put tile down in the kitchen and in the laundry room.

Danny Lipford: This is really nice right here.

Josh Shedeck: Which is very wheelchair-friendly.

Danny Lipford: And the carpet, I guess you just glued that right down.

Josh Shedeck: It is. It’s an indoor indoor-outdoor carpet glued down. We normally use a laminate floor in all of our houses in a rehab project. But with the laminate and wheelchairs, it has a tendency to pop apart the more they move around on it. So we were trying to just do something that when she moves in here this is going to be good for the life of her home.

Danny Lipford: Of course, the bathroom is something that’s always a challenge for people to figure out exactly the accessibility there. But seems a bit unusual that this opens to the living area instead of maybe the hallway, but that would be pretty tight in there, wouldn’t it?

Josh Shedeck: Danny, I’m glad you brought that up. Originally the house had a door. And it was a 2’ 0” door entering the bathroom right here.

Danny Lipford: I see.

Josh Shedeck: And structurally, it would have been a little bit more because we have ceiling joists and rafters that come into this wall, sitting right on this middle wall. And the other thing was by adding the door here and making it a 3’0”, it’s a lot more easier for her to get in and out of the shower. It’s a straight shot. You’re able to move around. And this is also cost efficient for us. We were able to get the shower in here, move the wall a little bit and get the toilet positioned over so that the shower would work. And that’s a key point when you’re trying to make a handicap accessible shower or tub unit.

Danny Lipford: Absolutely. Boy, you went all out there in order to lower that down. Because a lot of times you’ll have a pretty significant curb there. And the sink works out well. You have accessibility under there. And still, instead of the large handicap type sink, which can really be expensive, using a traditional sink, but just positioned in a certain way.

Josh Shedeck: That’s right.

Danny Lipford: What are some of the other things, Josh, that you had to do in order to make this a little more accessible for her?

Josh Shedeck: Well, we were able to open up some of the doorways, going into the bedrooms. And if you’ll notice on the back deck, we were able to continue a ramp from the preexisting deck out to the driveway. And it stays within the code on the slope, and it’s given her… She’ll be able to go outside and use it from here on out, hopefully.

Danny Lipford: The maximum slope for a wheelchair ramp is one inch of rise for 12 inches of travel. But the ideal is one inch of rise per 16 inches of travel.

Josh Shedeck: We would still leave an access to where they can come off the side of the ramp and access their backyard. You try to work on the house for the homeowner’s needs, but this is also a family. There’s one person in a wheelchair, but there’s still five members of the family. So, we try to incorporate everything that the family’s going to be able to use in the future of the home.

Danny Lipford: And I think you set a really good example here, too, in being able to do it on a modest budget, but also it doesn’t look like a hospital. A lot of people would think of it in an institutional way but this is very residential-friendly. I really admire the work that you guys are doing. Being able to take an existing home like this, and there’s a lot of them in the United States right now, and be able to adapt it to someone that’s having physical challenges like this. Great job, Josh.

Josh Shedeck: Appreciate it.

Jodi Marks: As more and more Americans move into their golden years, unfortunately, some of them are starting to feel the physical limitations of age. And also, just as unfortunate, is they’re maybe not able to feel as safe or move around in their homes as much as they grow older. Especially, if you’re thinking about aging in place and using your bathroom. Because that’s where a lot of accidents happen. So, grab bars are really important.

But you don’t like those institutionalized looks, and I wouldn’t either. So take a look at what Pegasus now offers. You can get different styles, different finishes. And the nice thing is you can get this without sacrificing practicality or safety because this all creates a nice style. It ties-in with the collection of say, tissue holders, towel racks, robe holders. All of this ties together to create a nice look, but again, provide the safety that you’ll need as you grow older.

Danny Lipford: This week we’re looking into removing the limitations that many homes pose to people who face physical challenges. We’ve got some great ideas from some of my fellow contractors, like Josh Shedeck, of Habitat for Humanity, who just completed a handicap-accessibility renovation.

Josh Shedeck:We’re trying to make these houses have no problems for at least 10 years plus or the life of the home.

Danny Lipford: And Phil Garner who was building houses long before he found himself in a wheelchair.

Phil Garner: I really didn’t want to have a handicap ramp coming into my front door.

Danny Lipford: Yeah.

Phil Garner: Because from the street, I didn’t want someone seeing a ramp, saying, “A handicap person lives here.”

Danny Lipford: Right.

Phil Garner: I want it to look normal.

Danny Lipford: But while I’m visiting with Phil, Allen’s checking out an entire community that’s designed specifically to meet the needs of older people with physical limitations.

Wallace Davis: It makes it really easy, accessible. “Accessible” is the keyword.

Danny Lipford: It’s operated by Volunteers of America Southeast. And Allen is taking the tour with group’s CEO, Wallace Davis.

Allen Lyle: Well, even outside, I mean, here’s a great instance here. I mean, how many people would have thought of this. I love this!

Wallace Davis: That’s a great thing. Even a person in a wheelchair can participate at a picnic table.

Allen Lyle: Right. So you got to tell me, I know we talked a little bit about this before. But your whole purpose for this, I mean, you got a back story of why this is important to you.

Wallace Davis: I think it’s important to provide, particularly opportunities for our elderly, to have a place to live that’s safe and comfortable and secure. And peaceful and enjoyable.

Allen Lyle: Right.

Wallace Davis: And something that is barrier-free. It gives folks a reason to get up and go in the mornings. And if you’ve got ’em all hemmed up and blocked in by architectural barriers, or by ground that’s not level, it doesn’t flow, then it’s hard for them to maneuver. But when you create a barrier-free kind of setting then you give them something to get up and go for. And you give them hope and a reason to live that day.

Allen Lyle: What I think I’m hearing is, a lot of people talk about, there’s a fear of aging. You’re taking away the fear.

Wallace Davis: Yes. We’re trying to take away the fear. And removing barriers helps to take away part of that fear.

Danny Lipford: Even though they’re small, door thresholds can be a big barrier for a walker or wheelchair. So, the entry doors here are equipped with a zero threshold so that residents can come and go freely. Allen’s continuing the tour with one of them to see the details on the inside of these houses.

Allen Lyle: Well Phyllis, You’ve got kind of a unique perspective here, in that you’ve seen life both in and out of a chair.

Phyllis: Right. When I moved in here, I was in a wheelchair. So I get it right up under there real well and eat right there, because we didn’t have a dining room here. And the stove’s very low, where you can reach it, the cabinets are all low.

Allen Lyle: What I love, one thing about the stove is you got, so many times you have controls in the back . . . in front.

Phyllis: And they have them all right there, so you can use them. And all the light switches are low enough. You can reach them from a wheelchair.

Allen Lyle: I love the fact that you’ve got,  of course, it’s. . . . You’re using storage now, but when you had the chair . . .

Phyllis: But when I had the chair I didn’t have anything under there.

Allen Lyle: You could slip up here and work. Right. You could slip up here and prep work, it’s a bit low.

Phyllis: That’s where I’d usually eat, just go right up under there and eat.

Allen Lyle: You mentioned the cabinets, all right. This is something a lot of people may not catch on to right off the bat. But these are considerably lower than they typically would be.

Phyllis: Oh, yeah. They’re really low. And you can reach them from a wheelchair if you’re sitting here. You can open them up. I’ve had to do that before.

Allen Lyle: Of course you’ve got the larger door openings out here.

Phyllis: Very wide doors. And in the bathrooms, are all the bars, grab bars.

Danny Lipford: It’s difficult to utilize a grab bar without a wall nearby. But the super pole is a modular support system that can be temporarily installed between the floor and ceiling in almost any room.

Phyllis: And then I’ve got a seat that lets down.

Allen Lyle: Right. Also the toilet seat is higher.

Phyllis: Toilet seat’s higher.

Allen Lyle: It’s just that these little bitty things like that that people…

Phyllis: Don’t realize, in a handicapped apartment… You don’t have a cabinet under the sink in the bathroom, so your wheelchair goes up under there for you to brush your teeth and put your makeup on, whatever.

Danny Lipford: The height of mirror placement is another important detail to consider because it needs to offer a good view whether you’re in a chair or standing.

Allen Lyle: Would I be wrong in saying that you are an avid fan of VOA?

Phyllis: Oh, yes! I appreciate ’em so much. Because I don’t know where I’d be. I’ve got a son in Pennsylvania and a daughter in Mississippi. Now, I didn’t want to live with either one of ’em. So I’m just very proud VOA offers this. ‘Cause it’s been wonderful, I’ve been with them now, six years.

Antwon asks: I’m putting a grab bar in my parent’s ceramic tile shower. Is there an easy way to locate the studs without tearing out the tile?

Danny Lipford: It is fairly easy to find the wall stud in a wall, even behind ceramic tile like this, especially if the tile doesn’t go quite to the ceiling. You can use a stud finder like this, locate exactly where the stud is, level down, and you’ll know exactly where to attach your grab bar into that stud.

Now, if your ceramic tile goes all the way to the ceiling, well, you can buy an enhanced stud finder, called a deep sensor type, that’ll go through the density of the ceramic and locate those wall studs. Now, make sure you use a long enough screw, so that you’re going through the tile and at least an inch and a half into the wall stud.

Now, a lot of times you’ll find a stud on one end of the grab bar and not be able to find it on the other end. That’s where you need a hollow wall anchor, like this, to secure the other end of the grab bar. That way the grab bar will be there for you when you need it.

Danny Lipford: As you can see, creating a home without limits requires some research and planning. But the effort is worthwhile if it makes you or a loved one more at home in your own home. And I realize a lot of the things that we talked about on this week’s show are not the kind of things that you want to dwell on doing at your home.

But if you are faced with some of the challenges, like the folks that we talked with in this week’s show, hopefully we’ve been able to give you some information and inspiration to navigate through any challenge you might face. And if you need more information, go to our website at todayshomeowner.com. We’ll see you next week here on Today’s Homeowner.



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One Comment on “How to Make Your Home More Easily Accessible”

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  • Ms. Johnson Says:
    June 7th, 2012 at 11:56 am

    I’ve always liked your columns in Better Homes and Gardens, but especially appreciate your information and videos on Accessible Home ideas. This is a delicate subject, but you addressed it very well.

    I need to widen my bedroom closet door and make the whole space wheelchair accessible. So any additional ideas you may have will be welcomed. Thanks.


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