Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Thinking About What's Next

We've been thinking a lot lately about what we want to do with the house.  We had some plans done up by MGZ when we built the garage - a "Phase 2" where we connected the house to the garage, added a mudroom, rebuilt the kitchen, and added a master suite above it.  We loved the design and have been working at paying down the mortgage so that we can start our project (a 5 to 10 year plan).

However, things have changed significantly in the past 3 years.  As it turned out, our son has cerebral palsy - which, if you're not familiar with CP, basically is a non degenerative condition where his brain has difficulty sending messages to his muscles.  The effects of CP can be on a broad spectrum, from mildly affected, where you might not even be able to tell, to severely affected, where the person has very little control of any muscles and must be assisted in a wheelchair.  Our son falls somewhere in that spectrum closer to the severely affected.  He is 3 and cannot independently walk.  He does use a gait trainer (a walker for young children) for short periods of time, and has started to learn how to use a power chair at his new preschool, where they specialize in children with physical disabilities.

So where does this put us?  Well, the design is now impractical for our situation.  Most of the house now as it exists, is impractical for the situation.  All the charm of a folk Victorian, with it's chopped up floorplan with doorway divided rooms (all with thresholds), multi stories, and narrow hallways just creates barrier after barrier for our son.  We've lived with it so far, mostly carrying him from the 2nd floor to the 1st floor and back again, and wheeling him around the house ourselves, bumping into (and dinging up) all the door casings.  And that's not even getting into how all the spare space in the house stores one piece of durable medical equipment or another (2 different chair/strollers, a gait trainer, a stander, various tri-wall cardboard seating & table setups)

But... we can't imagine moving.  We've invested so much time in this house.  And we love so many of our neighbors and friends here.  And we're walking distance to all the things that our little town center offers, from the library to summer concerts on the Common.  And we're halfway between Jim's work and my work.  And there's a whole complicated school situation with our son that we have just recently settled, and a new town would mean going through that process all over again.  And of course, the brand new garage.

So our little Plain Jane will have to change.  It needs to be opened up.  It needs to have a smooth floors with no transitions between rooms.  It needs an accessible bathroom.  And yes, I want a residential elevator.  I've started looking around and trying to find ideas.  "Universal Design" really appeals to me.  I don't want our house to look medical, but I want it accessible.

Here's some things from AARP and NAHB that help explain what it means to have a Universal Design

  • No-step entry. No one needs to use stairs to get into a universal home or into the home's main rooms.
  • One-story living. Places to eat, use the bathroom and sleep are all located on one level, which is barrier-free.
  • Wide doorways. Doorways that are 32-36 inches wide let wheelchairs pass through. They also make it easy to move big things in and out of the house.
  • Wide hallways. Hallways should be 36-42 inches wide. That way, everyone and everything moves more easily from room to room.
  • Extra floor space. Everyone feel less cramped. And people in wheelchairs have more space to turn.
  • Reachable controls and switches: Anyone — even a person in a wheelchair — can reach light switches that are from 42-48 inches above the floor, thermostats no higher than 48 inches off the floor, andelectrical outlets 18-24 inches off the floor.
  • Easy-to-use handles and switches: Lever-style door handles andfaucets, and rocker light switches, make opening doors, turning on water, and lighting a room easier for people of every age and ability.
  • Low or no-threshold stall showers with built-in benches or seats
  • Non-slip floors, bathtubs, and showers 
  • Raised, comfort-level toilets 
  • covered entryway to protect you and your visitors from rain and snow
The list could go on, but that's the idea.  With the aging baby boom population, it's often also called "Age In Place" design.

How do we translate this to our house?  I'm not entirely sure yet, but I'm searching for ideas, we have MGZ coming over in a couple months to review our current needs, and we have a contact for a friend of a friend that will give us a tour of their home that was recently remodeled for their son in a wheelchair.

Here's an architect that specializes in Universal Design.  He set out to show that a 2 story urban house could be universal, and that this design is not destined only for a sprawling ranch.

And here's a home plan that is designed to be accessible.  It's a lot bigger than our house, but I feel like some of this design could be applied to our house's layout.  If you just look at the left side of the house, it's not *too* much different than ours (if you busted out all our walls)

Anyway, those are my first thoughts.  I'll add more of my current ideas later...