Barrier Free Access

Improved accessibility offers benefits for all.

The aging baby boom population is driving a trend to make homes more accessible - a trend that may ultimately benefit people of all ages and abilities.

"People want to age in place," says certified aging in place specialist Mark Stinson, CAPS, vice president of Barrier Free Access, "This means that they want to stay in their home as they mature and go through the later years of their life, rather than moving to a care center or assisted living facility."

Don't envision cold, hard institutional looks. Barrier free accessibility today is stylish and sleek, Stinson says. "Baby boomers are really demanding nice-looking products," he says. "It's not just about being functional but about looking good in their home. And the manufacturers are finally realizing that there's a big market for this."

Stinson recommends that anyone remodeling their home, whether it's a kitchen, bathroom, family room or other area, consider incorporating features to improve accessibility. It's more affordable to do during a remodel rather than having to make accommodations later, he notes. And there's a demand for it, he says, nothing that Barrier Free Access regularly fields calls about homes for sale that have enhanced accessibility.

"This isn't just for aging baby boomers who want to age in place, even though they're driving the trend," Stinson says. "Anyone, at any time, can develop a disability of some kind, whether it's a broken arm or leg, for instance. Pregnant women may also benefit from improved accessibility features. And if possible, we all should have homes that are accessible to others with disabilities or people who may use a wheelchair, cane, walker or mobility device. We all know someone who is aging or has a disability and may not be able to get around easily in our homes."

Stinson says that some common accessibility features to be considered during a remodel include:

Toilets. Once referred to as handicap toilets, today's are now considered comfort-height toilets because they're more comfortable for a variety of people. "People of all ages are putting them in now," Stinson says.

Bathtubs. Many consumers are interested in bathtubs with doors, which allow you to step into the tub rather than scaling it. But Stinson has some strong words of caution about these tub doors: Keep in mind that you'll be stuck sitting in the tub while it fills or drains - you can't open the door when the tub's full, of course. And unless you have a heat lamp over your tub, you could easily get chilled during those waits. A roll-in shower stall may be a better alternative in some cases, and it's just as affordable, Stinson says.

Grab bars. Bathrooms can pose a fall hazard to people of any age. Grab bars, which you grab onto for support or balance, come in a variety of stylish finishes to match your other fixtures, including the popular oil-rubbed bronze. You can even have grab bar flanges - the end pieces that attach to the wall - custom made to suit your decor.

Lighting. Vision often decreases with age. Enhanced lighting can help prevent trips and falls when it's difficult to see even in the familiar spaces of your home. Consider adding more nonglare task lighting or overhead lighting. Motion-sensor lights are both effective and energy-saving, and placed in hallways between bedrooms and bathrooms can also help guide the way for little ones who need a night-time trip to the bathroom.

"People need to consider making these changes before they have an immediate need," Stinson says. "So often we get called after someone falls and breaks their hip. It's more affordable and more efficient to make your home more accessible while you're remodeling it."

And remember when choosing products, especially those with special finishes, to get cleaning and maintenance information from the manufacturer. You don't want to void a warranty by failing to follow directions.

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If you have questions about building or remodeling, call Rochester Area Builders at (507) 282-7698.

Copyright 2007 Rochester Area Builders, Inc. No part of the Remodel It Right Handbook articles may be reproduced or printed without written permission from Rochester Area Builders, 108 Elton Hills Lane NW, Rochester, MN 55901. Phone (507) 282-7698.