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CONSTRUCTION : Details That Make for People-Friendly Home

November 19, 1994|From Associated Press

Building a home that is friendly and convenient for people of all ages and different degrees of health may be one of the smartest investments you can make with your home-buying dollars.

One in every three Americans will develop special housing needs in his or her lifetime. Building the right features now will add little to your overall costs but can spare you many costly remodelings or an even more expensive move to a nursing home later on.

Some of the most beneficial details you should look for in an adaptable house include:

* Lever handles on doors and faucets. Round knobs can be impossible to grasp or turn if you suffer from arthritis or an injured hand or wrist, if your arms are full or if you're just a tyke. Levers can be operated with little effort.

* Height-adjustable showers. These and adjustable soap dishes serve everybody well, from the wheelchair user to people who need to sit when bathing to that 6-foot-10-inch family basketball star.

* Lower light switches. By placing switches, fuse boxes and thermostats at 48 inches, you bring them within reach of wheelchair users and kids.

* Reinforced bath walls. Installed during framing, a simple 2-by-4 brace for a grab bar in your bath wall can save you from having to pay for installation later.

* Eliminate level changes. Sunken living rooms and other level changes can stop a wheelchair cold and can even cause a fall.

* Wide doors and halls. Doors should be a minimum of 34 inches, hallways 42 inches. This not only gives you access for wheelchairs and walkers, but also makes moving furniture or any bulky object easier.

* Eight-foot-high garage doors. Taller garage doors allow wheelchair vans to get in and out, and a wider garage also makes climbing in and out of the car easier.

* Single-story living. For some elderly people and many people with injuries, stairs can be impossible to negotiate. Your best option is to build a single-story home. If that's out of the question, build a house with everything you need on the entry level.

* High-density, low-pile carpets. These are less likely to trip you or to cause you to lose your balance with soft footing and much easier to roll a wheelchair across.

* Flat thresholds. By flattening the sill of a doorway, you eliminate a bump that can trip anyone and give wheelchair users trouble.

* Raised work areas. Bending and stooping can be largely eliminated by keeping certain surfaces off the floor or higher than normal. Raised fireplace hearths and raised garden beds can save your back a lot of strain, as can 36-inch-high bathroom countertops.

* Kitchens. For wheelchair mobility, keep aisles and work triangles extra wide. By lowering your cooking surface, you make lifting pots and pans easier for everyone. Side-by-side refrigerators with bins and pullout shelves offer the best accessibility.

* Baths. Leave room for wheelchair negotiation. A large walk-in shower with a flat threshold is convenient even if you don't use a wheelchair or walker.

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