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How to Make Your House Accessible Without Sacrificing Aesthetics

  • Transcript

    LESLIE: Well, more and more Americans plan to stay in their homes as long as they can. It’s a practice known as “aging in place.” But as your family’s needs change from having kids to your aging parents moving in, to your own golden years, your home can change, too.

    TOM: Here to share a few simple ideas that could help make your home more accessible for any age in any stage of life is Kevin O’Connor, host of TV’s This Old House.

    Welcome, Kevin.

    KEVIN: It’s great to be here, guys.

    TOM: And Kevin, it used to be that these kinds of changes were thought to be very sort of hospital-esque. But today, accessible design can actually be very, very attractive, right?

    KEVIN: Well, attractive and also very sensible. You don’t have to be physically impaired to actually benefit from accessible design; there are a lot of things that you can do that are going to make just living in your house that much easier. So they really make sense for everybody, no matter what age, no matter how mobile they are.

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. And it really works for a house with kids, as well. So, you’re right, regardless of your situation.

    I know one of the practices that goes into this accessible design is – takes place in the kitchen, where you have countertops of varying heights. And that’s great because you can sit down to work, you can stand to work. What are some of the other things that you see going into kitchens?

    KEVIN: Well, in kitchens, you can have things like foot-lever faucets or touch faucets, right? So now you can actually turn the water on by pushing down with your foot on a lever that’s near the floor or you can just touch anywhere on the faucet and it’s going to go on.

    Lever faucets are actually easier to use. Think of that big paddle that you can actually knock with your hand or your elbow and you don’t actually have to put your hands around something that is round and turn it. It’s just a good way to get the water on and off and they can look great, too.

    LESLIE: You know, we also saw, when Tom and I did that work with AARP in the home makeover – I think it’s Rev-A-Shelf makes a cabinet insert which, when you open the upper cabinets, you grab a lower lever that’s at that lowest level of the upper cabinet and sort of pulls the entire contents down to an area that you can actually reach, which is great whether you’re a smaller person or you’re impaired or you’re a kid.

    KEVIN: And why would you want to give up all that upper storage space? Why would you want to sit there and say, “Well, I can’t reach it so I won’t use it.” So you don’t have to give up that space.

    We actually were doing a job in Tom Silva’s house where we were installing a new master closet. And the upper shelves where the shirts hung? There was a lever on that, as well, so that you can pull them down and you have great access to it. So there are a lot of smart tips like that that’ll give you access and they’re super-functional.

    TOM: Now, it’s not just the physical things; I mean lighting really plays into this, as well. More lighting is always better.

    KEVIN: More lighting is better because you’re going to be able to see what you’re doing better. It’s going to be nice and bright; you’re going to be able to find things. And how you turn those lights on and off are something you should consider, as well. A lot of us are familiar with these toggle switches but a rocker light switch is a great one because you can tap it very quickly with the back of your hand or knock it with your elbow. They’re just a little bit easier to operate.

    TOM: Now, that’s a great point.

    Now, let’s talk about doorways. If you have the option to design a doorway, wider is always better because besides fitting a wheelchair, you also want to get that stroller through it.

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. And not to mention everybody’s furnishings, TVs, they’re getting bigger and bigger. So you’ve got to get those in the house somewhere, right?

    KEVIN: Yeah, you’ve got to think of the moving men or those strollers. If you’ve got twins like I do, they get pretty big.

    LESLIE: Yeah. Those are huge.

    KEVIN: So you’ve got to be able to push them through there. So wider is definitely better but also how you open the doors in those doorways is important, too.

    Round doorknobs are difficult to use when you compare them to, say, a lever doorknob: something that you don’t have to put your hand around your fingers, grab and turn; something that you can open with your elbow or your arm, like you could with a lever doorknob. It’s a great addition.

    LESLIE: You know what I think is interesting? Tom and I saw a spec house with accessible design. And the front door looked like an average width and there were two sidelights on either side. And one of the sidelights was stationary but one of the sidelights was on hinges so that the door folded back and the sidelight folded back.

    KEVIN: Wow.

    LESLIE: So it really didn’t look like it had the special feature but it truly did.

    KEVIN: That is a cool idea. I have never seen that but that is a cool idea.

    LESLIE: It was truly fantastic. It looked gorgeous and it was truly functional.

    TOM: Now, Kevin, these are all great ideas. Is there a place that we can go for more tips?

    KEVIN: Sure. The AARP has a great website, with checklists for each room, at AARP.org/HomeDesign. And they also have a program with the National Association of Home Builders and that program certifies contractors as aging-in-place specialists. So they can actually team you up with a contractor that specializes in these kinds of projects.

    TOM: That’s a very, very cool idea. You have more tips like that on your website, as well, at ThisOldHouse.com. Kevin O’ Connor, host of TV’s This Old House, thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit.

    KEVIN: Great to be here, guys. Thank you.

    LESLIE: And of course, make sure you watch Kevin and the entire This Old House team on This Old House and Ask This Old House on your local PBS station.

    TOM: And This Old House and Ask This Old House are brought to you by Stanley.

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