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Wheelchair, Handicapped, and Elderly Access Homes

Typical residential construction includes a basement as a foundation system. Notwithstanding the many inherent problems with basements (especially here in the bottom of ancient, glacial Lake Agassiz), raising the main floor 2 to 4 feet above ground level presents a major obstacle for anyone using a wheelchair or a walker, or someone having difficulty with stairs. There are a variety of mechanical lifts available, and a ramp can be constructed as an alternative to stairs, but neither of these solutions are very attractive. A better solution would allow easy access without mechanical help and also just appear as a normal part of the house and not an afterthought.

1 in 12 accessWhen Advanced Design/Build constructed the West Broadway Healthy House, we located the top surface of the main floor slab exactly 21" above the sidewalk surface that passed in front of the house. The design challenge was to make the house fit into an existing neighbourhood of early 1900's 2 and 2½ storey homes, all with basements. By locating the main floor slab at 21" above the sidewalk, we allowed for an entrance walk to the house that sloped at 1 in 12 - the recommended slope for wheelchair use. If the homeowner wished to disguise the sloping entrance way, it could have been laid out with a curve to make the slope less obvious. The most important feature was that we eliminated the need for stairs leading up to the front door. A simple gravel path, or paving stones, or sidewalk slabs was all that was needed to arrive at the front door and enter the home without a step.

While the neighbouring homes on both sides had elevated entrances of about 40" above ground level, we were able to mask the lower height our main floor by using a 9 foot ceiling height for the main floor space, which brought our second storey within about a foot of the height of the neighbours' second floors. We also added a short projecting roof element that covered the main entrance and extended across the entire front of the house - this drew the eye upward from the lower level towards the 2nd storey which more or less matched the neighbouring homes.

The overall result was to provide a main floor accessible by wheelchair without drawing attention to the fact with an unsightly mechanical lift or a long wooden ramp structure. We avoided the appearance, cost, and maintenance of the mechanical lift or the wooden ramp simply by carefully locating the main floor concrete slab and increasing the ceiling height of the first floor living space.

A house sitting on top of a full basement offers few practical options for access by disabled or elderly residents. Use of a slab and the avoidance of building a full basement offers many advantages for the homeowner, one of which is easy access.

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