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My Universal Design Home, Living the Dream!

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    My Universal Design Home, Living the Dream!

    On July 2nd I moved into my newly remodeled home. Some of you may remember my post on Cando last fall. I purchased a FHA 203K Rehab home. It was in sad shape and a real fixer-upper, however, perfect for my needs. As a quad, finding a fully accessible home is near impossible. So instead of wasting money remodeling a perfectly good traditional AB home, I bought a roomy derelict, and now that it is nearly finished and the slightly eyesore is gone. I am the hero of the neighborhood.

    The house is still a work in progress but it is livable. The essential accessible necessities are in place and usable, such as 3 foot door openings throughout the house and my spacious 6x7 foot roll in shower. My home automation and security system is only partially in place. There is a lot of work to be done, finishing, and a full kitchen remodel. I'll be posting a full report on the finished project later, but for now I thought I would share part of what I have learned so far.

    Large doorways are a must! If you are building from scratch or remodeling, do yourself a favor and go for the added cost. In new construction, the additional expense is barely noticeable. On a remodel you will be replacing headers and therefor see a noticeable cost. Nevertheless, the convenience of being able to smoothly enter and exit rooms without even touching door jams makes this a welcome luxury. I installed 36" doors wherever possible, bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen, and entry, replacing sizes from 26" to 30". The 5 foot sliding glass door was replaced with an 8 foot giving me just shy of a 4 foot opening. I also had the slider lowered even with the floor so there is no track lip to fight when in my manual chair. Modifying a home with larger doorways may seem like a simple physical convenience, which it is, but in addition, after living here a month I have found that it has actually made my life less stressful.

    The advantages of a 6 x 7 foot roll in shower stall are evident, plenty of room for wheelchair and friends. I was lucky in that I had plenty of room to work with. The previous owner left me with a unfinished 2-bedroom add on. Removing the wall gave me a 25 x 15.5 foot floor area for me to layout the master bed, roll-in closet, adjoining bath area, and a fire exit door. Since this part of the home was never finished, I had to install a heating system. Which brings us to the next must have luxury. For anyone in a wheelchair or short of stature, Radiant Floor Heating is a must. You save on heating cost and you are so comfortable. All the warmth starts at ground level. It feels more natural and you are not heating dead air space. No more complaints from the ABs for having your heat cranked up. I installed a separate zone for the bathroom, no freezing before and after the shower for me.

    Note, I am big on fire safety, which is something that is sorely overlooked or just plan dismissed in the disabled and elderly community. I have installed a home fire sprinkler system throughout the house. The 19 sprinkler heads are attractively hidden flush with the ceiling. In my master bedroom I have installed a 2nd exit door for emergency. As a 190 pound quad, climbing out a window or rolling 50 feet through a smoke and fire filled house, is not an option. I now rest at ease at night.

    Home Automation is another must, and this one is affordable. For $50.00 I purchased the X10 ActiveHome remote kit. This is a starter kit and limited in power but I found it a worthy introduction to the world of X10 technology. I'm using it now to control the lights and my computer in my bedroom. The freedom it has given me, and convenience it has been to my helpers, makes it worth every penny. Full switching automation of my home will require a bigger investment. To make it reliable, $300.00 for a Phase Coupler, Repeater, and Filters, and then there is the cost of the switches. I upgraded the house with Fluorescent lights and unfortunately, they require a more expensive X10 switch. When finished, I will have remote control by PC or hand unit, over all lights, thermostat, door and curtain openers, entertainment system, and security system.

    More later...


    Updated 8/10
    The following links may provide some helpful information.

    Article on Universal Design Homes.

    Home Automation Times, X10 information and tech help.

    Remote controled Motorized Gadgets, Window/Skylight, Curtain/Drapes Opener, Automatic Sliding Patio Door, X10 Systems, etc.

    Updated 8-11
    KLD, no pictures, or web site yet.

    The actual remodeling of the house has been well documented. We have taken rolls and rolls of pictures that will eventually end up on a web site. The transformation from flea infested crack house to a charming Robins-egg-blue rambler is remarkable. Unfortunately, I do not have any pictures ready for viewing online.

    I will be writing a number of articles on my recent experiences bringing this dream to life. This will include articles on remodeling for accessibility, the concept of Universal Design, home loan programs for the disabled, FHA 203K Home Rehabilitation loans, building on a budget and taking advantage of recycled building material, etc. My Art studio is one of the unfinished rooms, so my creativity is focused on my writing.

    An important concept of Universal Design is to build a home that is accessible yet aesthetically appealing. Finished, my home will look, inside and out, as traditional as the rest of the homes in the neighborhood. All adaptations are built into the home, incorporated, not added on. For example, all sidewalk entries will have a gradual slope to the porch so there is no need for a ramp.

    Right now, I am in the process of redesigning my kitchen. This will be the most costly room in the house so I am taking time to do it right. Originally, I intended to use the standard ADA spec, factory made cabinets. This gave me the lower counter top I require and the 9-inch kick area for wheelchair maneuverability, but limited storage space and room for conveniences. To solve this I decided to have an additional drawer installed in the kick space below each of the main cabinets. Fitting the trash compactor and dishwasher below the counter top requires lowering the floor 1-½ inches. The area below the kitchen sink is open the sink itself has the drain holes at the back, so bumping knees into the pipes is not a problem. I am still debating where to mount the hot and cold water valves. It is tempting to mount them to the right of the sink for easy access.

    Rus, this is my first experience with home automation or even living in a truly accessible home. Until now, I always felt I had lived a comfortable life. However, this move into a home filled with conveniences has awoken me. My life has changed, there is much less stress now and I haven't even finished the installation.

    My reason for installing home automation was to cover down days. Whether it be a broken chair or a health issue, when in bed I wanted the ability to control my environment. Finished, not only will I have control over lights and thermostat, but if there is a knock on the door. I can answer it with my video/intercom system, and remotely unlock the door to let them in. This is a valuable tool for me. When living alone I have always left the door unlocked, night or day. This was a necessity, in case of emergency I wanted my rescuers to be able to reach me.

    Admittedly, the most satisfying remote switch is the one that controls power to my computer. In bed, I have full access to my computer, which in turn has the TV, FM stereo, and answering machine built into it. The keyboard sits on the over-bed table along with the telephone, beverages and snacks, making the bed my island oasis, serving as workstation and entertainment center. Having my computer lock-up or freeze requiring rebooting, would shut me down completely since I cannot reach the reset button. To remedy this, I now keep the X10 pocket size remote fastened with Velcro to my keyboard.

    The Fire Sprinkler system went on my wish list the first day I started living alone, that was years ago. Cost of such a system is subjective, installing a 19 head system like mine in new home construction is about $1500, but retro fitting an existing house is expensive. With my remodel, part of the ceiling was already exposed making installation easier. However, next time I will pull all the sheetrock. We spent an extra week mudding and finishing just to get the patched areas smooth. Also, to meet city building code and insurance requirements, the sprinkler system has to be engineered by a certified plumber and then inspected and approved by the Fire Marshall.

    The Fire Sprinkler system is set off by heat at the sprinkler head, so there is no way that all of the sprinklers will go off at once. In the event the system does go on, the main shutoff valve is located in the utility closet next to the hot water tank. How many sprinkler heads are required? This will depend on the building code in your area. I was required to have sprinklers in rooms over 45 square feet, and rooms or closets with Hot water tank, Furnace, Dryer, etc. In larger rooms the sprinklers are to be within eight feet of the wall or another sprinkler head.

    Cappy, congratulations on your new home I think waiting for the big move is the most difficult part. I planed on having this project done long ago, but the more I got into it the more custom features that I wanted, and the projects grew.

    The nice thing about X10 systems is that it can added to an existing home at any time, and the home owner can install it. The only part that may require professional guidance or assistance is when installing a phase coupler and repeater. This installs at the circuit-breaker box and from what I have experienced and now read, it is a must for large elaborate X10 systems.

    As far as home heating is concerned, I am sold on radiant floor systems, love the comfort. In addition, it equals a considerable energy savings under any climate condition that requires heating at some time. The drawback to radiant flooring is the installation cost. I connected the new plumbing to the existing radiant copper tubing system that was installed when the house was built in 1955. The 25 x 15.5 floor used 500 liner feet of PEX plastic tubing looped between fir runners. On top of this we poured an 1 ½ inches of concrete creating a giant radiant slab. The floor was finished in oak hardwood to match the rest of the house. Actual cost? Staggering, but countered by the increased value of the home and eventually offset by lower energy costs.

    FREEJ, my role has been that of a general contractor. Coordinating the varying jobs is challenged by the shoestring budget I started out with. Fortunately, I have some construction experience and plenty of connections.

    I am not sure when I will have pictures ready for viewing. The roll-in shower is a rather simple layout. Starting with a 12.5 x 7 room I divided it in half with the shower stall and toilet at the far end. There is a 3-foot wall with a 4-foot arched entryway dividing the room. To keep the shower from feeling like a cave there is a window above the toilet. The claw foot tub and pedestal sink fit nicely into the other half of the bathroom. The sink is the largest I could find and meets my personal needs. The cabinetry is built into the wall, so there is plenty of room for maneuvering a wheelchair.

    Cilly, good luck to you and your boyfriend, I do not envy the challenge of adapting a two story home. I lived in multi-story homes in which I never did see the upstairs or downstairs of the house.

    Thank you all for the positive feedback.


    [This message was edited by Noel on August 11, 2001 at 07:01 PM.]


    Noel, would love to see photos. Do you have anything already on a website? (KLD)
    The SCI-Nurses are advanced practice nurses specializing in SCI/D care. They are available to answer questions, provide education, and make suggestions which you should always discuss with your physician/primary health care provider before implementing. Medical diagnosis is not provided, nor do the SCI-Nurses provide nursing or medical care through their responses on the CareCure forums.



      That sounds so nice. My boyfriend is soon to mremodel his two story home for my convienance. Widening the half bath and master bath and well as ramps in all exits. OOOH!! and the stair lift. Thats gonna be interesting......


      L1,2 Para since 9-12-99
      Mommy to William (2004) Lucas (2008) Nathan (2011)
      The Wheelchair Mommy Blog




          Awesome Noel!
          Never thought about the X10 system.

          I'm currently having my new home built in Irvine, CA. So I'm patiently waiting. Should be complete in October. But I did the same as what you have done so far. Except for the floor heating. Being in California we don't have the dramatic seasonal change if any. [img]/forum/images/smilies/smile.gif[/img]



            Noel, sounds pretty cool. Even as a C-6 quad, I dunno if I'd get all the accessible features you mentioned, just because I try to do with as few adaptations as possible. But, I'd definitely go with the wider doors, big roll-in shower, and the sprinkler system. The sprinkler system seems like a great safety investment, and it would ease some of the fire concerns I've had.






                sounds great

                I have been looking at the x 10 Equipment for a few things. Can you change the channels on the television using the x 10 technology from your PC? Also, what kind of remote did you get for the doors?

                I thought about putting a computer near my bed to control everything, but was too afraid that I might end up staying in bed too much.

                Sounds like a great place and you have planned it well.


                  Congrats, Noel

                  If not a secret-what final cost involved?



                    home remodeling

                    Kudos for you Noel! My husband (a C7 incomplete) and I are in the process of closing on a home (and after 4 years with my in laws!). We were fortunate to find one that has doors and hallways already wide enough for him (he's 6'5" and 245 lbs). Our biggest project will be the bathroom. It has a kitchen and living room where everything is within his reach, and first floor laundry. Good luck to you!



                      where's my dinner invite? you only live 20 minutes from me, ya know. i wanna check out this dreamhouse.


                        re COST?

                        Max, final cost of the home? I wish I knew for sure. This project went from a simple accessible investment to "lets do it right the first time" major custom remodel.

                        The original plan was to purchase an accessible home for $165.000.00. I figured the only feasible way of doing this was to find a $155,000.00 home and spend $10,000.00 remodeling it with a roll-in shower and entry ramp, my lone priorities. What I found was a $150,000.00 fixer, a perfect candidate for the FHA 203K Loan program. The house had recently been trashed by renters and needed a serious facelift including paint, doors, carpet, linoleum, and roof.

                        This home loan program is rather unique. The intention is to encourage rehabilitation of existing homes and thus help to preserve the integrity of older neighborhoods. For a house to qualify, the estimated appraised value of the restored home must be equal to or more than the value of the loan. For example, my home cost $150,000.00. The FHA agent appraised the house at $189,000.00 when restored to FHA guidelines. Therefor giving me, if need be, up to $39,000.00 in available rehabilitation funds, providing of course that eligibility requirements are met. Estimated cost of required repairs and accessibility essentials was $15,000.00, including wide doorways and roll-in shower. This met my original $165,000.00 home budget. We finished the FHA punch-list of repairs, the agent was satisfied and signed me off, but I was not satisfied. I now had the new-homeowner's-bug and wanted more than the 'generic' comforts.

                        After nearly 17-years of apartment life, I wanted the luxury bestowed the homeowner. I wanted to personalize my home with every convenience I had been deprived with for so long. I wanted to go wild unleashing my creativity. No more generic white walls, I want colors, I want wallpaper, I want it all, and I want to be unique!

                        What is amazing is how a project like this seems to take on a life of its own. Buried under inches of carpet was a restorable oak hardwood floor, which was one of the reasons I bought the house. I grew up on hardwood floors and love the look and feel, so I was willing to accept the costly challenge. The master bedroom required 250 sq ft of new oak which was fingered into the existing for a seamless match of old and new. But that was the easy part. Widening doorways meant replacing and matching more flooring. Then there was the surprise 4" x 10' gap in the floor where a wall had been removed. Matching that area required a master craftsman. However, the toughest part was sanding this floor. Forty-five years of radiant floor heat had kiln tempered the oak into something harder than life. It took the crew three times as long as a standard floor to sand it.

                        What is the final cost of this dream home? That number is still out, but including rewiring the house, new lighting fixtures, video security and automation system, new plumbing, insulating walls, ceilings, floors, insulated windows, 1100 sq ft oak hardwood flooring, 800 sq ft granite, marble, and slate tile flooring, new kitchen, granite fireplace and countertops, I expect the total to be around $220,000.00. It is interesting to note that only ten months before purchasing this house, it was listed on the market for $210,000.00. Of course, that was before the tenants from hell destroyed the place.


                        203K Rehabilitation Loan Program

                        [This message was edited by Noel on August 14, 2001 at 06:39 PM.]


                          re dinner

                          Cass, I'll put you on the invite list for the grand open-house. Just don't hold your breath. I still have the protective paper on the floor. The work crews are on vacation and its driving me nuts! But I'm keeping that floor covered until everything is finished.

                          I'm located near Edmonds CC, about 3 blocks.



                            Wow that is cool.

                            All that stuff you did sounds really nice.I want to see pictures to.



                              I noticed someone looking for adaptive home ideas so I thought I should take the opportunity to update you folks on my progress. I still haven't finished the remodel! We sent the crews home a year ago and haven't had the motivation to call them back, I'm too comfortable. There is still 2-weeks to a month's worth of finishing work to do. It's not really a lot, but I keep putting it off. I guess it is that I do not look forward to living in a construction zone again.

                              A word of advice to anyone who is planning such a project, if at all possible, finish everything before moving in!