Is your home “visitable” or visitor friendly? Is it comfortable for guests of all ages and abilities?
When you don’t have any mobility issues yourself, it’s easy to forget how difficult it might be for visitors to move around your home. It could be your aunt who recently had a knee replacement and is using a walker, your nephew who broke his leg and is using crutches, or your neighbor who uses a wheelchair after a biking accident.
Chances are someone you know would have considerable difficulty coming over to your house to visit you. Keep reading to learn how to you can entertain anyone more comfortably and confidently…..and what awesome benefit it has for you!
What makes a guest friendly home?
A home that is considered “visitable” or guest friendly has five critical elements so that any visitor can feel safe, secure, and move around without difficulty. Guests need minimal assistance to arrive, stay for a lovely visit, and leave your home hopefully independently.
It’s part of a broader concept called Universal Design, making a living space or environment more comfortable to use for anyone of any age, size, shape, or functional ability.
1. Step-free entrance
A home should have at least one entrance that has no steps leading to the main living area. This is also called a zero-step or step-free entrance. It may be accomplished by making a ramp entry. If you’re thinking of a bulky wood or metal ramp, think again. A ramp entrance that is incorporated into the landscape can be beautiful when done correctly and is extraordinarily useful to anyone entering or exiting your home. Learn more about other step and stair solutions.
2. Doorway width
If you ever tried to move a large sofa, you probably know that most doorways are too narrow. Most residential doorways are too tight to fit a standard wheelchair comfortably. Remember that if the person using the wheelchair is manually pushing the wheels, there needs to be space for his or her hands and arms to fit, not just the wheelchair frame. Power wheelchairs and scooters are even wider.
The minimum width for an exterior doorway should be 36 inches and for an interior doorway, 32 inches wide. Bathroom doors are notorious for being very narrow.
3. Hallway width
Many hallways are also narrow, which again makes it difficult for someone using a wheelchair or scooter of any kind and possibly a walker. It’s also a challenge to move furniture and appliances. Hallways should be a minimum of 36 inches wide. If you are planning an open concept home, think about where you can minimize the presence of hallways or make them wider to achieve a more spacious feel.
4. Control height
The height of light switches, thermostats, and electrical outlets is not often considered beyond building code standards and contractor preferences. But if controls need to be accessed from a seated position, they should be located no more than 48 inches high.
Bending down to reach low electrical outlets also gets more difficult as we age, so placing them higher than the usual 12 to 18 inches above floor level is an easy modification that doesn’t cost extra. And if positioned high enough could make the outlets inaccessible to crawling babies and curious young toddlers.
You might consider waist height outlets for ease in plugging in the many electronic devices we use today, such as cell phones, tablets, and laptops. This would better enable you to use the device while it’s charging and prevent your from having to squeeze behind the sofa.
5. Bathroom availability
Your visitors need at least an accessible half bathroom on the main level of the home. A half bath is also known as a powder room or guest bathroom and has a toilet and a vanity.
Many older homes only have bathrooms on the second floor. Someone unable to use the steps to get to the bathroom, wouldn’t be able to visit you for more than an hour or two. It’s also very inconvenient for homeowners who don’t have a bathroom to use on the main floor.
The first floor bathroom needs to be spacious enough that someone using a wheelchair, walker, or scooter could access the space easily.
Adding a full bathroom that includes a shower, preferably a no-step shower, would also allow you to have first-floor living arrangements if needed or wanted in the future.
Building and Remodeling Considerations
If you are planning to build a home, all these aspects should be incorporated into your design. There’s really no excuse. Adding all five of these features into new construction costs almost nothing, but thoughtfulness and proper planning. I know that you’re probably analyzing every detail of your project anyway!
Essential Guest Friendly Elements
- Step-free or no step entrance to the first level or main living area
- Wide doorways
- Wide hallways
- Controls and outlets at comfortable height
- Bathroom on first level
Design for “visitability” & your future
At any age, when considering renovations to your home, take the time to think about how “visitable” and guest friendly your home really is. Entertaining your guests in style is wonderful, but make sure your home is comfortable and accessible for everyone so they can enjoy your fabulous food and company. Remember that one day, you will likely find the same features to be very useful or even necessary for you.
Look for ways to add these universal features into your remodeling plans rather than being forced to do them later. It’s usually not as difficult or expensive as you may think. Looking for creative solutions that are “outside the box” will likely yield great ideas that work for your unique home situation.
By incorporating these five features of a “visitable” home, you are not only making your home comfortable for your guests, but you are also well on your way to making a home that will work for you as your needs evolve. And it will allow you to age in place as you get older if you so choose.
Other Helpful Resources:
7 Compelling Reasons to Make Home Modifications Before You Need Them