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post #1 of 1 Old 06-27-2015, 06:24 PM Thread Starter
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Join Date: Jul 2007
Location: In the windy Columbia Gorge area of Washington, the state
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Modifying the House for Mobility Impairment

My wife recently had back surgery; and she has several weeks of recovery ahead of her. Meanwhile she has to be careful against slips and falls, so the house had to be modified for her safety.

I'm posting this so that others can get some ideas for things to do to help those who have some trouble with their mobility.

First let me thank my nephew who drove all the way down to our house twice to help, and the folks who are furniture-makers as part of their main business of cabinet-making; these folks generously helped with these projects, and had great patience with my unwillingness to compromise anything for my wife's safety.

Let's take a tour of what we did:

As you enter the house from the garage, the first thing you encounter is the two steps up. This got a safety railing at about 32" off the floor, following the angle of the steps up to the house. We later added some simple U-shaped door pulls in the door frame itself for some additional security:

Materials here: concrete anchors for the bottom of the 44 upright, the top of which was mitered to the correct angle for the railing, giving us a good, solid connection. Wood and woodwork is reclaimed pallet material, courtesy of my nephew. The door pulls that we used for grabs at the top of the steps are similar to these, but with more standoff and a wider cross-section for greater comfort in your hand. The key is to get something made for utility, not for pretty. You want strength here, not cheap cabinet pulls.

We knew that eventually she'd like to step down to our living room, which is two steps down. This required a different solution, one that would look good for the house. My nephew figured out the angles necessary, fabricated a jig in his shop, then made a grab handle from stair railing and stair rail mounts:

Materials here: Plain stair rail and brass rail supports from Depot. Woodworking by my nephew.

The baths were next.

We had remodeled the kitchen end of the house, giving us a 'comfort height' toilet in that end of the house, but had been slapping our foreheads ever since; because we'd not replaced the two other toilets - one in the guest bath, and one in the master bath's toilet alcove. I found a good deal on Kohler (I've liked Kohler ever since the originals, which gave zero problems) Cimarron toilets at Lowe's. It's interesting that the tanks on the new toilets are about 6" narrower than the old units. In my area and for now at least, Lowe's was cheaper than Depot by about $65, and cheaper than my favorite plumbing store by about $250. The toilet in the guest bath has great access, so it got a set of (easily removable) assist bars after it was changed out:

(Yes, I know I have to touch up the paint.)
Materials: Toilet (as above),

On to the Master bath.

This is one of those areas of the house which can be the most dangerous for slips and falls; so we made very sure to provide for adequate handholds. At first glance you may think we went a bit overboard, but take a moment to consider: Stepping in and out of the shower, there are lots of opportunities to slip. Funny thing though: I found myself relying on them as I was using the shower for the first time after the caulk dried.

The toilet alcove also had no means for assistance; it is narrow, so it got its own grab bar. It's also long enough so that you could put an elbow on it if necessary. Also notice the one outside the shower, for extra safety:

Grab rails are available in different lengths (these shown here are 18"), plus different finishes like oiled bronze (not just chrome) to match the rest of the decor in the bath.
Materials here: I chose Moen because of the name, and the capacity rating. Think about this: If you're slipping, you're going to put more weight on the bar than just your body weight, due to the motion you're trying to stop. Think shock-loading. So to my mind, these can't be heavy enough.

Let's pause for a moment to make serious note of the type of backing plate which these grab bars MUST have in order to be fully safe. They absolutely require the correct backing plate to satisfy the rating. This is one thing upon which you must not compromise, as someone's safety could be at risk. Notice that they're about eleven bucks apiece. But you're only buying them once.

Now for inside the shower.

I chose to use grab bars on three walls, to be absolutely safe. ADA requirements call for only two walls, but I'm a belt-and-suspenders kind of guy. Plus, I wanted a bar to be right there no matter which direction my wife was facing. I was able to use two different lengths of grab bars, to fit the spaces in the shower.

Here you can see how it's important to have a grab right outside the shower, plus the locations of two of the grabs inside the shower.
Materials here are the same grab bars and mount plates from Moen; the one above's 12" long and chrome for easy cleaning.

Here you can see how I sized the grab bars so that they provided the maximum length inside the shower, but not so long that they interfered with the molded corners inside:

(Forgive the camera level being off a bit; the bars are dead level.) Materials here: The same Moen grabs and backing plates as above; but the back side of the shower has an 18" long grab, and the right side of the shower has a 12"grab.

We had to modify the height of our bed, because ever since we bought it, my wife has had to 'hop' to get sat down on the bed. This is a giant no-no if you've had back surgery. So I called our furniture-making friends, and after discovering that removing the 'box' that's under the mattress made the mattress too low in relation to the side rails of the bed - your rear would be below your knees, and the backs of your legs would be resting on the side rails - we had to cut about 3-1/2" inches off the legs of the bed. Tough to watch, but it did the trick.

How did we know how much to cut? I used my wife's 'inseam' measurement to determine the height. 3 inches off the bed's legs would have done it, but there was a convenient cut-point on the legs at 3-1/2". so that's what we used.

Was there anything we forgot?

Yes. My wife needed a grab bar to help herself sit up and lie down when getting in/out of bed. This was a little tricky because our semi-custom (and very comfortable) mattress sits down inside the side rails, rather than on a box-spring set. It's basically an "L" shape instead of the "T" shape of the others, and it can sit inside the side rails. I installed it yesterday and it works great for her.

I hope this helps anyone else who may be needing this same thing. Let me know how you did.

And may God continue to heal and restore my wonderful wife.
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