Wendy Bal reaches toward the light switch.
“Look. It’s not something you even notice.”
But someone in a wheelchair would because the switch is four inches lower than the standard height, just as they would notice a nearby electrical outlet that is four inches higher than the standard.
These are two of the design and construction examples that Bal, a Terrace realtor, and her husband Rav, have incorporated into a single-floor duplex new-build on the Bench residential area. They hope to build more.
In doing so they have their eye on what might be a niche market now but one which they are convinced will grow – purpose-built private housing for people with physical disabilities now or for those who want a place that already has what they will require as they age and their physical condition changes.
Door handles throughout each duplex are of the level type for ease of handling as opposed to knobs.
The laundry area is plumbed for a side by side washer and dryer as opposed to ones which can be stacked.
“I know stackable washers and dryers are popular but even I have trouble reaching way back for that one sock and the knobs (on a dryer) can be hard to reach,” says Bal of the reason for the diffence.
Toilets are of the comfort height variety and have straight sides, eliminating the need for a lot of time on hands and knees while cleaning around.
During construction, the walls around toilets, showers and bath tubs were reinforced for easier installation of grab bars if needed later on.
Doorways to all of the rooms are three-feet wide making wheelchair or walker use easier. The ensuite bathrooms have enough interior room to make it more comfortable and efficient for a care aid to assist someone.
Ceramic tile may be popular in kitchens elsewhere but in this duplex, the tile is a softer and warmer vinyl, making it easier on the knees and legs of people while they are doing the dishes or cooking.
The tile is grouted to give it the appearance of ceramic and it has a slightly textured surface so that tips of canes or crutches won’t easily slip.
There are also no transition strips between tile and carpeting, removing the slight bump that might impede a walker or wheelchair.
“Because of the building code there is a lip from the outside to the inside but a ramp can take care of that,” notes Bal.
There are no stairs from the garage to the inside and in each duplex there is plenty of space when entering the house from the garage to maneuver a walker or wheelchair.
Bal is a relatively new realtor and credits her realtor father with first coming up with the idea for this kind of housing.
“Now we’ve just taken it from there,” said Bal as she went through the list of design and construction features meant for easier living as people age.
Lighting is either CFL or LED which not only reduces living expenses but means less maintenance because of their longevity.
A main hallway is four feet wide which, as with other construction features, makes for easier use of wheelchairs and walkers.
“Our contractor Ron Nuis (of RCT Contracting) even suggested that next time we could reinforce those walls so that if railings or grab bars were needed at some time, they’d again be easier to install,” said Bal.
She’s had more ideas from other people too.
“People have asked about a lazy susan so that you don’t have to reach way back,” Bal noted of kitchen amenities.
There are examples in the region of social or public housing in tune with people with disabilities or physical limitations. In Terrace that list includes the rental Market Estates complex owned by BC Housing and the five new units added to the Tuck Ave. Seniors Housing complex last year.
But the amount of private housing of the same kind is small.
City of Terrace development services director David Block says there are examples of renovations such as adding ramps to provide access at homes with stairs. He notes however that such renovations are costly and often result in a less than attractive dwelling.
The building standard with attributes such as those of the Bal duplex even has a name – visitable, says Block.
“The costs to construct new dwellings, detached or multi, to visitable housing standards at time of new construction is usually a very nominal, if any, increase. Research has shown this added cost to a new $400,000 single family dwelling would be no more than $2,000,” he said.
Both Block and Bal point out that many of the attributes of this kind of housing – no stairs, for example – would appeal to people of all ages and abilities.
A visitable house is an investment as well as a purchase when considering the possibility of a later resale, said Bal.