We are house hunting and our son is just about at the point of needing a power chair. Any advice?


We are wondering costwise if it makes more sense to purchase an existing home and make changes such as roll-in shower, wide doorways, low cabinets, etc.or should we spend more money on a brand new home where these changes can be made during construction.

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Hi Tamara, I generally shy away from giving advice, since everyone’s situation is always somewhat unique.  I will share our experience and hopefully it may help in your decision making process.

When our son was diagnosed, we had just built a 2 story with a walk out.  I had an architect/designer who specialized in designing and building accessible homes do an assessment.  The cost for remodeling that home came in cost prohibitive.  Additionally, it would have rendered the home virtually unable to be sold to the typical buyer.  From an aesthetic point of view, all people would see were the accessible features, not the home.

I then decided to build a home that would meet the potential needs our son and family that would need to care for him and give him independence. We built a rambler, with the lower level being the same square footage as first floor.  I had a cement ramp put in the garage to access the first floor for easy loading and unloading of our son to/from the van.  All doorways were 3 feet wide, and no transitions on the floors.  Flooring was commercial grade carpet, tile, wood, or linoleum.  We had a center island, and we going to lower one end to accommodate him when he was in a wheelchair.  We decided not to do it because most power wheelchairs are built with the capability to rise up to meet surfaces.  But, we did need to accommodate room for his chair underneath the counter.  We made his bedroom and bathroom extra large to accommodate equipment and people needing to do transfers of our son without being in a confined, hard to maneuver space.  His room needed to accommodate a wheelchair, cough assist, and BiPap, and supporting equipment.  Yes, we put in a roll in shower.  We did not need to “roll” him into the shower.  We transferred him to an accessible plastic chair in the shower.  Still, the room was needed for ease in showering him.  We even put in a low matt table that was built into the wall for ease of dressing and drying him.  We just pulled it down when we needed it, and them lifted it back into the wall when we did not, just like those beds in some hotel rooms.  We also used it for stretching him. We also put in a Surehands Lift System that could carry him from his bedroom to the bathroom.  However, we did not end up using it much as he was only 85 pounds and he was more efficiently transferred from his power chair to the bed or toilet than by using the lift system. So, over planned and spent on that one. We built in an elevator shaft at the time we built the home, and used as a closet with a false floor until needed.  We did put in an elevator and my son used the lower level as his home.  We put the entertainment system (TV and Xbox) down there for him and his friends.  Our home does not look like an accessible home, but it is.  So for us, building to meet the needs seem to work best for us.  However, you may find a home that does allow you to make accommodations to the existing structure in an affordable, functional, and aesthetically pleasing way.  There may also be homes marketed as such.  Many elderly have made these accommodations to their homes, only to eventually sell and move into assisted living or nursing homes.  So, I would still see what is out there.

We've been debating this as well! Our home is two story with all bedrooms upstairs, and we are getting an estimate on creating a bedroom/bathroom for our son, the other two options being building or finding a home that would require LESS modifications than our current one. I think it will end up being the last option-we just can't afford to build a brand new house at this point and we can't wait much longer to do something. I guess it depends on your finances and if you can find another house you think would work with mods. If we COULD afford it, I would totally build.

Thanks for the response. We sold our house last year because of the stairs (we had a split level, with two staircases). We are currently renting month-to-month so we have time to make an informed decision.

The brand new houses can be built with a roll-in shower and wider halls and doorways. They are about $10-15 thousand more expensive that the pre-existing houses we have seen that are similar in size. I am guessing that it may cost at least $10,000 to make those same changes to an existing house. Anyone have some $$$ estimates for these changes? 


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