A zero step entry is a doorway to get in and out of your house with ZERO steps.
You know what’s a shame though? Less than 3.5% of homes in the U.S. have one zero step entry according to Joint Center for Housing Studies (2011).
Now, of course, I hope that figure has gone up since 2011. But I highly doubt it!
When I drive around and see new construction for houses and apartments, you better believe I’m rubbernecking to see if they’re putting in one entryway with zero steps!
But here’s the unfortunate truth: I see steps to go inside the front door, back door, and garage door.
Why do builders do this?
Because they do what they know. Builders don’t obsess about accessibility the way occupational therapists like me do!
I understand people think that a couple, two, three stairs won’t hurt anybody from going in and out of their house. But it actually does in the long run.
Let’s try an experiment:
I want you to carry something that requires two hands, like a laundry basket, across level flooring for ten feet.
I’ll wait here. . .
Okay! You’re finished! Great! How much effort did you put into that? How hard are you breathing? Can you still hold a conversation? Are your muscles tired?
Now, I want you to carry that same object up and down at least two stairs. If you have more stairs, try carrying your object up and down all of your stairs.
After all of your stair climbing, how much effort did your body put in to carrying an object up and down the stairs compared to no stairs at all?
As we age, this “simple” task of carrying objects up and down stairs becomes more difficult. Even though I’m in my 30’s, I notice I exert more energy to carry things up and down stairs compared to carrying things across the floor.
I hate to burst your bubble, but there will be a day when it’s harder for you to carry things up and down the stairs. It may be due to a back injury, arthritis, heart condition, etc., etc. You just never know!
So if you DON’T have a zero step entry, what can you do NOW to make sure you’re set for the future?
Start planning your zero step entry for your home!
It can be any entry you desire! The front door, the side door, the back door, the garage door, etc. You pick what works best for you and your house.
You can convert an existing window into a zero step entry door! If you’re creating a door out of a non-existing door, make sure to have the doorway width measure 36 inches for plenty of room to maneuver in and out of the house.
An issue that may come up is the fact that the main level of your house is not the same as the ground outside.
I have that EXACT same issue! So let’s dive into the problem solving process for my humble abode.
The problem for my house is the front and back entryway both have stairs to go inside. I would choose to make my back door zero entry because it’s closest to our driveway. There are several options I can think of off the top of my dome:
1) Install a ramp at the back door and create a minimum 6’x6’ landing for space to open the door and walk inside and outside. The ramp incline would need to gradually rise one foot per inch from the ground level to the height of the door threshold.
In my case, I would need 14 feet of ramp to accommodate the 14 inches from the ground to the top of my threshold. I would also make the ramp width at least 60 inches to allow plenty of room for a wheelchair user.
2) Install a rampscape at the back door. Rampscapes are ramps made by grading dirt to make that gradual incline to the door threshold. They look very pretty when landscaped with whatever materials you choose. I would lay a 6’x6’ concrete patio by the door, a 60 inch wide concrete sidewalk on the rampscape, and add lots of plants around it!
3) Install a vertical lift. A vertical lift is a platform that takes you from ground level and elevates you to the main threshold, like an outdoor elevator! I would still create a 6’x6’ landing to allow enough room to open and close the back door. This option would definitely require an overhead above the vertical lift to protect it from rain and snow.
All of the options above would cost thousands of dollars. The most inexpensive option would be installing a ramp. Personally, I would install an overhang or portico to cover the landing above the back doorway to avoid all forms of precipitation, especially after witnessing Missouri imitating Siberia this year!
Although I don’t have the funds at the moment, I can discuss this with my family, look for ways to fund a zero step entry, and ask for bids to help me select the best option and plan. Creating a zero step entry is a three year goal for me.
If you’re looking into building a new home, then you will spend the least amount of money to create a zero step entry!
Let’s say you wanted your zero step entry to be your garage door. Tell your builder! They can grade the site to ensure you drive into your garage and effortlessly step in and out of your home.
Sometimes, people are concerned that the only style of house they can build to include a zero step entry is a patio home.
If your builder is not willing to make at least one zero step entry and keep whatever style of house you choose, then they do not have the creativity or desire to move outside of their comfort zone.
You can build ANY style of house and have at least one zero step entry.
Whichever doorway you choose, remember: it’s best to have the doorway covered above and to make sure water will drain away from the door. Water is bad inside of the house.
Contact me to help you create a zero step entry! You better do it before you need it!
Do you have a zero step entry? Show us pics. If not, what are your plans? Share in the comments below!
Marie Kondo, the author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering, has taken the nation by storm!
If you haven’t heard about Marie Kondo or her book, she teaches people how to sort through and organize their personal belongings at home. You only keep items that bring you joy. This process will result in feeling less stressed and more happy in your home!
Another bonus of this method is less cleaning!
Of course there are some people, like my husband, who are scared that the Marie Kondo method forces you to get rid of all of your stuff. Definitely not the point, babe!
You keep what sparks joy! Don’t get rid of everything!
Anyway, I digress. . .
I love the concept of tidying up your space at home because this process makes your belongings more accessible to you.
For instance, Marie Kondo encourages people to sort through their personal items by category starting with clothing. She taught me a new way of folding clothing and storing it where you can see all of your clothes at one time in a drawer, on a shelf, or hanging on a rack. That way you use every single clothing item more because you can see it. You’re reminded that it’s there.
So now, I fold all of my scarves like this:
Today, I can see all of my scarves, so I’ve been wearing more of them lately instead of my top two!
Tidying Up is inspiring me to rethink how I store my personal items in a way that’s accessible to me. Which brings me to my most troubled spot: the kitchen!
A huge problem I have is storing my cast iron skillets. I have like six of them in skillet, griddle, and biscuit mold form. They are super heavy!
I can’t store them in an upper cabinet because I’m klutzy and might drop them on the counter or my foot. I’d definitely break something.
At the moment, my cast iron cookware sits on the lowest shelf in my bottom kitchen cabinet out of pure fear of hurting myself.
The other problem is my lower cabinets are deep. They go way back! I have to practically put all of my upper body inside the cabinet to reach things I’m looking for.
Needless to say, I put the least used items in the back of the cabinet and more frequently used items up front. This is a go to strategy for organizing any household items: put the most used items within reach!
But my cabinets still seem cluttered and don’t fit my Marie Kondo aesthetic! It’s not pretty. See for yourself:
There are some excellent storage solutions for cabinets that work well to make things more accessible so that I’m keeping my pots and pans in their assigned place and not overreaching.
One of these solutions is pull out shelving! Click here to see a video!
Pull out shelving allows you to install a drawer-like system inside of your cabinet. That way you open the cabinet door and pull out the shelf inside to reach your things that are waaaayyyyyyy deep back in the cabinet.
You don’t have to worry so much about putting the least used items in the back. You simply select where on the shelf you want to put your stuff and you can pull everything out at once.
That makes it easier to see all of the things you own too! What a concept to use the stuff you already own more often!
Hell, I might bake more biscuits if I can see my cast iron biscuit mold more often! That would spark joy in my husband!
As with everything else, there are tons of different options for pull out shelving. You can really make a big difference with a small budget depending on if you want custom or made-to-fit organizers.
Since made-to-fit is less costly, I would simply measure out the dimensions of my lower cabinets. I could go online or to a retailer, like Home Depot or Lowe’s, to select the best pull out shelving for my cabinet.
Personally, I really like wire pull out shelving. Why? Because it’s easier to see everything you have.
Also, it doesn’t tempt to me store small, little items in the pull out shelving. I can’t stow away stuff in lower cabinets with the risk of them falling underneath the shelving and being stuck there for life!
If I have to bend down and pull out a shelf to retrieve something, it’s easier if the cookware is larger. Small kitchen ware would better be suited for drawers and organizers that are counter height so you’re not exerting as much energy.
Work smarter, not harder!
The second way to store your kitchen items is through pull down shelving for upper cabinets (AKA One of the greatest inventions ever of all time and space!) Click here for a video!
If you have any shoulder, neck, or upper back problems, you should really consider pull down shelving! Again, no overreaching here! You just pull down all of the shelves in your upper cabinet to the counter level.
You never have to worry about putting your most used items on the lowest shelf again!
For people who are average height or shorter, pull down shelves make it so I can get the things I need when I need it! I don’t have to wait for my six foot tall husband to help me.
Talk about independence!
Now, it seems as though pricing for pull down shelves are more costly. So you may want to do more shopping and research when selecting the best product for you.
The last and least expensive strategy for kitchen storage is using under cabinet organizers, under shelf baskets, or shelf risers. This allows you to maximize the space you already have in your cabinets by storing items vertically. Check out these examples from Bed, Bath, and Beyond (I’m not affiliated with triple B! I just like showing you examples!)
This is a great option for apartment living where you typically have small kitchens with minimal storage.
Do you have pull out or pull down shelving? What kind of kitchen organizers do you use? Have you been tidying up?
Tell us about your experience! Share pictures! We don’t care if your stuff is clean! (It’s not our kitchen!)
Oftentimes, it’s difficult to know exactly how to help your family member at home. You may have noticed Grandma starting to drop her spatula more frequently. You see Dad trip on the door threshold every single time he enters the house through the garage.
In the back of your mind you start to worry about your family member’s safety. What if Dad falls and hurts himself or what if Grandma drops something sharp on her foot? But then you brush it off with, “Maybe those problems will go away on their own.”
Are you sure those problems will disappear?
Or perhaps you do bring up your concern with your family member and they say, “I’m doing fine. I don’t trip all the time” or “I don’t drop stuff every day.” In almost the same breath, your Dad trips again. Grandma drops a ladle on the floor.
What’s going on?!
You’re fighting between pushing your family member to talk to a professional or letting go of the issue altogether.
It’s very difficult when your family member insists they’re okay. But deep down inside, you know they’re not.
I urge you to go with your first instinct! Encouraging your family to talk to a professional is a great start to figuring out how to keep dear old Dad or Grandma at home. But what kind of professional do you talk to?
The most bang for your buck would be talking to an occupational therapist. All we do day in and day out is problem solve ways for people to do their daily activities. In fact, click on this link to read research on how effective we are at helping people out! Occupational therapists figure out how to help Grandma stop dropping her spatulas and how to keep Dad from tripping when he walks into the house. (Of course, we look at other issues too!)
People tend to think, “Well, I may have a hard time with X now, but it’s not a big deal.” Wrong! This kind of everyday stuff seems little until it adds up to an injury at home.
Occupational therapists break it down by looking at your personal abilities, the demands of the task, and the environment. Let’s take Dad’s case of tripping when he walks into the house from the garage. An occupational therapist ( also known as OT) would assess Dad and find out his knees are worn out by years of playing flag football with his friends. Dad has neuropathy, a symptom of diabetes, and cannot feel his feet very well when he walks around. These two factors can make it more difficult to walk and regain your balance if you trip.
Walking into the house from the garage requires Dad to go up two stairs and over the door threshold. Upon examining the environment, the OT would see this entry is poorly lit, the threshold is 2 and ½ inches high, there is no handrail, and the depth of the steps are very shallow.
At this stage, the OT informs your Dad that although his knees will never be quite like the 6 million dollar man’s knees, he can make some changes to the doorway that will make it easier and safer for him to enter the home without tripping. The OT offers ideas like adding motion-sensor lighting, removing the door threshold, installing two handrails on both sides of the steps, deepening the steps, creating a ramp in the garage, installing a vertical lift, creating platform steps, etc.
Next, the OT coaches Dad to select the options that he likes the most. We know that people who choose their own solutions are more satisfied compared to people who don’t have the ability to choose.
Your dad is financially savvy and acutely aware that your mother wants to move to Florida in the next ten years or so. He doesn’t want to spend a ton of money and he wants to increase the value of the house.
Dad chooses to pull out the threshold and install platform steps with handrails and a motion-sensor light to help him get in and out of the house for years to come. “I have enough room in my garage after tidying it up!” #KonMari
After the garage entry is modified, you notice your Dad never trips when getting in and out of the house! Is this what peace of mind feels like?
OTs have the medical background and practical mindset to help your family stay safe in the home. We understand how medical conditions and aging can impact our ability to do the things we need and want to do!
In addition to our professional expertise, most of us have personal experience as caregivers with our own family. I helped my grandparents live in their home for thirteen years. We sympathize with your deepest desire to keep your family safe!
Despite the medical background, OTs never want your home to look like a hospital! We enjoy helping you create spaces that are functional for you without visitors ever knowing the reasoning behind your home design.
We’re also relentlessly optimistic, much to the chagrin of some people. There is never a problem too tough to solve.
The big takeaway is there are professionals to help you keep your family safe. Reach out to others and ask questions. If you can’t find an occupational therapist right away, talk to a social worker, case manager, your local area agency on aging, senior centers, or your county’s senior service department.
In the Kansas City area, you can visit the Mid-America Regional Council, Wyandotte/Leavenworth Area Agency on Aging, or the Johnson County Area Agency on Aging to learn more about resources available to help people live in their home and community as long as they like.
There is so much information available, sometimes it’s difficult to navigate through everything and keep a clear idea of who does what. Don’t worry! You will find the answers you need. But remember, you better do it before you need it!
[This post is written by Sharon Ugochukwu, a former occupational therapy assistant student from National American University.]
Now you’re home after a stay in rehab after breaking your leg. You realize how hard it is to get around the home. A friend recommended you have an occupational therapy evaluation to make it easier to do what you need to do. The occupational therapist listened to your needs and gave great ideas for home modifications (i.e. changes in the home). You are excited to turn those ideas into reality.
Now, all you have to do is find the right contractor for the job. It’s important for the occupational therapist and contractor to work together to make the changes that are customized to you. Although the occupational therapist knows contractors to work on your home, you want to find one.
Even when you decide you want to find a contractor on your own, the thought of doing this can be overwhelming. Leon Harper of AARP states, "While there's a growing need [for home modifications], there's also been a growing fear, as a result of the unfortunate work of a few unscrupulous contractors.” People choose to scrap the plans for home modifications because of this fear.
For instance, you heard Susie’s story of the contractor who took her money and was never seen again. Uncle Bill’s contractor left a huge hole in the roof and a toilet that fell through the floor. No one wants to have these experiences! So how do you wade through the sea of contractors to find one who is honest, trustworthy, and does quality work? In this blog, we will give you eight steps to do just that!
1) Organize your project on paper. First, make a list of what you want done. Be specific regarding what changes you want in which rooms. What materials are you interested in using? List them by priority to you. This will help keep you focused and determine what kind of contractors you need.
2) Compile a list of contractors. Next, ask friends or relatives for their recommendations on contractors. Talk to employees at a lumber yard or hardware store if they know of anyone reputable. Ask a trusted realtor who they call first to fix homes. Social service agencies often partner with reputable contractors. Contact a few and get recommendations. In the Kansas City area, call up Rebuilding Together and United Way.
Rebuilding Together works with these Kansas City contractors:
Climate Control Heating & Cooling
Clinton County Trailer Sales
C. M. Mose & Son
Full Nelson Plumbing
Homes By Chris
Larry Brown Excavating
Liberty & Northland Plumbing
Paul’s Heating & Cooling
Professional Pest Solutions
Richard Huber Plumbing
Western Specialty Contractors
3) Choose contractors willing to work with your occupational therapist throughout the entire process. Research shows that occupational therapists are the most effective at home modifications for you in your home because of their medical training (Stark, Keglovits, Arbesman, & Lieberman, 2017). Occupational therapists work with you on your priorities. We are a client-centered profession! Not to mention, clients report more satisfaction with home modifications if an occupational therapist is involved.
Contractors + occupational therapists = SUPER TEAM! Together, these professionals can help you live safely in your home!
Bonus tip: Some contractors receive specialized training for remodeling a home to fit different needs and stages of life. These contractors are called certified aging in place specialists also known as CAPS. Several websites where you can find them are listed below:
National Association of the Remodeling Industry
Certified Aging In Place Program (CAPS) members can be found here:
4) Don’t allow yourself to be pressured by family members. Ah, families! Do you have a cousin, Mike, who tells you, “I do great work and can beat anybody’s price out there,” but really doesn’t? Yeah, that’s a difficult spot to be in. It can be hard to turn them down. But after all, you are paying money for your home modifications and want to stay safe in your home. Let’s not compromise the work in any way! You can just say, “Thank you, Mike, for offering your services. I want to check with a couple more contractors. I will get back with you” or, “I appreciate your offer, but I prefer not to do business with family” and leave it at that.
5) Make some calls. Once you have assembled a list, make a quick call to each of your prospective contractors and ask them some quick questions (Tom Silva, 2018):
• Do they take on projects of your size?
• Are they willing to provide financial references, from suppliers or banks? (Here you want to find out if they paid their suppliers on time and if they are maintaining a bank account in good standing. This will give you clues on their business, money management, and an idea how they will handle what you are paying them.)
• Can they give you a list of previous clients?
• How many other projects would they have going at the same time?
• How long have they worked with their subcontractors?
Per Tom Silva, “The answers to these questions reveals the contractor’s availability, reliability, how much attention they'll be able to give your project, and how smoothly the work will go.” If a contractor seems defensive or does not want to answer these simple questions, they are probably not a contractor you want to work with.
6) Narrow your list. From that list, pick at least three contractors you liked. You will invite these contractors to your home to ask more questions such as:
How long have you been in business?
Do you have experience in doing home remodels for people who want to stay in their home as they age?
Are you licensed, bonded, and have worker’s compensation insurance? Check for proof.
Get a written bid from each contractor.
7) Call the references! Ask previous clients what their experience was like with the contractor. Some questions to ask include:
1) What were the contractors work habits on your job?
2) Did he/she stick to the contract?
3) Did your project stay on budget, or at least close to budget?
4) Did anything go wrong?
5) What was the working relationship like between the contractor and any subcontractors?
8) Compare. Now compare the responses, provided references, and bids of these contractors. You should be able to decide on the contractor to work in your home!
Some final words:
Expect the good contractors to be busy and not immediately available. Good contractors are the busy ones!
Avoid contractors who just show up at your door offering services at an unbelievably low rate. A common ploy is for contractors to come to your house and say they just finished a job down the street. They have some leftover supplies and wanted to offer you a great deal! More than likely it is not trustworthy. These people are often scammers.
Do not work with a contractor who asks for the entire cost or even half of the cost up front. They could end up taking your money and disappearing. Experts recommend you pay no more than 10% of the cost up front (Tom Silva, 2018). Scheduled payments should be made at particular points along the home modification process.
Do not make a final payment unless the job is 100% complete and you approved the work. Contractors have been known to leave the final touches unfinished after a final payment.
You can’t depend solely on online reviews to choose a good contractor. Some companies pay people to post a positive review. This should not be a substitute for checking references!
Likewise, you cannot depend on the online referral lists, such as Angie’s List. Companies are supposed to be listed on this site according to their performance. However, Consumer Reports wrote that a contractor can move up the list of preferred contractors by paying an advertising fee (McGrath, 2013).