Barrier-Free Living

Your home is your castle, and as such, it should be the place where you feel most comfortable, happy and safe. Even more so if faced with some physical limitations. Creating a home that eliminates barriers, such as access and reach for all, not only adds to the comfort and ease throughout the space, but can also be a safer and more secure option.

Parkwood has had the pleasure of designing and building a number of custom barrier-free homes over the last 30 years. While everyone’s needs are different, we’ve compiled a basic overview of items to consider for wheelchair (or at times walker users), that can hopefully benefit others as well.


The entry level of most new homes is located at least 24” above the surrounding grade, which can be a major barrier for those with mobility issues. We have all seen older homes retrofitted to accommodate a wheelchair user and this usually requires the installation of a ramp that winds back and forth in front of the house. Wheelchair accessible ramps should not have a slope exceeding 1:20 (although 1:12 is possible with someone assisting the user) which would mean that for every 12” of height that the entry point is above the adjacent grade 20’-0” of ramp length would be required. The typical present-day house would therefore need a ramp length of 40’-0” or greater to provide appropriate wheelchair access.

An alternative, however, would be to lower the entry level of the house so that the entry level is basically sitting at grade. This is a technical challenge for many reasons, but Parkwood has successfully achieved this on numerous homes at little additional cost to the homeowner. The result has been a readily accessible entry and exit for the user without the need for extensive entry ramps. Another advantage to lowering the entry level of the house when there is an attached garage, is being able to directly access the home from the garage without having to go outside.


A major point to consider in planning the interior of the home is that you must provide adequate space for circulation and turning when wheelchairs (or walkers) are to be accommodated. Most rooms will consequently need to be larger than normal to provide that required access space. Our designer can assist you in laying out your interior living spaces, during the planning stages, to ensure that adequate access and circulation space is provided.

Specific rooms will have additional requirements that will vary with the needs of the entire family, while accommodating the disabled party are:

wheelchair accessible kitchen
Photo via South Bay Residentail

KITCHEN: To ease with food preparation and clean up, consideration should be provided for:

  • having counters at appropriate height with knee space below
  • ovens positioned at the appropriate height with adjacent counter space to move items in or out of the ovens
  • a cooktop provided with knee space below
  • a sink with knee space below and that includes an offset trap, insulated piping and lever-type faucet handles that are reachable from a seated position.

Consideration should also be given to where items are to be stored so that they are accessible. Most upper cabinets are well beyond the reach of someone in a wheelchair, therefore objects normally stored there will need to be located at a reachable lower level. With a walk-in pantry, accommodation may need to be made to ensure that the wheelchair can enter and exit the room without difficulty and reach needed items.

BATHROOM: The need for a fully accessible bathroom may vary with house type.  In a bungalow you may only require one such bathroom, whereas in a multi-level home you may want a full barrier-free bathroom at the sleeping level plus a barrier-free half bath on the living level. All accessible bathrooms should allow for:

  • a 5’ turning radius within the room, together with the appropriate location of the toilet (for access and use)
  • appropriate safety bars to assist in use of the toilet
  • a sink with knee space below that includes an offset trap, insulated piping and lever-type faucet handles that are reachable from a seated position.

In a full bathroom you should also allow for either a tub equipped with a transfer bench or a roll-in shower, both of which will require appropriate safety bars.  For either a tub or a shower, a hand-held showerhead should be provided with an extended reach hose to allow seated bathing.

An example of the space requirements for a fully accessible 7’-0” x 5’-0” half bath
Space requirements within a fully accessible bedroom together with an attached full bathroom

BEDROOM:  As there are typically no built-in furnishings in a bedroom other than the closet, the only specific requirement would be to ensure that the room size will accommodate circulation for a wheelchair, both into and around the room, and to provide access to the bed. Turning radius within the room can be achieved either with a full 60” diameter area or with a T-turning position.  If the wheelchair user also requires the use of a transfer hoist, structural accommodation for this equipment will need to be provided in the ceiling structure above. 

The closet should either be left open with no door, if narrower than 36”, or be provided with a door or doors providing access to the full width of the closet if wider. The coat rod and shelf within the closet will also need to be positioned lower to be reachable from a wheelchair.


LAUNDRY ROOM: As with other areas of the home, the laundry room would require a 60” radius circulation space in front of the machines. A front-load washer and dryer would be best and on pedestals to make access to the machines easier. Any counter space should provide at least some knee space below and if a sink is provided it should have knee space below and include an offset trap, insulated piping and lever-type faucet handles that are reachable from a seated position.

Sienna laundry room new home builder Edmonton
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Parkwood custom home elevator lift

ACCESS TO OTHER FLOOR LEVELS:  There are several options to providing access to other floors of the house, whether to a basement in a bungalow or to a second floor on a multi-floor home. Depending on mobility, the simplest and lowest cost method would be a stair lift that runs on a track beside the stairs.  This, of course, would require a wheelchair on each floor level, if needed, but would have the benefit of not taking up additional floor area within the house. 

However the best option, when space allows, would be a fully automatic elevator running between floors that is large enough to fit a wheelchair. Such elevators are not excessive in cost and would provide greater mobility.


There are numerous changes that can be made to a home to improve the accessibility and use for those with disabilities.  Some changes are also required for the safety of the user.  These would include:

  • Doorways should be at least 34” wide, and preferably 36” wide, to all accessible rooms.
  • Lever door handles should be provided throughout the home.
  • Doors to specific accessible rooms such as bathrooms, bedroom, laundry room and others should have doors that swing out from the room, unless there is another door accessing the same room. This will help with circulation within the room and also ensure that should the user in some manner become incapacitated against the door, entry is not blocked into the room by someone coming to their assistance.
  • Door thresholds on exterior doors should not exceed ½” in height so as not to impede a wheelchair.
  • Open space must be provided on the handle side of doorways to allow the wheelchair user to operate the handle properly.
  • Light switches may need to be lowered below standard height to be reachable from a wheelchair.
  • Electrical outlets may need to be raised above standard height to be readily usable from a wheelchair.
  • Consideration of floor finishes should be made as hard surfacing is much easier to navigate than softer finishes (carpet, etc).

No matter what your accessibility needs may be, Parkwood Master Builder can assist you in planning appropriate solutions. We have extensive experience in both adapting our standard home models as well as designing custom homes to meet the specific needs of our customers.

Contact us today to book a free consultation. We look forward to bringing your dream home vision to life!