Remodelers offers services to those with special needs
When Nick and Debbi Burnett decided to update a bathroom in their Sacramento, Calif., home, they had to take size into consideration. Not just the small, funky layout of the master bathroom, but Nick's size as well.
"I'm the big guy — I'm the reason we talk about these bariatric issues," Nick says.
The couple hooked up with designer Cynthia Shull at the highly rated Kitchen Mart Inc., a local firm they'd used to remodel the kitchen in their 1969 ranch house. Shull helped them custom design a walk-in shower with a strong Corian pan and a curtain to replace a cramped shower stall. They also installed stainless steel handrails, downsized a double vanity and added storage, all for about $8,500.
"My goal with the bariatric design is to make sure another person who is not overweight wouldn't notice," says Shull, who specializes in serving bariatric and disabled customers. "There's no reason to make it ugly. It should be pretty — beautiful — like anyone else's bathroom."
More than one-third of U.S. adults — or 72 million people — and 16 percent of children are obese. To serve this niche, more companies are offering services and products for plus-size consumers as well as the disabled and elderly, who have some of the same needs.
Good design without obstructions
The Burnetts were so pleased with the first project they've asked Shull to redo their second bathroom, which will feature a walk-in tub with a seat. "I don't think I've actually laid down in a tub for 25 years because it's not comfortable and it's not safe," Nick says.
Bathrooms can be riddled with obstacles for those with special needs. When shopping for a home, Angie's List member Harriett Barry looked for a place she could build a safe living space for her wheelchair-bound mother who was then in her 60s and suffered from rheumatoid arthritis.
She found a house in Burr Ridge, Ill., where she created a first-floor bedroom suite with a bathroom that included a pedestal sink her mother could roll up to and a walk-in shower with a seat and a detachable showerhead.
"We installed call buttons low enough she could reach from the wheelchair or even from the floor," Barry says.
Barry says the remodel allowed her mother to spend 10 years at home with family before moving to a hospice three years ago.
"She got to see her granddaughter born, and she got to see her get on the school bus for the first time and for several years after that," Barry says. "It made her very happy."
Specialized products for special needs
By 2050, the number of people aged 65 or older is expected to more than double to 89 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. About 41 percent of people in that age group have some disability. Designers and remodelers say more bathroom fixtures and accessories are available to those with physical disabilities.
Big John Products Inc. sells a toilet seat that fits to standard-sized commodes, making them tall enough to meet Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines. Other companies sell toilets, sinks and fixtures designed to meet specifications set under the ADA, which in 1990 made discrimination against people with disabilities illegal.
The United States Access Board promulgates the ADA Accessibility Guidelines called for under the Act and provides free training for architects, designers and others on how to comply with the law. The guidelines include specifications on how much space is needed around fixtures and what height they should be.
The Access Board doesn't, however, offer certification for services or products, says Dave Yanchulis, an accessibility specialist. "If someone makes that claim, that's their claim," he says.
Angie's List members Richard and Margaret Smith began renovating the his-and-hers bathrooms in their Charlotte, N.C., home after Margaret's father suffered a stroke and needed a wheelchair.
"You can now go anywhere in our house in a wheelchair," says Richard, a 69-year-old retiree from IBM. When he broke his foot soon after, Richard found that handrails and an elevated toilet made life easier for him.
Richard's bathroom also features a shower that's big enough for a wheelchair and a built-in bench. "You can have a party in mine — you can put six adults in there, two by two by two," he says.
Experts say wide doorways, curb-less showers and sinks with space underneath improve accessibility. Replacing tile with softer materials can minimize slipping injuries. Large faucet levers and magnetized cabinets can help those with limited mobility or reach.
Universal design and CAPS
As the market for specialized products has grown, so have the number of companies touting "universal design" services, which aim to make spaces accessible to people of all ages, sizes and abilities.
Bryce Jacob, vice president of highly rated Dave Fox Remodeling in Columbus, Ohio, teaches a course on universal design for the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. Jacob urges people to consider using universal design principles before they have special needs. He asks clients how long they plan to stay in their homes and who will be visiting.
"We're doing a lot of universal design for people who aren't even asking for it up-front," Jacob says. "We are helping people think a little deeper."
A recent AARP survey found that 89 percent of people over 50 want to stay in their homes indefinitely. Richard says the remodel for his wife's father will allow the couple to age comfortably in their 1973 cedar home.
"We have the house of our dreams so [my wife] does not want to move," he says.
The National Association of Home Builders offers a one-of-a-kind program for service providers to become Certified Aging-in-Place Specialists (CAPS). Since the NAHB's program began in 2002, the number of graduates per year has grown tenfold.
"I thought, 'I've got to help other people do what I may need myself,'" says Coats.
He says CAPS and universal design are part of an industry shift that includes green and energy-efficient building.
"We should be including all of those different concepts into the design of homes," he says. "It's part and parcel of the greater whole."
Resale after the remodel
But do bathroom-remodeling projects decrease the resale value of a home? A National Association of Realtors spokesman says he didn't know of any data tracking whether bathroom remodels for special-needs consumers affect a home's resale value, but he didn't expect much adverse impact.
"Most people make any kind of improvement or remodeling because of lifestyle modification," says spokesman Walter Molony. "We have an aging population — things of this nature are going to be in greater demand in the future."
The Burnetts in Sacramento are a little concerned about not having a standard-sized bathtub after they revamp their second bathroom, but plan to stay in their home for the foreseeable future.
"I'm 50 years old and I'm probably going to be this size for the rest of my life," Nick says. "If I lose weight and I'm suddenly 180 pounds, my house will still be comfortable for me."