A friend of mine called me up the other day, asking if she could hire me for a small project at her house. Her husband is getting on in years, and is having a difficult time going up and down the stairs of their house. The bedroom is upstairs.
We do a lot of work making houses and commercial buildings accessible to people with mobility impairments, so this project was right up our alley.
My friend’s initial thought was to put a stair lift in the house. Stair lifts can be a good idea, but we have found they are the best solution in only a limited range of circumstances. In this case, as we see in a lot of older houses, the stair was quite narrow and there was not a lot of room at either the top or bottom landing. Stair lifts jut past the top and bottom risers of a set of stairs, so you need a bit of space at those landings. The issue with a narrow stair is that stair lifts take up space on the stair, sometimes leaving very little room for those who are using the stair.
Stair lifts may prove useful in getting a person up and down the stairs, but wheel-chair bound people will probably need two wheelchairs: one for upstairs and one for downstairs.
Another thought my friend had was to turn a small study room on the first floor into a bedroom. The problem was, this study was a little too small for the bed and side tables they wanted to use. Their thought was to add a small addition to the room, in order to gain about three or four feet of space.
small exterior additions are very expensive for the amount of space gained
After talking for a while, I got my friend and her husband to realize their existing house actually had a lot of space, so reconfiguring what they had would be the most cost-effective solution. After talking a while more, I convinced my friend and her husband that their living room, while much larger than even their current bedroom, would make a great new bedroom. They never use their living room anymore. In fact, they referred to it as a “museum” of unused furniture and lamps.
By the end of the 90-minute visit, I had managed to talk them out of a stair lift, an addition, and a large interior renovation. The conversion of the living room to a bedroom would cost a couple thousand dollars at most.
This was a good job.