28 October 2008


This is the the latest entry in my Aging in Place Series, designed to help homeowners with lower back or flexibility issues, or a household member in a wheelchair, remain independent and fully-functional at home. These suggestions will not only increase your laundry room's functionality, it can increase your home's value to a larger pool of buyers.

* Replace your standard washer and dryer with a front-loading pair on pedestals. (Shown here are GE Profile's SmartDispense set.) These make it much easier for someone with back issues or in a wheelchair to load and unload clothes at a more comfortable height. They also use less water and save electricity, which is helpful to every household.

* Replace a standard ironing board, which is awkward for someone in a wheelchair to handle, with one that folds down from a wall or out of a cabinet. Make sure there's enough room on one side of that board for the user to do the ironing, and a nearby outlet.

* Add a table for folding laundry at a comfortable 30-inch height. If space is tight, consider a fold-down table instead of a standard one.

* Add a rolling hamper with removable bags that can be wheeled to the washing machine for ease of loading. I find that divided hampers save the most time on laundry day, as clothes can be tossed into their respective "lights" and "darks" hampers as they're shed and avoid the time-consuming sorting chore.

* If there's a plumbing hook-up for a sink in the laundry room, look for a fixture that mounts to the wall or otherwise allows roll-under access. Kohler has a very stylish model called Harborview that blends style and function with accessibility.

* Choose a faucet with lever-style handles, rather than knobs. These are easier for someone with arthritis or Parkinson's to operate.

* Make sure there's sufficient light in the laundry room. A typical center-mounted fixture may not be enough. A track light or multiple recessed cans that focus beams directly on the task areas for folding, ironing, loading and unloading clothes will be helpful for someone with vision challenges.

* If you're planning on adding cabinetry for laundry room storage, consider base or tall cabinets with roll-out shelves. This will make it easier on your back or household member in a wheelchair to access laundry detergent, bleach, dryer sheets, etc. (Someone in a wheelchair is unlikely to be able to reach a cabinet above the washer and dryer, even with pull-down accessories.) If there's no space for such storage, consider one of the units that can sit between the washer and dryer for holding laundry essentials. Some appliance companies make them to match their washer-dryer sets. Less expensive versions are available from housewares and storage specialty retailers.

* If you have cabinetry in your laundry room already, change its knobs to pulls. They're easier to use for someone with less hand strength or flexibility.

* If someone with balance issues is using this laundry room, replace loose throw rugs or mats with non-slip versions.

Photo Note: The laundry room shown here is NOT fully accessible. Someone in a wheelchair would not be able to reach the cabinets above the washer and dryer, and would have a difficult time using the standard 36-inch high counter next to the washer and dryer for folding. (A 30-inch height works far better for the seated user.) However, the rolling laundry cart, cabinets immediately next to the washer and dryer, (especially if they're equipped with roll-out shelves), and pedestal-standing washer and dryer would be very helpful for the wheelchair user. Additionally, GE's SmartDispense sytem means pouring the laundry detergent down into the pedestal, which may be easier for some users, than pouring it up into a tray near the top of the washer, which is the typical detergent location.

If more modifications and updates are needed in your home or a local friend's or relative's, please let me know. In addition to being an NKBA-certified kitchen designer, I'm also a Certified Aging in Place Specialist. You can email me or call (813-810-0467).

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