Parading Through the Homes

Dear Jane,

I have noticed billboards throughout the city advertising this year’s Parade of Homes. I was disappointed when looking at the guide book that there weren’t any builders advertising accessible single family homes, but I did notice several builders advertising accessible townhomes and condominiums. What are your thoughts?

Sheila, Apple Valley, MN

Dear Sheila,

The Parade of Homes Spring Preview is an annual showcase of newly constructed homes which began on February 11, 2006 and will be running through March 19, 2006. This year, there are 1,249 homes featured, open to the public from 12:00 noon to 6:00 pm, Thursdays through Sundays. At the Parade of Homes, visitors can see a variety of styles, sizes, and pricing of homes in neighborhoods throughout the metropolitan area.

During the tour, free guidebooks are available at Holiday Station stores and any of the homes on the Parade. In the guidebooks, editors have identified models whose builders indicated they have “experience building Universal Design (accessible) homes and offer main levels accessible to wheelchairs.” This year, you are correct; there are no single family accessible homes on the Parade; only townhomes and condominiums listed with access potential.

In the past, there have been homes in the Parade that have been constructed to be fully wheelchair accessible. In fact, I had the privilege of designing one of the very first accessible homes to be in the Parade back in 1993. This year, however, the list in the Parade of Homes guide focuses on the builder and his/or her experience of creating Universal Designed homes and not the home on the Parade. Thus, our afternoon of touring 31+ homes (condos and town- homes) revealed that although most of the buildings were accessible in their common areas, the privately owned units appeared to be very “normal” (inaccessible), yet some units had basic access features such as:

• no steps;

• wide doors;

• wide corridors;

• lever door hardware;

• easy to operate faucet hardware;

• low pile carpet with good transitions to hard flooring;

• large windows with low window sills (for better viewing from a seated position; i.e., wheelchairs);

• open floor plans with potential for more extensive accessibility;

• some models provided kitchen pass-throughs;

• larger rooms to provide needed turning space for mobility aids, and wheelchairs.

A good sign was that all of the builders and builders’ representatives (i.e., realtors) we spoke to: 1) knew what we were asking for; 2) had an appropriate vocabulary to answer our questions; and, 3) showed interest in working with us to customize their standard floor plans to achieve desired and necessary accessibility features for our clients or a new homeowner. This demonstrated to us that there is far more awareness of accessible housing needs than we had just a few years ago. We also must remember that builders who have built an accessible home this year may have done so for a specific client and thus may not need to “advertise” the home, because it is already sold. Accessibility Design alone has been a part of several newly constructed homes this year, but all wanted immediate occupancy making it difficult to be showcased on the Parade.

If you are looking at building an accessible home in the future, the Parade of Homes is a great way to shop for a home builder and see trends first hand. Irregardless of the builder you choose, you will most likely need to modify the design/plans to create an accessible home that meets your needs. There are Access Specialists and Designers in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area that can assist you with this, but you may have to be your own advocate and bring them onto your team. The builder may not have these resources for you already established. Also, contacting them early in the process may save time and money in re-designing, eliminate costly “change orders,” and reduce the need to remodel later…after construction and/or as future issues arise.

If you are planning to spend time touring the Parade of Homes, before selecting which builders you would like to visit, do a little research by phone or internet to minimize “dead-end” visits. You will want to figure out exactly what units are accessible to you and what units are on the Parade that aren’t accessible, but could be if you modified the design before or while it is under construction. If you are Internet savvy, most floor plans are available online with the availability of alternative configurations as well. The Parade of Homes has a Web site: www.paradeofhomes.org which can link you to builders showing homes in the Parade.

And if you’re not looking at building a home, the Parade of Homes is a lot of fun to visit and dream. We hope that as the years go by and access features become more mainstreamed through code adoption, awareness, and/or public demand, accessible single family homes will, too, be prevalent in the Parade of Homes.

Do you have a question for Jane and Accessibility Design? We’ll cover all of your questions in future issues of Home Access Answers. Please contact us at 952-925-0301 or email us at info@accessibilitydesign.com or visit us at www.accessibilitydesign.com.

Jane Hampton, president of Accessibility Design, founded the company in 1992 to enhance lives through design and project management. They provide design, consultation, project management, and product recommendation services specializing in home access for individuals with disabilities at all stages of life.