I am an electrician and am working on a new construction project for a family where the mother uses a wheelchair. What should I be aware of as I am installing electrical outlets and switches in their home?
Hank, Stillwater, Minnesota
The beauty of new construction is “customization.” Prior to rough-in you need to walk through each room of the house with this family to identify all code required electrical features as well as additional electrical requests specific to this family. Be sure to keep asking if there will be any special equipment or unique activity within each room which may dictate electrical features above and beyond the “norm.”
I would recommend identifying the range of highest reach and lowest reach for this woman. Those measurements will provide you with the boundaries within which you can install switches and outlets. You should also identify whether it is easier for her to use her right hand or left hand; this information helps you decide the horizontal position for switches and outlets, which is especially important in the bathroom and kitchen.
When roughing in electrical components, all final mounting heights should be measured above the “finished” floor, not the subfloor. Therefore you will need to take into consideration the height of the floor material when roughing in the electrical components. All wall outlets should be installed higher than standard, approximately 24” to 30” above the finished floor. All light switches should be mounted between 36” and 42” above the floor. Rocker-style switches are easier to operate, if any of the family members have limited dexterity. In some rooms, ask if motion-activated switching would be helpful.
Many individuals with reach limitations have difficulty reaching electrical outlets and switches over kitchen counters. As a result, we often position important outlets and switches on the front face of base cabinets, just below the counter top. If that is not an option, we position the outlets above the counter backsplash, no higher than 42” above the finished floor with the longest dimension mounted horizontally.
If the family is considering installing appliance lifts in base cabinets to make it easier to retrieve a mixer or food processor, consider installing outlets inside the cabinet for each appliance or ensure an easy-to-reach outlet is located adjacent to the appliance lift.
For venting hoods over a range or cooktop, be sure to wire the switches that operate the light and fan to a wall switch or a switch located on the front trim of an adjacent base cabinet.
In the bathroom, position an electrical outlet for a hair dryer on the side of the sink that is easier for this woman to reach. Position the outlet within an arm’s length on a side wall or on the front face of the vanity.
Vapor-proof lighting should be provided over bathtubs and in showers. Many individuals with disabilities appreciate having a heat lamp installed near bathing areas, as it takes them longer to undress, bathe and re-dress, and they often have a tendency to be chilled.
In the bedrooms, especially the daughter’s bedroom, provide at least one four-plex outlet at the head of the bed, if not two four-plex outlets. For safety, additional outlets are often needed to accommodate multiple items such as a clock, radio, lamp, cordless phone, fan, intercom and electric bed-frame.
Task lighting is important in all areas of the home: under wall cabinets, over work areas, in closets, at mirrors, in stairways.
In the laundry room, identify a location for ironing and ensure the position of the electrical outlet dedicated for the iron is located so the iron’s cord is not in the way.
Ensure that the main electrical panel is in a location that is reachable by this woman…on an accessible floor level and mounted within her accessible reach range. Coordinate with the mechanical contractor to ensure all environmental controls, such as the thermostat, are at a height that is easily reachable.
If this woman uses an electric wheelchair, the battery will need to be recharged every night. It is helpful if there is a dedicated outlet mounted approximately 36” above the finished floor in a location where the wheelchair is parked out of any pathway.
Review needs for power door openers, elevator, lifting equipment, automated windows or window coverings. You may need to consult with a manufacturer’s representative or installer directly for any specific instructions regarding location and voltage. And don’t forget garage and exterior issues for electrical and additional lighting.
Finally ask the family if they would ever consider installation of a ceiling track lifting device for transfers within the bedroom or bathroom. If this is even a remote possibility, ensure that no ceiling mounted fixtures, lights, fans or smoke detectors are positioned where a future ceiling track would be installed. This planning will eliminate costly electrical expenses down the road if a ceiling track is installed.
With careful attention to detail and thorough planning with this family prior to rough-in, you should be able to meet and exceed their expectations.
Questions for Jane? We’ll cover them in future issues of Home Access Answers. Please contact us at 952-925-0301, www.accessibilitydesign.com or [email protected]. Jane Hampton, CID, Access Specialist and 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.