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How to Make a House Accessible and Barrier-free
27 September 2023
A barrier-free home is essential to enable people with disabilities to live their daily lives effortlessly. This article explores the different ways to make a home accessible.
In a home, whether it is new or in need of renovation, accessibility can be improved by replacing or installing useful equipment, furnishings, fixtures and fittings.
Sometimes more structural work may be needed, such as better division of interior spaces and the removal of architectural barriers.
In general, making a home accessible means making it adaptable to situations that evolve throughout life. The aim of this transformation is to increase the living comfort of the people who live in it, improving their quality of everyday life with a view to home autonomy.
What are architectural barriers
Architectural barriers are physical obstacles found in various places in the home that make movement between and access to various rooms more difficult. In the list of these impediments we can include stairs and steps, which are undoubtedly the most glaring obstacle to accessibility in the home; but also doors that are too narrow, furniture that protrudes too far, handles and switches placed too high or low, and other such elements.
All these represent an obstacle primarily for wheelchair users, but also for all those with reduced walking abilities, blind, visually impaired or deaf people. The same applies in the case of small children, or in situations of temporary limitations such as accidents, convalescence and difficult pregnancies.
Ministerial Decree No. 236 of 14 June 1989 on overcoming and eliminating architectural barriers in public and private buildings refers to all these categories of people.
What it means to break down architectural barriers
Creating a barrier-free home is crucial to restoring independence to people suffering from these problems. Architectural barrier removal can consist of widening doors, re-arranging or modifying furniture, rounding off corners, installing a stair lift, fitting handrails and ergonomic handles where needed, a non-slip finish to the floor, and so on.
An accessible home means giving people with reduced or limited mobility or sensory abilities the possibility to reach the building and its units, access them easily and move between spaces and areas safely and independently.
How to make a house accessible
In general, the realisation of an accessible home must be carefully planned, especially since every need is different. When planning, it is important to remember that each disability, level of seniority, or temporary situation requires different arrangements, also depending on the person’s lifestyle and their usual way of living in the home.
What can be done to make a house more accessible?
Vertical barriers: stairs and steps
As we have seen, stairs and steps are perhaps the worst architectural barrier for those who move in wheelchairs or with other aids, but also for all those who have limited motor skills or are subject to fatigue.
Barriers that impede movement can be either internal – for moving from one floor of the house to another – or external, in the sense of flights of stairs in an apartment building or any steps connecting the front door to the street level.
In these cases, the most effective solution is to install a stair lift or mini-elevator. Stairlifts can be adapted to any type of staircase, including spiral staircases or staircases with several flights, with or without landings and of any width. They can often be installed without masonry work and without the need for permits; they operate with low energy requirements and, in more modern cases, can even be adapted to different architectural styles.
Small differences in height within the house
Small height differences in the home can restrict the freedom of movement of people in wheelchairs or other similar aids. We speak in this sense especially of door and balcony door thresholds, which prevent smooth access to terraces, balconies and other outdoor areas.
When thicknesses exceed 2.5 cm, a person in a wheelchair is unable to overcome them even by exerting a greater pushing force. In such cases, ramps – fixed or movable depending on the frequency of use – can be installed to facilitate passage.
An alternative is to lower the obstacles well below 2.5 cm, to allow adequate freedom of movement without the encumbrance of platforms. A very effective solution in this regard is provided by balcony doors made of aluminium, such as those of METRA Building. Thanks to its properties of strength and lightness, aluminium allows for profiles of low thickness; METRA Building balcony doors break down architectural barriers and reduce obstacles to a minimum thanks to the low threshold.
Positioning of handles, switches and other accessories
Especially for wheelchair users, it is essential that the elements of the house are placed at a suitable height so that they can be used easily and independently.
Switches, for example, can be placed at a height of between 60 and 140 cm. Power sockets a little lower, between 45 and 115 cm; the intercom a little higher, between 110 and 130 cm. These height variations depend very much on the characteristics of the person using it, their condition and needs. In general, it is preferable to choose low furniture rather than wall units in all rooms of the house, and to adjust the positioning of handles so that they can be easily accessed.
The height of entrance door handles and operating devices should be between 80 and 95 cm; an average height of 90 cm is recommended. Within the METRA Building product range, both interior doors and entrance doors are available that comply with regulations.
METRA Building entrance doors made of aluminium guarantee excellent weather tightness, are durable and can be customised according to customer requirements in terms of colour, finish and, of course, handle height for greater accessibility.
The same applies to windows and balcony doors. Handles and operating devices must, in this case, be placed at a height of between 100 and 130 cm, with 115 cm being the recommended height. METRA Building offers windows and balcony doors that are perfectly accessible, as well as being made of aluminium; this material gives them solidity, beauty and resistance to weather and break-ins.
Passage and manoeuvring space
One element in making the home more accessible is certainly to consider the width of the passageways for people with walking difficulties who move with crutches or other aids. But also, for wheelchair users, the space required to manoeuvre, move sideways and reverse direction.
It is important to move slowly room by room, and to identify all the pitfalls to this freedom of movement. These are often narrow corridors; balconies, bathrooms or kitchens with insufficient room to manoeuvre; lack of space when opening doors or cupboard or appliance doors.
The clear width of the door to the flat or house must be at least 80 cm. Again, the entrance doors offered by METRA Building achieve the required minimum width and are perfect for an accessible, as well as beautiful and functional home.
Internal doors in the home must have a clear opening width of at least 75 cm. For a serenely accessible home, we recommend METRA Building interior doors, which, in addition to the unique characteristics of aluminium and expertise in fabrication, minimise profiles to give more room for movement.
Finally, balcony doors facing balconies must have a minimum clear opening width of 75 cm. Here, too, you can opt for METRA Building’s minimalist solutions, as well as for sliding patio doors. The sliding opening system reduces space requirements and increases manoeuvrability.
Practicality and functionality
A more accessible home is not only one that is free of architectural barriers, but also one that allows it to be lived in every day in a practical and functional way. For people who want to remain completely independent, but who have mobility difficulties, it is important to reduce spaces where it is easier to accumulate dust and dirt; better open and minimal spaces, which also induce greater freedom of movement.
Aluminium frames lend themselves exceptionally well to the idea of minimalism and ‘cleanliness’ of rooms. Also, not to be underestimated is the fact that aluminium is quick and easy to clean, and requires no maintenance.
Furthermore, it is important to remember what the current standards require: the sharp edge of the lower transom of the opening sash of windows must be suitably shaped or protected in order not to cause accidents. The METRA Building design provides for appropriately rounded edges, thus complying with the standards and preventing unpleasant accidents. For greater protection, METRA Building windows can be completed with corner guards, i.e. accessories that cover the corners of the window sash.
Making life easier with home automation technology
When one asks how to make a home accessible, home automation is undoubtedly among the most sensible answers to this question. Home automation is very useful to make the home functional and intelligent in any context; but it becomes fundamental in a situation of architectural accessibility.
The solutions offered by home automation are many and, from time to time, can be customised according to specific needs. In all cases, the aim of home automation is always to automate – and thus facilitate – many home management operations.
Among other things, home automation allows you to open and close doors and windows, as well as blackout systems; switch on and off electrical appliances and various systems, such as the burglar alarm system2 , even remotely and at programmed times; switch lights on and off and adjust their intensity; activate the TV, music system, telephone and dial numbers to communicate with the outside world; close shutters and/or activate the heating/air conditioning system automatically according to weather conditions and outside temperatures.
Home automation makes use of devices that make themselves particularly accessible to people with disabilities or poor motor skills: microchips, touch, pressure, facial or voice recognition, voice command or clapping are different solutions to meet different needs, even for those with reduced sensory capabilities.
All METRA Building products – including doors, windows, balcony doors and shading systems – are prepared for connection to the home automation system of the house, so as to facilitate remote opening and closing. Home automation does not solve all accessibility problems, but it certainly makes people’s lives easier in a context of autonomy and maximum technological reliability.
How to make a home accessible room by room
Each room in the home may require different interventions to break down architectural barriers and achieve a more accessible and liveable space for all.
Outdoor spaces of the house
The accessibility of the home begins even before entering it, and this point should not be underestimated. It is important to have a dedicated parking space, a pavement or driveway spacious enough to allow maximum freedom of movement, as well as adequate lighting. The floor should be made of smooth and even materials, possibly without joints, to facilitate movement and walking.
Floors must be horizontal and coplanar, not slippery. Any differences in level must be overcome by installing ramps; the edge of any thresholds must be rounded.
Paths must be easily recognisable: differentiating the material or colour of floors is a useful way. Grids should have mesh that does not constitute an obstacle or hazard; doormats should be recessed and runners solidly anchored.
Entrance and corridor
All doors in the home, including the entrance door, must be at least 80 cm wide to allow access for wheelchairs and people using other walking aids. In some cases, it is advisable to equip doors with ergonomic handles to facilitate grip and freedom of movement.
Living room and bedroom
Rooms, where people are likely to spend the most time, should be designed with ample space between the different pieces of furniture, so that people can move around easily. In general, from this point of view it is advisable to leave a minimum space of 70-90 cm between furniture items, up to 150-170 cm in the case of a wheelchair user.
As previously mentioned, the interior door leading from the living room to the bedrooms must have a clear width of at least 75 cm; a measure that is fully respected by METRA Building doors.
The bed should be high enough to allow the person to sit, lie down and get up easily, even independently. It is advisable to install a lift or other equipment – electrical or mechanical – that facilitates movement.
For the wardrobe, you can opt for sliding doors and shelves that slide outwards, perhaps through the use of an electric control.
Finally, it is important to remember that any sliding patio doors present must not require excessive effort to be opened and closed. According to current laws, in fact, the pressure to be exerted to perform these manoeuvres must not exceed 8 kg; METRA Building products also comply with this standard.
Since it is usually the smallest room in the house, the bathroom is often most problematic in trying to make a home accessible.
General advice: the washbasin should be around 80 cm high and be free of columns or lower cabinets, so that it is easy to approach even with a wheelchair. The shower should be on the floor, with no unevenness. Bathroom furniture should be placed low and not exceed a height of 140 cm. As in the rest of the rooms, slippery floors and sharp edges should be avoided. Finally, in the bathroom and kitchen, one can consider installing taps that can be operated by photocells.
The METRA Building brand interior door is also recommended here, as it allows for freedom of movement and the necessary manoeuvring space required by law.
The kitchen can also create problems, especially in the freedom of movement due to tight spaces and the opening of doors and flaps.
The kitchen sink should be about 80 cm high and have a maximum depth of 65 cm, so that it can also be used while seated. As seen above, a good idea is to provide sliding or flap doors, either manual or electric, to avoid the clutter of hinged doors. Instead of fixed shelves, it is advisable to provide baskets or pull-out shelves. Worktops and utensils of all kinds should naturally be arranged at a height and in a position suitable for the easiest and most practical use.
Architectural Barriers Bonus: Save 75% with METRA Building
Renovating a house so that it is fully accessible is a job that can require a lot of effort and energy. The Italian state offers a tax break to make this intervention much more economically sustainable: the 75% Architectural Barrier Bonus.
The measure was introduced by the 2022 Budget Law (Law No. 234/2021), then extended by the 2023 Budget Law until 31 December 2025.
It is an autonomous and additional facilitation with respect to the 50% Home Bonus or the 110% Superbonus, intended for those who carry out works to eliminate architectural barriers and make their homes accessible according to the requirements of Ministerial Decree no. 236 of 14 June 1989.
With the Architectural Barrier Bonus, it is possible to save up to 75 per cent of the expenses incurred up to a maximum amount varying between EUR 30,000 and EUR 50,000, depending on the type of building, against the fulfilment of specific technical requirements that must be certified by a qualified technician who certifies that the building intervention effectively overcomes architectural barriers. The report certifies the compliance of the intervention with the technical requirements and the congruity of the declared expenditure in relation to the type of intervention.
Several categories of works are covered by the Architectural Barrier Bonus: for example, the replacement of finishes (floors, doors, external or internal fixtures, system terminals), the renovation or adaptation of technological systems (toilets, electrical systems, intercom systems, lift systems), the renovation of stairs and lifts, the insertion of ramps inside and outside buildings and of stair lifts or lifting platforms.
The Architectural Barrier Bonus can be used through a discount on the invoice.
In this case, the dealer METRA Building advances the tax deduction in the form of a 75% discount.
Alternatively, the tax deduction can be claimed directly by the taxpayer in the tax return. In this case, the deduction is 75% of the expenses incurred, to be divided into 5 equal annual instalments.
The Bonus is applicable only on existing buildings of any cadastral category for works carried out from 1 January 2022 until 31 December 2025, both with reference to common parts and to individual building units, or in the case of works to automate building systems, for the costs of disposal and reclamation of the materials of the replaced system. On the other hand, it is not applicable for interventions related to new construction or demolition and subsequent reconstruction.
Citizens, public bodies and private individuals or companies, as well as condominiums, can benefit from it.
In practice, the bonus can also be used individually by those who live in a condominium, i.e. to replace only the windows and doors of their flat without having to intervene on the entire condominium (as is the case for the 110% Superbonus).