A plea for removing barriers from homes

(Copied with permission from the author. Original article: http://www.working-man.com/index.php/2020/06/05/a-plea-for-removing-barriers-from-home-design/)

Homes are Technology

Merriam-Webster defines technology as “the practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area”. Our homes are great examples of technology: they are structures that shelter is from the elements and give us space to perform the tasks of living. Technology is good to the extent that it enables us to do what we want to do. I want to draw attention to a weakness present in the design of most homes: they are full of barriers that hamper or prevent use by those of us not fully mobile.

Home as the Problem?

To illustrate, I will quote from Robert Murphy’s “The Body Silent”:

Ecological science tells us that our physical surroundings are not inert and immutable entities, but sets of living, shifting relations between people and objects. And every last bit of our architecture, every avenue of public access, from sidewalk to subway, has been designed for people with working legs. Our house had not changed in any way, nor had we modified it to accommodate my new limitations. But my body had changed radically, altering completely the ecology of the house and household.”
To illustrate the stakes involved in bad design, I will further quote Murphy:
Our next-door neighbor came out to greet me, and he and Bob carried me in the wheelchair up the seven steps to the front door. It was clear that I had to find a better way of getting in and out, or the house would become my prison.
The home design had seemed perfectly fine before, but an unexpected change had made it disabling. We are all vulnerable to physical loss: a new home owner tore her ACL 3 weeks prior to moving in, Murphy was diagnosed with his tumor at 52, and we can all expect our abilities to be diminished by old age. Beyond ourselves, our loved ones, friends and family, are also vulnerable to unexpected change. To use a personal example, none of the homes in our extended family were (or are) accessible when our two sons were diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at 1.5 and 4 years of age. It can happen to anyone. This is why we need to start removing barriers from home design.

Here are some of the most common barriers I have seen in my area:

  • Steps at the front door, garage, and porches
  • Non-ADA thresholds on exterior doors
  • Narrow doorways
  • Inadequate turning space for wheelchairs in key areas (5′ diameter clear space needed)
  • Narrow bathrooms without an accessible sink, toilet, or shower

When we apply ourselves to making a design, we do it according to the priorities we choose (and remember). The barriers I am talking about don’t cost much to remove at the design stage in many cases, they are just overlooked by people who have no mobility challenges of their own. Narrow hallways and doors can seem an acceptable way to conserve space and expense when there is no thought of it preventing an owner or their loved one access. I hope by shining a spot light on this vital issue that the excuse of ignorance will soon expire.

Home as the Solution

The design philosophy I am advocating for is called universal design. Universal design is defined as “the design of buildings, products or environments to make them accessible to all people, regardless of age, disability or other factors.” It should not be overt or look like “institutional chic”, it should be beautiful, feel like home, and be easy for everyone to use. The philosophy is flexible in how it can be applied with different styles. I recommend the “Accessibility is Beautiful” series produced by the Cerebral Palsy Foundation to see some of it in use. A page I have compiled for our business (“Designing for Accessibility“) has further resources.

In the end, my dream is for our homes to be refreshing places of rest and comfort. I don’t want them to ever become obstacle courses for anyone.

Accessibility is more than just 36″ doors

Today, many people are interested in building accessibility into their new homes. This is a step in the right direction: not only is it more economical on the front end, it ends up being more comfortable and convenient for everyone. I am bothered, however, by a suspicion that many that are interested in accessibility are only doing it part way while they think they are doing it all. Did you know only approximately 1% of homes in the US are fully wheelchair accessible?  Even partial accessibility is an improvement, but sometimes it wouldn’t take much more effort to go all the way and have a truly accessible home. Since some of you are or will be drawing your own plans, I wanted to share something with you. The guidelines in these videos are the basics, but it might surprise you with things you didn’t know. Enjoy.

“Should We Build or Should We Buy an Existing Home?”

Bruce Upchurch Should we build or buy

Before you begin the process of building your custom home, a serious question should be considered and answered!

“Should We Build or Should We Buy an Existing Home?”

In a consumer-driven economy, many families have been stretched and stressed because the timing wasn’t right or they weren’t the right profile of person to be building a custom home. They would have been better off buying an existing home than going through a process that wasn’t suited for their life stage, temperament, or timing.

“To build or to buy.” That should be your primary question to answer.

To help you decide, ask these 10 important questions… Be very honest. Answer each one carefully. Keep in mind there are NO right or wrong answer. You’re simply trying to determine the best course of action at this point in your life.

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Five Questions to Ask Yourself When Selecting a Custom Home Builder

Tour this Custom Home with In-Law Suite, Lakeland, TN

#1. Do you like the builder?

You are going to be spending 6-10 months working with your custom home builder. That’s a long time to live with something you don’t like. Chances are, if you get bad feelings in your initial meetings, those feelings are going to come back with a vengeance as work goes on. It is important to take personality into account when making such a big decision.

Building a custom home is a huge investment in time and resources, and there is only one chance to get it right. It’s your home. It’s your money. Make sure the custom builder you are working with appreciates that and works to make you happy. If you get bad feelings at the start, take your project elsewhere.

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Your ready to build your “Custom Dream Home”

Where We Build

Bruce Upchurch Homes LLC can build your custom home on almost any owned property.   It is often thought that a custom home builder builds on acreage or land away from neighborhoods.  However, that is only one side of our custom home building.  We also build custom homes on lots within a neighborhood after a home has been burned down.  We built a home so a daughter could be close to her mother.  Wherever you want to build a custom home, Bruce Upchurch Custom Homes LLC will work with you to build your dream home.

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Add A Safe Room to Your New Custom Home

Consider A Safe Room When Building Your Custom Home.

Have you considered a Safe Room when building your custom home? Safe Rooms are usually the size of a large closet or pantry that is finished out with the same home décor, but the inside is built to withstand high winds and flying debris.  Bruce Upchurch uses the best quality materials when building a custom home. This is even truer when adding a safe room to their customs homes. They build them to withstand high winds and flying debris; reinforcing the walls with rebar and concrete.  If you have questions Contact Us or call 901-331=3242 | Email: bruce.upchurch@gmail.com


Safe Room inside view

Safe Room Outside view


We will post our Testimonials here.

A Bit of advice

A lot of builders won’t like this bit of advice: ask for a fixed price. Don’t settle for a fee based on a percentage of costs. You can bet costs will go up.The price of concrete can skyrocket or the price of lumber will turn your dream house into a nightmare. Avoid signing an open-ended contract with the HOPE you stay in budget. Ask for a FIXED PRICE.With a fixed price, these are problems the builder must live with, not you.