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Accessible, Energy-Smart Homes

Reprinted from PN April 2010

New homes can be built and existing ones modified in ways that will help those of us with disabilities achieve maximum independence. An accessible, energy-smart home helps maximize successful independent living for all its occupants.

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What we all want most in life is the ability to maintain our individual independence, especially performing everyday-living tasks and activities in our homes. New homes can be built and existing ones modified in ways that will help those of us with disabilities achieve maximum independence in our living environments.

An accessible, energy-smart home will help maximize successful independent living for all family members. It is a home that makes it easier for you to perform daily-living tasks and activities with minimum effort and maximum safety—and also substantially lower your monthly utility bills.

Accessible functionality: The home incorporates universal design features—the process of designing and building living, working, and playing environments that are usable, to the greatest extent possible, by everyone at all stages of life, regardless of age, size, level of ability, or preference.

Energy efficiency: While you are preparing to build new or modify your existing home to make it accessible, if you also incorporate energy-smart, sustainable building materials, products, and technologies, you will benefit by saving energy and substantially reducing your monthly utility bills.

On the Outside…


Let’s begin outside your house. It is essential to create a clear, obstacle-free, well-lighted pathway from the sidewalk and vehicle parking area to the front door and other doorways to your house. You should have at least two no-step doorways to get in and out of the house in order to provide a secondary means of egress in case of fire, or if one way out becomes blocked in an emergency.

When you have an exterior ramp built, it should have a pitch or slope of 1 in 20, and a nonslip surface. If this cannot be done due to space constraints, consider one or two exterior automatic platform lifts with a battery backup option.

It is best to have an exterior covered overhang for weather protection, good outside lighting, and highly visible address numbers. All exterior and interior doors should be 36 inches wide and have easy-to-grasp lever handles. Automatic entry door lock units operated by remote control such as a cell phone are available.

Energy Audit

A professional home energy audit will help you assess how much energy your existing home consumes, and to evaluate what measures you can take to make it more energy efficient. The audit will help you pinpoint where your house is losing energy. It will reveal existing problems, which when corrected, will save you significant amounts of money every month.

Insulation & Weather Sealing: Install a good insulation and weather-sealing “system” to protect your home from outside hot or cold temperatures, and against air and moisture leaks. This will increase your home’s interior comfort while substantially reducing your heating and cooling needs and costs.

Exterior Wall Materials: New and remodeled homes should incorporate exterior building materials that hold up to the abusive effects of sun, rain, wind, and snow. Exterior materials, such as cement siding from James Hardie or Certainteed, are factory finished and will last, maintenance-free, for many years. For fire zones such as California, this material is also fire and termite proof. It is important to first install a good-quality vapor and air-barrier house wrap like Tyvek® or Typar®.

Windows can enhance the looks of a home and provide views, daylighting, ventilation, and solar heat in winter months. However, older or inefficient windows can increase your heating bill by around 25% in the winter and a similar amount in cooling cost in the summer. Making the right selection of double-pane, low-e, good-quality windows can save you a significant amount of money, along with the added benefit of reducing your heating and cooling equipment sizing and usage. It is essential to make certain all spaces around the window frames are air and moisture sealed.

The Roof: For new homes, the use of radiant-barrier roof sheathing, such as LP TechShield, will help block the hot sun’s radiant heat from entering the attic, keeping it and the rest of your home cooler while lowering energy costs and making the home more comfortable. In a remodeled home, have a metalized or foil sheeting or roll material installed, attached to the underside of the roof rafters in the attic, leaving a small open air space at the top and bottom of the reflective sheeting for air flow.

Selecting an energy-efficient roofing system, especially in warmer climate areas, can reduce roof and attic temperatures significantly in the summer months and also decrease the energy requirements for air conditioning. Consider using “Cool Roof” products.

My next column will begin to cover the interior of the house, room by room, and show you how to make each area and room accessible, functional, safe, comfortable, and energy-smart. Check out my feature article, “The World of ‘Off-Site’ Homes,” in the December 2007 PN.

 

Contact: Livable Homes / Larry Weinstein

 

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