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Building new homes with accessibility in mind

A look at accessible living renovations that can make life easier for someone who requires a wheelchair.

It’s now coming up to 10 years  since an October 2007 ATV accident north of Thunder Bay left Domenic Cuda as a paraplegic. Reflecting back, however, he considers himself fortunate.

It could have been a lot worse, says Cuda, of the accident, in which his vehicle plunged 20 feet over an embankment, leaving him stranded in the woods for hours before help could arrive.

Cuda now spends days living his life as normally as possible, which typically may consist of gardening in the backyard, working out in the basement gym, watching TV in the recreational area with his kids, or using the home office area to coordinating fundraising for his two boys’ sports activites.

Paramount to maintaining all these activities is a home with accessibility built right in.

It also helps that the one-time employee of Losani Homes had the benefit of a personal connection with its CEO Fred Losani. Says Cuda: “I’ll never forget him (Fred) saying ‘Dom, we have got to find you a lot and do whatever it takes to make this more comfortable for you.’ “

A lot became available in Spring 2010, and construction began on a 2,575 sq. ft. bungalow in Grimsby just minutes from Lake Ontario.

These days, Cuda is making it his mission to educate others about and accessibility and new homes. It helps that he has the expertise and background in construction — his job was overseeing home construction from drywall to completion — but he now also has close to a decade of experience first with retrofitting an existing home and later building a new one.

“It’s all in the details,” says Cuda who recently gave me a tour of his home located just minutes east of Hamilton. And if you did not have prior knowledge, you may not even guess this is a specially equipped home.

The bungalow has the new-home look — it’s open concept, has abundant lighting and windows throughout, and it features hand-scraped teak hardwood floors, granite countertops and all the latest in kitchen and bathroom fixtures.

As for the accessibility features, they are intended to be “‘seamless” as possible and include:

  • a ‘three-level’ built-in elevator that goes from main-floor hallway to garage and to the basement below;
  • walk-out basement with an extended ramp so Cuda can enjoy his backyard and gardening;
  • extra wide hallways and door entrances, plus double French doors in the master bedroom;
  • lever handles on all bathroom (four) and bedroom (three) doors, easier to use than door knobs;
  • lower, easier-to-reach kitchen cabinets and ‘roll-under’ cooktops and kitchen prep areas;
  • lower-to-the-floor light switches and thermostat controls, so everything is easily within  arm’s reach;
  • zero-threshold sliding doors and shower, meaning no steps are used  and is fully wheel chair accessible.

If there was one lesson learned, “it’s a heck of a lot cheaper to build from scratch then to retrofit.” says Cuda who had started some renovations to his previous Hamilton home before Losani Homes offered to help him build a new one.

For example, he estimates the built-in elevator, which travels between the basement, the garage and the main floor, costs one-third of the price than it would have to have it put in later.

But it’s not just about the cost. “A retrofit often ends up looking like a retrofit,” and that’s why it makes so much sense to build accessibility features into a new home from the outset, he says.

Reflecting on it all, Cuda says the only he misses out on is spontaneity — he must plan out each day carefully — but thanks to living in an accessible home, his independence, privacy and mobility remain intact.
— Readers with questions about accessibility and new home construction can reach
Domenic at dcuda@co

About the Author: Martin Slofstra is the Editor of  The Sun’s New Homes and Condos section



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