Renovating for Handicap Aids and Devices

Handicap Aids and Devices

The importance of handicap aids and devices is totally relative to your personal position and family situation. If you have been personally involved with a handicap person’s attempts to maneuver around, then the importance of handicap aids, and specialized devices, is a prominent consideration in your designs and construction projects. To watch an individual that has difficulty standing or moving, attempt to maneuver in a bathroom without handicap aids is extremely frustrating. You have the feeling of helplessness as you attempt to assist the individual by lifting, supporting or balancing the person in their attempts to perform life’s most common functions.

When you are aware of the many devices that are offered to assist handicap individuals, and have devoted your life to construction , it is difficult to rationalize the lack of handicap preparedness that exist in many structures. Even the most advanced structures do not have all the handicap aids that have been developed, if the codes do not demand the installation of these devices. Unfortunately in many instances, even the building officials are not completely cognizant of all the handicap requirements nor do they demand their installation. If it is not required by code, there is no developer or contractor in the world that will simply install the device out of the kindness of their hearts.

I always suggest to individuals that are constructing new homes or performing major renovations, that they should consider the installation of handicap devices. If not the total installation, then the supportive blocking and inserts that would make the future installation of handicap devices easier. If individuals understood the ease of installation, once the proper blocking or insert devices are installed, I believe more owners would prepare their structures for the future installation of handicap devices.

What specific devices and handicap aids are available to the consumer?

There are several specific products that are readily available for installation in the home, as well as commercial and institutional buildings. For the purpose of this discussion, the standard residential home will be the focus of this handicap preparedness discussion.

Grab bars

The term grab bars involves a number of devices that can aid a handicap individual’s movement around the home. These devices are basically supportive devices that will bear the weight of a person using the grab bar to support and or steady themselves as they utilize the device. Grab bars can also be used to pull or push, enabling a handicapped individual or someone that is compromised in any way to assist themselves when getting on and off the toilet, getting in and out of bed or simply moving around the home.

Toilet room grab bars

Grab bars that are installed in the toilet are available in several different styles and lengths. The local building codes will identify the length of the grab bar that is required to be installed along the sides of the toilet, as well as in the back of the toilet. These grab bars range from 12 inches to 42 inches and longer. If the homeowner is unsure of the specific code requirements, the longer grab bar should be selected. In addition, the installation of a pull down grab bar on the open side of the toilet is also recommended. This grab bar is hinged to allow its movement away up and away from the open side of the toilet allowing movement and freedom on one side. The pull down grab bar is especially convenient if the toilet facilities are not consistently being used by just a single person requiring the additional support. By hinging the grab bar up, the toilet is available for the non – handicapped as readily as to the handicapped individual. In addition, the installation of a vertical smaller grab bar is recommended to allow the individual to pull themselves off the toilet, to either obtain access to their wheelchair or stand up.

The recommended supportive blocking for these type of grab bars is a full wood blocking scheme that can be accomplished with full plywood panel blocking in the area around the toilet, or individual wood blocking , laid out to coordinate with the supportive brackets required to secure the proper grab bar. I strongly recommend the installation of a full plywood blocking scheme, around the toilet area, to allow the installation of supplementary grab bars as needed.

Too much blocking is never the issue, lack of proper blocking is always the issue!

A toilet area properly constructed with ample size for the individual, as well as the proper placement of toilet room grab bars and pull down grab bars, will make the use of the toilet by a handicap individual much easier and less frustrating. The ability to pull, push, support and balance yourself, if required, will allow the individual to use the facility with confidence and dignity.

Hall and stair handrails and grab bars

I have performed work in many different healthcare facilities and have always been impressed with the installation of the linear handrails, support rails and hallway systems that are normally installed in a hospital or nursing home corridor. When constructing these facilities, it is quite obvious that these supportive devices are extremely important to the health and safety of the occupants.

In commercial and institutional installations the use of a continuous metal band of sheet metal as a blocking detail, is in many cases the specified blocking scheme. What this allows is the installation over the wall studs of this continuous band of metal which is designed to support the installation of the corridor handrail, guardrail or other supportive device.

In the residential home, this same concept can be utilized. Although most residential builders prefer to use a wood blocking scheme as opposed to the metal band of material, the continuous installation of linear blocking is highly recommended. This blocking should be located from approximately 30 inches off the floor to 42 inches. This 12 inch band of blocking, whether it is a continuous strip of plywood or separate pieces of wood blocking between the studs, will allow the installation of any type of handrail system in the areas where the blocking is installed. Remember, the more blocking the better, so even a full 48 inch panel of plywood, installed continuously in the corridors and stairways will allow installation of any type of handrail or grab rail required.

If this type of blocking is installed in all the hallways as well as stairways within the structure and the handrails and guardrails are not installed at the time of construction, their future installation at a later date can be easily performed. Remember, the installation of blocking when the walls are open, makes the installation of the blocking simple and efficient, and allows an easy installation of the handicap devices at a future time.

Photograph the installation of all blocking and file these digital photos for easy reference. The importance of the visual appearance of blocking within the wall cannot be over stressed. When the wall is sheet-rocked or finished with another sheathing application, and it is years down the road, the actual precise location of the blocking will not be obvious. With digital photos of the blocking safely filed on your computer, the location of the blocking, and therefore the installation of the handicap devices will be much easier. In addition, the damage caused by searching for hidden blocking will not have to be repaired, if the blocking is shown on a photo. I also recommend that all photos of this type be done with an open ruler alongside the photo. In this manner the actual measurements of the blocking are shown on the photograph for ease in location at a future date. Photography, especially digital photography, will be a great help when installing devices and accessories at a later date.

Custom grab bars

Location is the reason that this section is identified as custom grab bars. The location of specific custom grab bars can make the use of a home by a handicap individual especially satisfying for that individual. Some people like to almost haul themselves up a set of stairs. Well placed vertical grab bars, installed at a repetitive distance apart up the stairs, can facilitate this type of movement up the stairs. Other individuals may find comfort in grab bars on the horizontal to steady and balance themselves as they descend the staircase.

I have found in many nursing homes, that the patient or occupant of the room likes to have a grab bar or other device alongside their bed to allow support,as they lower and raise themselves from the bed. Another type of support is the hanging trapeze type bar over the bed, to allow the patient to grab onto the bar and assist themselves when rising from the bed.

That special chair that the handicapped individual sits in to watch their television shows may require a specialized grab bar positioned properly to aid in sitting and rising from the chair. The kitchen countertop may require an extension of a grab bar along the perimeter of the counter, to assist the person that has a balance issue or has difficulty standing and walking. Specialty grab bars and supportive devices can be researched and selected on the internet, for easy delivery, straight to the home.

It is important to discuss the needs of the handicapped occupant in the home, to determine where any specialized, custom grab bars can be installed. Unfortunately the anticipated location of these types of handicap devices are difficult to predict, therefore blocking for the proper structural installation of these types of devices will need to be done at the time of installation. The installation of blocking for handicap devices is discussed further in this website page.


The installation of a home elevator is certainly a wonderful handicap device, if the budget is adequate, and there is room in the home for the installation.

It is recommended that if the home is being newly constructed, that the owner require the architect to set aside a shaft for the possible installation of a future elevator. This shaft can be used as closet space for the present time and utilized for the elevator if the need arises. If the area within the new construction is properly laid out, leading from the basement up to the upper floor, the installation of a residential elevator will be more efficiently performed, and the resultant access will be similar to the installation of the elevator when the home was constructed.

The installation of a residential elevator in an existing home is more difficult, due to the need to create the space for the shaft. The planning of the shaft in an existing residential home should be performed by a competent construction consultant or a structural engineer. The size requirements will be dictated by the most qualified and economic local residential elevator contractor. It is recommended that due diligence be performed to identify a local contractor that has experience with the installation of residential elevators in existing homes.

The installation of a residential elevator will provide access to all levels of the home as well as reduce the anxiety of the handicap individual, without the need to access the home by stairs and railings. In addition, the individual freedom that a residential elevator will provide to the handicapped person, will be well worth the cost of the elevator. For budgeting purposes, we have always used approximately $15,000 per landing to estimate the cost of a residential elevator.

Wheelchair lifts

If the installation of an elevator is impossible due to either cost or space within the structure, then the installation of an wheelchair lift should be investigated. A wheelchair lift is designed to raise a wheelchair to a specific height. The lift will not be capable of accessing one floor to another, but will allow the lifting of a wheelchair up to 4 feet or more, depending upon the manufacturer. A wheelchair lift is the perfect solution to access to a porch deck or interior elevation change. The wheelchair lift is especially useful if the location for a handicap ramp or the space required is not available. Wheelchair lifts or a series of lifts can help access a multi level home.


The installation of a chairlift on your interior stair, is a wonderful method of accessing several floors for a handicapped or elderly individual. There are several manufacturers of chairlifts and due diligence on the internet will provide information on your local vendor. The selection of chairlifts is relatively large and dependent upon the budget as well as the size of the interior home stairs a very comfortable and safe access to multi floors can be accomplished. As with all handicap devices and aids, technology and research is providing more and better selections. The use of the internet to investigate the current models as well as brands of chairlifts will provide the needed information to make the proper selection.

Call for Aid

The call for aid alarm is installed in the bathroom for individuals to use. The alarm is activated by pulling a string that is attached to the activation switch. The string is positioned to allow the use of anyone in the bathroom and without having to get off the toilet. In most cases, the alarm is an audio alarm with a light beacon installed on the exterior of the toilet. The more sophisticated alarms can be accessed through a wireless system, to alert other occupants of the home if there is an issue in one of the bathrooms.

This same call for aid can be installed in the bedrooms also, or anywhere else in the home. If there is any concern for the individual in the home’s safety, then multiple call for aid alarms should be conveniently and thoughtfully installed to ensure easy access if needed.

Research on the internet will also identify the local services that will monitor the call for aid system. There are several systems that will tie into a healthcare or independent facility to monitor the home and its occupants. In many cases, a necklace or other personal device is actually worn by the individual that needs the call for aid. In this manner the ability to alert the system at any time and in any place is possible.

Again, as with the interior call for aid alarms, the call for aid services in some cases will actually provide a light on the exterior of the structure to alert emergency vehicles that are responding to the call for aid. All of these systems and services can be easily identified and researched with some due diligence on the internet.

Emergency oxygen and cardio defibrillator devices

The installation of oxygen and cardio defibrillator packs in the residential home is becoming popular. In the past, commercial and institutional buildings were mandated by code to have these devices installed for emergencies. The manufacture of the packs has evolved to easily accommodate residential installation and their use is increasing. The ability to access either oxygen or especially defibrillator devices immediately when an emergency occurs, can mean the difference in life and death.

Handicap ramps

The installation of handicap ramps, will allow handicap individuals to access various levels of the home. The basic rule for handicap ramps is that the rise of one inch must be achieved in one foot of run. If the elevation difference to be achieved is 24 inches, then the length of the ramp must be 24 feet. The layout and design of each ramp will be specific to the area available for the ramp. In most cases the layout of the ramp will require various landings and turns to make up the required length of the ramp.

There are various methods for construction of a handicap ramp. The ramp can be constructed of wood, aluminum, fiberglass planking, or synthetic material. An internet search will offer various suppliers of both fully assembled handicap ramps, as well as the components to construct these ramps. I have found that there are several quality suppliers of individual aluminum ramps, that can be purchased and easily assembled, to allow access to various smaller elevation changes in the home.

The construction of handicap ramps throughout the home will enable access to all levels for a person in a wheelchair. All sill elevations as well as transition points from ramps to floor must be carefully considered to eliminate any tripping hazards. As has been the case in several discussions within this website, the employment of a professional construction consultant to identify the proper areas for ramps, lifts, etc. will be money well spent.

Special blocking techniques

The installation of handicap devices in an existing home is more challenging than anticipating the devices installation when constructing a new home. The basic reason for this, is that the blocking and support elements for the installation of the devices can be installed as the new home is being framed. In an existing home there are completed finishes that must be dealt with when installing the blocking, and or supporting inserts for the handicap devices. There are some special techniques or tricks to help the installation of handicap devices in an existing home.

Install a mounting board on the exterior of the existing finished wall surface

If a grab bar or some other balancing device is going to be installed, in some cases the installation of a surface board to the finished wall, will allow the installation of the handicap device on its surface. The wood board or ornamental trim, should be both screwed and glued to the surface of the wall. The application of both the screws and the glue will provide an amazingly strong and secure mounting surface for the handicap device. I have used this technique in residential homes for handrail installation. A continuous backer board will allow you to find the studs in the existing wall and with the combination of glue as well as screws into the studs, the handrail will be well secured. If the studs cannot be found or if the mounting of the device does not require a backer board large enough to catch a stud, the glue and screwing to the surface of the existing wall is normally enough support.

Molly bolt

The use of a molly bolt, found at any local hardware store, is an excellent method for securing handicap devices to existing walls. The molly bolt has a large wing, that spreads out when the bolt is inserted into the wall. This wing secures the bolt from the rear, and allows the bolt to be tensioned properly for a firm and structurally sound installation.

Many individuals try to use the typical wall insert that expands to provide structural integrity. These fasteners, in my opinion, are not as strong nor reliable as the use of the molly bolt. For a molly bolt to fail, a large piece of wall will have to be broken off to allow the bolt to pull out. Again, this is not a full proof method, but in most cases is a satisfactory method of mounting the device.

Threaded rod and epoxy

The installation of a threaded rod secured with epoxy glue will provide a very strong and permanent means of attaching a handicap device. Normally this method of attachment is used if there is a masonry or concrete surface to be mounted on. Although many homeowners are intimidated by this technique it is not a difficult installation. Threaded rod, epoxy and a drill with a masonry bit to drill the required holes are all readily available at all hardware and builder supply stores. Normally if the rod to be installed is a 1/4 inch rod, then the hole will need to be the next nominal size up.

Specialized fasteners

Research and investigation on the internet, will identify several different products that have been specifically developed to assist you in the installation of handicap devices and aids. I will not identify each and every device, however, with some internet research, you will be able to identify a number of specific devices that have been developed to allow you to install handicap devices on sheetrock, masonry as well as tiled walls. These items will not always be available in the local hardware stores, nor builder supply stores, due to their individual uniqueness. However, the ordering of these specialties through the internet is as simple as supplying your credit card information and your address.

In summary, the installation of handicap devices and aids will benefit the handicapped family member, friend or associate, and their installation is no more difficult than hiring the correct contractor, or taking the time to install the devices yourself. I am constantly amazed when I enter homes that have a handicap member, what devices are NOT installed.

Please take the time to evaluate the home together with the handicapped individual and decide the type and location of handicap devices and aids. The quality of life will be so much better for the handicapped individual if someone can take the time to install these life saving devices throughout the home!

Engage the handicap individual and take the time to improve their quality of life, it will also improve yours!

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