Michigan Accessible Homes
A Division of Cornerstone Design Inc, Architects

The Costs of Accessibility

Some advocates argue that accessible design adds little or nothing to the cost of a new home. In some important ways, that is true: for instance, the framing and materials for wider doors cost about the same as narrower ones, and the framing techniques to allow no-step entries and roll-in showers add little over the cost of standard framing.

What accessible design does require is space: wider hallways, bigger bathrooms, possibly bigger kitchens and bedrooms than you might otherwise plan. You may be able to just shift space and keep the overall house size the same, but if you can't do that then you may need to build a little bit larger house in order to make it accessible compared to one which is not.

A Real Comparison: We have never seen a good detailed comparison that shows how making a home plan accessible affects the size and cost, so we decided to do our own.  We developed a basic house plan for a 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom ranch house, on an unknown but presumably flat and clear site (i.e. one that is not complicated to develop).  You can see the basic, non-accessible house plan at this link: Basic House.  Please note that this was a quick exercise for comparison's sake, so this is a simple house with no unique architecture.

Then we took the Basic House, and adapted it to make it accessible.  You can see the accessible house plan at this link: Accessible House (this plan prints to scale on legal size paper).  The adaptation included steps like:

  • Regrading and reworking the foundation to allow no-step entries.
  • Widen the hallway from 3' to 4', and widening interior doors to 3', to provide room to maneuver into the bedrooms and bathrooms.
  • Enlarging the master bedroom and master bath, to provide room to turn a wheelchair and access all the furniture and fixtures. Other bedrooms can be entered but are not sized to be accessible.
  • Enlarging the dining room so a person in a wheelchair can get by the dining room table and out to the patio or deck.
  • Enlarging the garage to provide room for a lift-equipped van (side lift).
  • Widen front porch for access in a wheelchair.
  • Change master bedroom window to door for emergency escape.
  • Change all windows from double-hung to casement, which are easier to operate.

In order to keep the comparison simple, there are some items we did not include, such as providing a first floor laundry, and/or providing an elevator to the basement.  We also did not raise the garage doors to accommodate the raised roof van some people use, which could have entailed raising the roof over the entire house.

The Results: The accessible house is about 10% larger than the non-accessible house, and the garage is about 38% larger than the non-accessible garage.  Based on preliminary cost estimates, the accessible home would cost about 8.5% more.

Some of this added cost should result in increased value for the home.  The house will be more spacious, so it should feel that way to potential purchasers.  The garage essentially expands from a 2-car garage to a 3-car garage, to provide room to get into a lift-equipped van.

Also, of course, this cost is minor compared to the cost of modifying an inaccessible house to be accessible, or of moving from a home you love because you have acquired a disability. It's always cheaper to plan ahead for what might happen in the future.