A home entrance designed without steps.

When experiencing a disability (either short term from an injury or long-term from a chronic health condition), one of the top items on most people “wish list” for their home is a zero-step entry.

A zero-step entry is a home entrance that has no steps and minimal threshold. It means that there is a path from where a person would exit a car (most often) or would access public transportantion that uses gentle slopes instead of steps when the grade of the ground changes.  This is beneficial for people who struggle to walk, people who use cane, walker, or wheelchairs,  parents pushing strollers or walking with young kids, and anyone bringing things into and out of the home.

Zero-step entries are a great example of universal design for home, as well as visitability and life-time homes (learn more about these concepts in this blog post).

Yet, unless you are in a community designed specifically for older adults, it is rare to see a zero-step entry in a new home. In fact, we recently visited 50 new homes in the Twin Cities area from a variety of builders and found none had a zero-step entry.

 

So, what do zero-step entries look like and how can they be achieved?

The best general resources is a guide from Visitable Housing Canada: Entryways: Creating Attractive, Low-Cost Zero-Step Entrances.  This guide has many photos as examples and give practical building advance of how to build in a variety of circumstances.

Another great resources from the Home Modification Information Clearinghouse on Lanscape Modifications.

While the team at Beyond Accessibility are not builders, but we have been researching how to help contractors and building professionals find ways to incorporate zero-step entrances into their new homes.

When builders and contractors are approached with this request, it is often met with frequent concerns…

  • We’ve always done it this way (built entrances with steps).  The demographics in the US are changing, as are the housing needs.  It is time to consider a new way.
  • It is will be expensive.  Remodeling existing houses to make a zero-step entry can be expensive and impractical. However, with new construction the increase in cost is minimal compared to the overall cost of the home.  Some solutions have no cost increase, while others cost a few hundred dollars.
  • It can’t be done with basements. Zero-step entrances can be built on homes with basements.
  • It will look unattractive or hurt value. If done well, the zero-step entrances blends into the whole house design and should add value. This belief comes from the image of large ramps being added to existing houses that are obvious and intrusive to the look of home. If a zero-step entry is done during initial constructions, this should not be a concern.
  • It is against code.  Check your local code for needs for a step from the garage into the house, but the 2003 International Building Code removed the requirement for a step between the garage and house.  If it is still against local code for the garage code, then using a different entrance (and consider discussing the outdated code with your local department).
  • It can’t work with most houses.  Yes some houses are impractical, but with new house building it can be achieved with careful and creative planningof how to use each lot. Focus on what you can do, instead of the impractical situations.

Beyond Accessibility Resources:

Other resources:

 

 

Typical home entrance with a few steps to enter.

Typical home entrance from a garage with a few steps.