We take mundane tasks such as laundry for granted. We sort, wash, and fold our clothing each week. Perhaps we even dread the task. However, the ability to do laundry is an important component of our independence.
The laundry room is arguably one of the most difficult rooms to modify for accessibility, particularly if stairs are required to access the space. Relocating a laundry room can be quite costly because of the need to move plumbing and/or make additions to the home. For this reason, ensuring the laundry room is accessible prior to any need is critical to ensuring lifelong independence.
Common challenges in the laundry room
- Door width
- Floor clearance
- Laundry sink and counter height
- Storage location
- Appliance control location
- Top-load appliances
The location of the laundry room is perhaps the most critical barrier to discuss. Having a laundry room located in the basement or garage is common. As a result, stairs can pose a barrier to people experiencing a short-term injury or permanent disability. If the laundry room is in the garage, a ramp might be an option to allow people who use a wheelchair to gain access. However, if the laundry room is in the basement, it may be necessary to relocate it to the main floor or install a lift system. Please consult a contractor for details.
If your laundry room is currently on the main floor, barriers to comfortable use still may be present. Many laundry rooms are placed in hall-like areas that do not provide adequate approach space for wheelchair users. New builds or additions should consider the placement and adjacency of the room. It is easiest if the laundry is adjacent to the garage, kitchen and main sleeping spaces; specifically the master bedroom.
Laundry Room Configuration
Many laundry rooms are closet-like spaces, lacking adequate space for a wheelchair user to approach the appliances. To ensure accessibility, 36 inches of space across the front of the appliances that extends at least 18 inches beyond the right and left side should be available. A five foot turning radius will create a more comfortable experience for wheel chair, crutch, or walker users.
The location of storage, height of counter and sink is another common challenge. Laundry sink and counters are recommended to be no higher than 34 inches above the finished floor. In addition, knee space under the counter and sink is recommended for a front approach. This allows wheelchair users to be able to use the space. In addition, if a person needs to work from a seated position because of a temporary injury that is also an option.
Half of the storage should be at least 9 inches off the finishes floor and less than 54 inches high. Adjustable height closet rods and shelves are also helpful. Consider a shelf or open base cabinet next to the Washer and dryer to store the heavily used items – detergent, softener, dryer sheets, etc. Some of the shelf height and depth solutions described in Kitchen Design for Independence may also be useful in the laundry room.
Certain appliance features can either enhance or impede our ability to do laundry. Top-load washing machines or stacked machines can be difficult for people who have a short-term injury or permanent disability. Frontload machines reduce the need for bending, stooping, or leaning to get laundry. In addition, the location of the control knobs is important. Controls located on the front of the machines are easier to use.
Another consideration for appliance is the height. Placing appliances on a 10 to 12 inch platform can improve the experience of all users. As we discussed in Kitchen Design for Independence, elevating appliances reduces the strain placed on the back.
Are you looking for additional ways to prepare your home for lifelong independence?
Please check out What is needed for aging in place? for additional strategies and tips.
Additional Readings and References:
- Video: Universal Design Living Laboratory
- Video: Exceptional Designs - Wheelchair-Accessible Laundry Room
- 5 Essential Tips for a Universal Design Laundry Room
- Accessible Laundry Room Ideas
- Including Home Modifications in Retirement Planning
- Housing Definitions: Accessible, Adaptable, and Universal Design
- Laundry Room Idea
- Modify Your Laundry Room for Wheelchair Accessibility