Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Home Improvements – Installment #2

Shower After 02As I mentioned in Home Improvements – Installment #1 and in my posts about moving, here and here, not long ago we relocated from the picturesque but boring suburbs into the urban and walkable (and therefore wheelchair-able) city. The house we found was one story and fairly accessible, with wide doorways and an open layout. This is the second blog installment describing how we've converted this potentially accessible house into one that is well-suited for my current disability, and hopefully for my future levels of disability as well.

Previously I wrote about access improvements to the house for the front door and the back door. Inside the house, though, the least accessible area was the master bathroom. It had a traditional tub surround that required an elaborate (and almost dangerous) procedure for me to get into and out of it.  The bathroom also had a conventional vanity that was impossible for me to get close to with my wheelchair.

We considered several alternatives for the tub. The obvious option, and the one that we employed in our previous house, was to hire a carpenter to build a custom tile shower to replace the tub enclosure. Another option was to use a company called Bath Fitter.  We chose Bath Fitter for a couple of reasons. First, the one-piece acrylic shower enclosure is lower maintenance than a tile enclosure. It is easier to clean, and it will never leak. Second, the Bath Fitter shower, as you may know from their commercials, can be installed in one day (more or less).

The Bath Fitter product was not inexpensive though. We paid about $5400 for the unit, installed. A similar tiled shower quote was approximately $1000 less, but it would have taken 7 to 10 days to install. I'm not sure what I would have done during that period.  Although Kim could have used our small guest bathroom, that shower is not accessible to me. Kim informed me, in no uncertain terms, that my going without a shower for a week or more was not an option!

How did people live with one another before modern plumbing?

When I consulted with the Bath Fitter salesperson in our home, prior to signing a contract, we came up with a configuration of plumbing hardware that would work for both Kim and me. As you can see from the photos below, we now have two shower heads, a stationary one that Kim will primarily use, and a hand-held unit for me. There is an easy to operate switch which diverts the water from one head to the other. We also decided on a couple of shelves, one for my soap and shampoo, and a corner shelf for all of Kim's girly stuff. And of course I needed a couple of grab bars to help with transfers.

We couldn't be more pleased with our new shower enclosure. It actually took two days to install instead of one, but that's no big deal. I wasn't happy with how the shower floor drained (it turns out that my concrete slab is a little crooked), so Bath Fitter came back later and re-leveled the shower floor at no extra charge.

All the controls work well for me. Transferring is going okay, although as my MS continues to progress we’ll need to come up with other adaptations to assist with transferring.

Tub Before
Tub Before

Shower In Process
Shower Prog 01

Shower Prog 02

Shower Prog 03

Shower After

Shower After 03

Shower After 02

Next- the vanity. We hired a carpenter to gut most of the cabinet and to install some open shelves, with a large space in the middle for my wheelchair. Kim installed an easy-operating faucet for me, and lowered the mirror. Again, this project was a clear winner, and we couldn't be happier with it.

Vanity Before

Vanity In Progress

Vanity After

The last project I'll mention is not accessibility related at all, but I can't help sharing it with you nonetheless. Here are some before and after pictures of our master bedroom. Kim replaced the ceiling fan herself. We purchased a new carpet and had that laid professionally. Kim chose some new artwork, curtains, and bedding, and of course she painted the walls in the bedroom (and bathroom).

Bedroom Before (previous owners)
Bedroom Before

Bedroom After

So now we’re out of money.  But luckily we don't have much left to do. Kim plans to lay a brick patio outside our back porch in the spring. I'll report on that in Installment #3, if Kim and I both survive another harsh Maine winter; if Congress doesn't eliminate both Social Security and Medicare in order to balance the budget; and if we don't win the lottery, hire a butler named Jeeves and a nurse named Destiny, and simply move to Hawaii instead.


  1. Destiny? DESTINY????

    Would love to take credit for the Bath Fitter craftsmanship, since our last name is Fitter, but there is no connection. Looks as though there isn't much of a lip around the bottom of the shower to keep water in...guess it's the angle we see. The new bedroom is incredible....like something out of a magazine! Do you all have enough SHOES in that closet???....Ginny F.

  2. I'm glad you have a bathroom you can live with, but who knew Bath Fitters was so expensive? When we moved into our (very) small house my MS didn't impair me much, but now I can see that it is not going to work well with a wheelchair. Some doors and turns are too narrow, and the bathroom? Well, doesn't 19" entry door say it all? But I'll cross that bridge when I get to it. All I can think of now is that we should have sold in 2008, and bought in 2009. One in the same humble neighborhood but with 30" doors and a level entry on both ends.

  3. Great improvements you two--and tell Kim she's a terrific interior designer. That bedroom re-do is stunning!

  4. Ginny,

    Well, if I can't find a qualified Destiny, then a Bambi will do :-) Regarding the lip around the bottom, I think the photos are deceiving. The lip is high enough to hold back the water, but is not so high that it interferes with my transfers.


    Accessible housing is definitely a moving target when you have a progressive disease. I think we finally found a house that is going to work long term for us. Good luck with your access issues.

    Judy and Daphne,

    Yes, Kim has done a wonderful job decorating our home. I didn't even show you the living room, kitchen, dining room, spare bedroom, etc. In the spirit of full disclosure, I will give thanks to our friend Stephanie, a professional interior decorator, who spent some time helping us choose colors for the walls.

  5. I anxiously called my husband in to see your pictures.
    Excited about the bathroom and all. He said, "That's cool...but you know we live in a apartment, right?"

  6. Moving home may be very difficult for a common individual. At half the cost that a new purchase of home will entail, the homeowners can make improvements in their home through a home improvement loan. As in the regular loans, the borrower can repay the home improvement loan in several instalments. It is easier to pay a part of the loan than the entire loan at once.