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Kolbe Contributes Windows and Doors to Model Accessible Home

Chairs & Cares Home a Prototype for Universal Design

Wausau, Wis. (January 1, 2008) – It's an uncomfortable thought, but the longer we live, the more likely we are to develop physical limitations. In fact, one out of six Americans will experience a major disability during their life. And it's no secret that America is aging significantly: By 2012, there will be more people age 65+ than in all the other age categories combined. These figures make it easy to see the growing need for universally accessible living accommodations that enable people to live independently.

Surprisingly, the burgeoning consumer need for accessible housing has not resulted in a proliferation of accessible single-family residences. It was this very absence that prompted Wayne Geurink and his nonprofit group, Chairs and Cares, to develop a demonstration model accessible home in Wausau, Wis.

Officially opened in October, the Chairs and Cares Model Accessible Home was designed by Roger Plamann, an architectural instructor at Wausau's Northcentral Technical College (NTC), with input from a 16 person advisory board. General contractor Keller Builders started construction on the $1.2 million project, which is sited on the college's campus, in Spring 2006. The prototypical residence is operated by Midstate Independent Living Consultants, a nonprofit agency that serves people with disabilities in north-central and northeastern Wisconsin.

Virtually all of the model house's design elements and building components were donated. Commited to the project from its earliest stages, Kolbe & Kolbe Millwork Co. contributed 51 windows, 21 interior doors and entry doors. "Kolbe was the very first contributor to sign on to the project," says Geurink. "We were very impressed with their enthusiasm and commitment, and their superior products provide the design and operation flexibility that accessible design demands."

"Wayne and his team have done an outstanding job with this model accessible home," praises Mike Salsieder, president of Kolbe & Kolbe. He comments that "as an organization, Kolbe is sensitive to the fact that there are many people with physical limitations and that a significant portion of our population is aging. We were privileged to be able to work with Wayne, and members of NTC, as well as other companies in our area to help provide a facility that showcases a construction that allows people with physical limitations to live independently within a residential setting."

The entire residence serves as a showcase where people with physical disabilities or limitations and others interested in accessibility can experience accessible living design, see innovative adaptive equipment and technology solutions, and obtain information about building modifications, equipment, furniture, fixtures, and appliances.

"Our vision is to have the Chairs and Cares Model Accessible Home be successful enough to influence other parts of the country to develop similar properties," says Geurink.

"This facility serves as a basis to provide builders, architects and homeowners throughout the region with an opportunity to incorporate innovative ideas into their own construction plans," Salsieder continues. "My wife, Mary, is an occupational therapist and a member of the Chairs and Cares Board. She has often impressed upon me the importance of understanding the difficulties that people with physical limitations face every day."

The project has already made an impression on at least one builder: Lewis Reeves, president of Lewis Reeves Homes in Atlanta, who says, "I've been building houses for 30 years. Until I met Wayne, I had no idea where I'd turn - professionally or personally - to help someone with a physical disability to live as comfortably and independently as possible." Reeves also is president of Coan Millworks, a distributor of Kolbe windows and doors, which are often featured in his clients' high-end, custom homes.

Intrigued by its residential customization, Reeves followed the development of the Chairs and Cares Model Accessible House from design through completion. "It's a great concept, and there's such a need for this. There ought to be one in every city across the country. Wayne's example is truly inspiring."

A retired Wausau Insurance executive, Geurink had suffered paralyzing injuries from a car accident in 1991. In 2001, the idea for the Chairs and Cares Model Accessible Home came to him during discussions among members of a spinal cord injury group in which someone would inevitably say, "Wouldn't it be nice if there was a place where people could see, or get information about accessible housing?"

He discovered that there wasn't a single example of a universally designed accessible residence in the central Wisconsin area: "I felt very strongly that this area needed a demonstration home that would highlight ways for people to keep their independence if they become disabled, or as they age or become less agile." The home is also intended to give architects and builders ideas about what can be done to make new homes or remodeled homes more functional for people with physical limitations.

"No matter what the situation, it would feel overwhelming to have to figure out an independent living solution, especially if you're faced with a combination of circumstances such as being in a wheelchair and having sight or hearing impairments," says Reeves. "I certainly have the structural know-how, but without the Chairs and Cares example, it would take a lot of trial and error to provide the best and safest accommodations. And it's one thing to try to address these challenges through new construction, but adapting and renovating an existing home would be a much more difficult undertaking."

"Surveys show that most of us want to remain in our own homes as we age; enabling more people to live on their own for as long as possible means huge dollar savings for individuals, families and for society as a whole," says Geurink. Underscoring his point are statistics from AARP showing that in 2006, the average annual cost for nursing home care in the U.S. was $68,800.

Homeowners, builders and architects are not the only ones taking note of this. This summer, 90 members of the Occupational Health Nurses Organization visited the model home. Those touring the Chairs and Cares Model Accessible Home encounter a number of general design considerations that are essential to accessibility, including the height and location of light switches, electrical outlets, phones and phone jacks, heating and cooling controls, toilets, sinks, counter tops, and cabinets.

"To people with low strength and/or less control of their upper body, an inch here or there can make the difference between dependence and independence," says Geurink. Navigating doors and doorways, and opening and closing windows are among the biggest challenges for people with limited mobility. The home's quality casement windows enable operation for a person with limited strength, and the dining room's bay window operates with a push-button, electronic opener.

Throughout the model home, longer-than-usual manual cranks make windows easier to open and close. Oversized lever locks are located near window bottoms, making them easier to use. For bay windows, locks were placed closer to the interior, giving ready access to people in wheelchairs. All window treatments were designed to be easy to manipulate as well.

Geurink notes that accessible windows aren't just about operability, but enjoyment, too. The windows have a maximum sill height of 33 inches, allowing viewing from a seated position. "Variety in window types is also important, which is why the home has some floor to ceiling windows. These allow for an unobstructed view, as well as letting lots of light in. The large southern exposure windows create a passive solar effect, and make the rooms bright and sunny."

To make entry and exit easier, the home's exterior doors feature a flush-to-floor sill. Engineered into the doorframes as integral components, the sills ensure that the level of the finished floors align with the thresholds for wheelchair accessibility. People using crutches, canes, or walkers also benefit from the flush thresholds.

All of the exterior and interior doors are wider than usual (36 inches) to comfortably accommodate passage by people in wheelchairs. Interior swinging doors are fitted with lever handles, making them easier for people with limited dexterity to operate than doors with knobs or latch handles. The utility closet door is not only oversized, it has an additional pull bar mounted to its surface to make it easier to close.

Similarly, the home's closets feature double doors and bi-fold doors, making them easier to open and close for people with restricted mobility and diminished hand strength. Pocket doors provide unobstructed interior openings to a laundry and bathroom. Geurink explains, "The pocket doors are easy for people with low strength to open, and because they do not require any swing clearance, they stay completely out of the way, making them a great convenience for visually impaired people and for people in wheelchairs."

The windows and exterior doors all feature energy-efficient LoE2-270 glass with double glazing and weather stripping to prevent draft and temperature variations. For minimal exterior maintenance, Kolbe Ultra Series windows are finished in Hartford Green 70% fluoropolymer and are trimmed in oak to match the interior doors' classic look.

The home illustrates that barrier elimination and a functional floor plan that eases everyday living are design essentials. "The home's two-story, 4,700-square-foot size might strike some as big, but each room needed to be large enough to accommodate group tours -- and to demonstrate a five-foot turning radius for wheelchairs. Wheelchair turning radius needs to be taken into account on at least one side of the bed, alongside the toilet, in front of the bathroom sink, in the roll-in shower, between work areas in the kitchen, and in walk-in/roll-in closets. Having wider hallways for wheelchair transit is also critical," says Geurink.

An elevator provides second-floor access for people in wheelchairs and others with limited strength or mobility, and a stairway lift is also planned. Stairway steps have a contrasting color edge to help vision impaired people see the edge of each step. Hand rails on stairs and in the extra-wide, 48-inch hallways provide stability for people with limited mobility. To aid wheelchair passage, the home's carpeted rooms have low-nap carpeting.

The garage has several accessibility features, including parking spaces large enough to allow for driver-side loading and unloading of a wheelchair, and for a wheelchair lift on the passenger side or at the rear of the vehicle. Entering the house from the garage, visitors notice an oversized storm-safe room that comfortably fits wheelchairs. Nearby, the utility rooms' fuse box controls are located on the main living level of the home, and the furnace is easily accessible, allowing for a person in a wheelchair to replace the filter. A programmable thermostat provides energy efficiency and convenience.

When natural daylight from the home's many windows is not available, energy efficient fluorescents illuminate the interior. All light switches feature rockers, making them easier for people with limited hand dexterity or coordination to operate. To make them easy to find, the home's light switches are located adjacent to doors, and are horizontally aligned with door handles.

Grab bars and non-slip shower and tub floors also are among the home's accessible features. "Common sense would suggest that any new or remodeled home would include these, because even the most able-bodied person can slip and fall. In fact, statistics show that slips and falls -- especially while using the tub or shower -- are among the most common household-related injuries, and can be serious or even deadly," says Geurink.

In the bathrooms, tilted mirrors over the bathroom sink accommodate people in a seated position. The faucets are motion-activated, and the medicine cabinets are mounted at counter height, allowing visibility and accessibility to its contents. Some of the home's faucets and shower controls feature anti-scald mechanisms that automatically mix water to a pre-set temperature.

The kitchen's accessibility elements include a sink with an open space beneath to accommodate a wheelchair, and a motion-activated faucet. The under-counter dishwasher has front-mounted controls, and an open counter space on one side of the dishwasher enables easy access. The built-in oven has a side-hinged door, and all appliances are raised to permit easier wheelchair access. Several counters and cabinets are height-adjustable, and a 10x7-inch toe space allows for the front wheels and footrest of a wheelchair to clear the cabinets.

The living room serves as a large meeting room. The dining room also does double duty as a resource library and offers take-home information about the house. The home's ample size provides for a large display area for sight and hearing related equipment, makes it easier to handle group tours, as well as enables future growth flexibility. Geurink adds that the home's two-story floor plan accommodates many settings and features, which "can easily be changed or modified as accessibility-related fixtures and equipment change over time."

For more on Chairs and Cares, please visit

To learn more about Kolbe products that contribute to independent living, please call 800-955-8177 or visit

What began in 1946 as a two-brother team has grown into an internationally respected manufacturing company. Kolbe & Kolbe Millwork Co, Inc. remains a privately held, community-oriented business located in Wausau, Wis. Covering nearly one million-square-feet, its state-of-the-art facilities feature high-tech machinery and a design center to present the creative possibilities offered by Kolbe windows and doors.

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