accessible design

As a result of an automobile accident in 1999, Jessica is a C6/C7 quadriplegic.  Obviously, this impacts nearly every aspect of her life.  Thus, her home environment must be barrier-free.  The design quest is to eliminate all barriers to an accessible life and do so in a manner that renders the lack of barriers unnoticeable.  In other words, Jessica’s house must be appear and function like a “typical” home.

Some accessible design strategies are easily attained, i.e.: wider (36”) doors.  Some are subtle and detail-intensive, i.e.: foundation details to lower door sills and eliminate the typical “bump” at the door.  The kitchen presents many obstacles. Design solutions here include thoughtful selection and locations of appliances (i.e.: the wall oven is situated to allow Jessica to “park” in front with the open oven door providing protection from hot spillage when transferring from the oven to the nearby countertop, and vice versa) ; proper countertop heights to accommodate access, comfort and safety; kitchen layout that optimizes Jessica’s mobility (she has greater strength and dexterity with her right arm/hand); careful consideration of common kitchen activities (i.e.: pot-filler faucet at stove so Jessica can fill a pot on the stove); and, remote switching at exhaust hood fan and lights (Jessica can’t reach the controls mounted on the hood).

Much thought was devoted to site and building design relative to one-story vs. two-story building configuration.  The site (land use restrictions) could have accommodated a one-story building, but would have resulted in very little useable exterior area, an important program requirement for Jessica and Todd (and their big dogs!).  As a result, a two-story scheme was developed.  Second floor access is provided via a wheelchair lift (enclosed with a door at the ground floor – virtually no visual evidence of a lift in the house).

Another site-related design consideration is the garage and vehicle access.  Jessica recently purchased a new van that will allow her to drive again.  Much thought has been given to parking the van in the garage, loading/unloading, etc.  Jessica will back the van into the garage to allow the side-mounted sliding van door to open and deploy a ramp that will directly align with the entrance door into the house.  The garage floor is 4” lower than the house floor (code required minimum).  This helps to minimize the ramp angle into the van resulting in easier and safer entering/exiting the van in a wheelchair.

In summary, many of life’s details that able-bodied folks take for granted must be carefully considered for Jessica to live a more “normal” life.  A forthcoming post will present more examples of accessible design at 363HOUSE.

363HOUSE featured in MAINE HOME + DESIGN

363HOUSE featured in MAINE HOME + DESIGN, August issue, at newsstands now! Check it out and go to the last page. There, you will find the 363HOUSE design presented as The Drawing Board feature.

yeah, pretty cool, huh?!

bioclimatic design

Portland’s climate, with its very cold winters and sometimes hot summers, requires a careful mix of active and passive design strategies to ensure proper interior conditioning. Site restrictions require the structure to be elongated along a northeast-southwest axis. High-performance, low-e, argon-filled, triple-glazed tilt-turn windows in all rooms provide cross-ventilation throughout the house. A centrally located staircase functions as a thermal chimney, allowing warmer air on the main level to escape through operable windows at the upper floor. The large southeast overhang and brise-soleil will minimize solar heat gains in the summer while harnessing the sun’s power in the winter.  Fewer, smaller windows on the northeast and northwest walls will minimize heat loss in the winter and unwanted solar gain in the summer months.


Heating is provided by a high-performance air source heat pump and will supply hot water to radiant tubing throughout the house – radiant concrete slab at the first floor, radiant ceilings at the second floor.  Yes, this house is heated by electricity!  Electric space heating works for this project due to extremely low heat-loss provided by the very-tight, well-insulated building envelope coupled with a 7.2 kilowatt, grid-tied solar PV system.  The building envelope walls are super-insulated with 12” SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels – 11.25” rigid foam faced with 1/2” OSB sheathing) for a total wall R-value of 49.  Roof insulation is a hybrid system of 12” SIPs and cellulose for a total R-value of 98.  Subslab and slab perimeter insulation is R30.

About 70% of the electric power consumed in the house, which will be equipped with fluorescent and LED fixtures throughout, will be generated by a 7.2 kW photovoltaic system. Excess power from the PV system is purchased by the utility company and fed back into the grid.  This system will generate roughly 8,830 kilowatt hours of clean electricity annually and offset roughly 11,479 lbs. of CO2 emissions annually.

Domestic hot water will be generated by flat plate solar thermal panels (2) that preheat the water, backed up, as necessary, by a 119 gallon solar storage tank with integral electric element.  Insulated pipes and an on-demand pump efficiently distribute the hot water.  This system will produce roughly 11,592,000 Btu’s of clean, renewable energy annually and offset 4,906 lbs. of CO2 emissions annually.

Total annual energy costs for this house are estimated to be less than $1,000.

Future posts will include detailed presentations of each system.


Jessica and Todd’s decision to build a new home in an older neighborhood in Portland was based on the belief that building in the city has a lasting impact on the local economy, strengthens the neighborhood’s social fabric, and is economically and environmentally desirable because it taps into existing infrastructure and resources – a sustainable alternative to the resource-intensive greenfield developments.

By occupying a small urban infill lot, the house provides completeness within the architectural fabric of the neighborhood and adding density to the immediate surroundings. The site allows for easy access to the heart of the city. Restaurants, local shops, public parks, and the University are all within walking distance.

Two small parks are nearby and the neighborhood is relatively flat.  So, Jessica will be able to take the dogs on a walk unimpeded by barriers.  Or, perhaps more accurately, the dogs, Murphy (a Great Dane) and Cash (a Great Dane/Labrador Retriever mix), will pull Jessica along on their walk!


Situated on a formerly vacant urban parcel, the project repairs the street edge and adds immediate density to a well established neighborhood, thus avoiding the environmental impact of developing suburban greenfields or productive farmlands.

The site, a flat lot is bounded by houses on either side and synagogue pre-school in the back. The house is located in the center of the lot toward the front setback to maximize a sizable rear yard to provide room for exercise of the family’s two large dogs. All hard surfaces, including the driveway and the terrace, are planned to be permeable to allow stormwater to percolate into the ground.