Breaking down barriers


Local couple faces challenge of providing themselves with a barrier-free home

Joel and Amanda Kleine love their present home and they love St. Albert but they both fervently hope that this will be the last winter they spend here. They are building a brand new barrier-free home in Edmonton that they hope to move into next summer.

“When we bought our house in Forest Lawn, we were going to fix it up and live here forever. But it’s not barrier free. We need a barrier-free home,” Amanda said.

Six years ago Joel, a teacher, was diagnosed with Friedreich’s ataxia, which is a rare, genetically inherited disease that affects his strength, his energy, and worst of all, his mobility. Presently there is no cure and there is no therapy available for this disease, and it means that Joel, 38, must alternate between using a walker and a wheelchair. Those tools help him with balance and walking, but they also mean that much of his own home is inaccessible to him.

“People tell me, ‘that’s not such a big thing,’ but imagine if you couldn’t go to rooms in your own house,” he said.

Over the past few years the Kleines have participated in many fundraisers in support of research for Friedreich’s ataxia. Together with fellow church members at St. Albert Christian Reformed Church, they have raised close to $25,000 for that cause. This past December a different fundraiser took place at the church to help the Kleines with the costs for their new home.

At the Sweet Home Sweet concert Dec. 14, Joel – who plays guitar – joined forces with fellow musicians Remco Dalmaijer, Esther Vanderwel, Duane Krikke and Paul Jensen. As of press time, it was not yet known how much money was raised for the Kleine’s new house, but construction will begin in the new year.

The Kleine’s present house is close to being mortgage free so at first the couple considered having it renovated. The cost was prohibitive and was estimated to cost in excess of $100,000.

“Renovating compared to buying new is increasingly more expensive and the ability to recover those costs is difficult,” explained architect Ron Wickman, who specializes in designing homes that are barrier free.

“It’s not a nice swap, where you can easily compare costs in a retrofit and costs in a new home. To make an older house accessible after the fact means in most cases you widen bathrooms by giving up a bedroom, or two bedrooms, or you have to build onto the house,” he said.

Stairs to both the Kleine’s front door and to the attached garage would have to be removed.

The Kleines began searching for a home, but found that most new homes are not barrier free.

“We looked in St. Albert but couldn’t find a home modified for our needs. There are homes for older seniors, but we have two boys – eight and six years old,” Amanda said.

The Kleines’ friend, Dan Wildeboer of Draw Draw Draw Designs, drew up a plan that included all their wishes for a new home and put them in touch with Celebration Homes.

“There will not be a single room he cannot get into. Even the closets will be accessible and light switches will be lowered,” said Randy Ettinger of Celebration Homes.

The kitchen will have two sinks: one that’s lowered for Joel and one at regular height for the rest of the family.

Sinking the house to make doorways level with the ground was tricky, but much easier at the building stage than it would be at the renovation stage, Ettinger explained.

“All the wood has to be buried and so to protect it we have to seal it. The trade-off is the basement windows are smaller, but there is a big walk-out sliding door that provides light,” Ettinger said.

The new house will be larger than their present home.

“We’re gaining 600 square feet, but 200 of those are in the bathroom. We will also have wider hallways. It’s not a mansion. It’s a matter of better use of space,” Joel said.

Joel worries about the toll his disability has taken on his family, especially on Amanda, and he wants his home to be beautiful for her.

“We need a house that works for the boys and works for Amanda and we need a place that’s safer for me,” he said.

As Joel contemplates that new house, it’s the thought of the walkout basement leading to a yard that brings the biggest smile to his face.

“I haven’t been out in my own backyard and I haven’t felt the grass for three years,” he said. “Now I can feel the grass again.”


About Author

Susan Jones has been a freelance writer for the St. Albert Gazette since 2009, following a 20-year career at the St. Albert Gazette. Susan writes about homes, gardens, community events and people.