Where Would Dr. House Live?

by Marcus Pickett

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The most watched scripted show of last year's television season, Dr. House has a large and loyal fan base. After a misdiagnosed infarction causes severe muscle death in his right leg, House has only partial use of his leg, walks with the assistance of a cane, and experiences chronic pain. This type of disability probably doesn't require a dramatic makeover costing what might be hundreds of thousands of dollars, but a few wise additions to your home might just be a life-saver when it comes to basic adaptability and quality of life.

Differential Diagnosis for a Disability Remodel
Fans of the show will know that differential diagnosis is the process Dr. House and his team of doctors use to diagnose a patient's disease. Useful for difficult cases, this process entails listing all the possible solutions for a case and then using a process of elimination to find the correct answer. When designing or remodeling a home for someone with minor disabilities, you may find areas of the home that resist a simple solution. When this happens, one good idea is to borrow this process of differential diagnosis.

Take, for example, kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Dr. House doesn't have the mobility, patience, or demeanor to bend down and reach spare toiletries or cleaning supplies often stored in under-counter cabinets. Yet, especially in the kitchen, the absence of these cabinets may make the room feel awkward. People who use wheelchairs will often have these cabinets removed altogether, otherwise their ability to use counter space can be limited. For Dr. House, custom built cabinets with roll-out shelving will maintain the use of basic kitchen and bathroom storage and the classic look of interior cabinetry.

The Cost of Dr. House's Remodeling Plans
So, what special considerations might an interior designer take in designing a house to accommodate Dr. House's disability and how much might these projects cost? Here are three of the most common remodeling projects for someone with a minor disability.

1. Custom-Built Cabinets: These cabinets are not the units you get from Lowe's or Home Depot. A cabinet maker will come to your home, measure the space and design cabinets specifically for your home, your tastes, and your needs. You can have cabinets will roll-out shelves at the exact height from the floor you need. A cabinet maker can even design a cabinet pull to match the end of your cane. For this level of specification, you're likely to pay at least two or three times the price, but cabinets are often the most overlooked element of a disability remodel. For people whose disability severely limits their reach, these roll-out shelves may need to be automated with push-button convenience.

2. Chairlift: Of course, most people with limited mobility look for homes without steps or stairs of any kind, but when an unexpected disability occurs, you shouldn't feel like you have to move into a ranch-style home. In House's case, a chairlift would probably suffice. The average chairlift can cost anywhere from $2,000-$5,000, although if you need a curved chairlift this price will almost immediately double. For more severe disabilities, a home elevator can be installed for $10,000-$30,000, depending on the sizing capacity and the difficulty of retrofitting your home.

3. Bathroom Remodel: During the show, you see Dr. House use a hospital urinal, but defecating can be an entirely different chore. Legs provide balance when sitting on a toilet, and with compromised leg strength the height and design of your toilet can be critical in avoiding the use of a bedpan. Likewise, non-slip walk-in showers are a common project for disability remodeling. You might be able to get away with an inexpensive toilet seat raiser, otherwise a new toilet might cost several hundred dollars or more. A new bathtub liner or shower stall might cost you anywhere from $1,000 to $7,500 or more.

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Dr. House's Personal Life
House fans are still talking about the kiss between House and Dr. Cuddy, the hospital administrator. Whether anything comes of their relationship or not, the ability to get in and out of bed is critical to maintain a reasonable quality of life and basic safety. Between limited use of his leg and his Vicodin addiction, Dr. House probably finds it more difficult than most to get out of bed. Between the height of his bed, a comfortable, slip-resistant floor, and a convenient place to put his cane, a custom bedroom will help ensure Dr. House can make it to the hospital in time to make that critical decision.

Hiring an Interior Designer for Disability Remodeling
In the episode "Needle in a Haystack," House fights Dr. Whitner, who's in a powered wheelchair, for a better parking spot. Whether you agree with House that his disability entitles him to the closer parking spot, the larger point is that every disability has different limitations that require specific considerations. What works for you may not work for someone with a different disability or even someone with varying severity of the same condition. Often, disability remodeling designers are the Dr. Houses of the residential design industry. In a profession that already demands problem-solving skills, these designers will bring keen insight to the tough challenges frequent in disability remodeling.

Marcus Pickett is a professional freelance writer for the home remodeling industry. He has published more than 600 articles on both regional and national topics within the home improvement industry.