Some homeowners remodel to improve the look of their home, while others focus on functionality or home value. However, one style of home renovation that not everyone is aware of is remodeling for aging in place.
What is aging in place? Aging in place refers to the ability to continue to live in one’s own home independently and comfortably, regardless of age or ability level. So, aging in place is an alternative lifestyle to moving into a nursing home or an assisted living facility later in life.
While the idea of aging in place is appealing to many homeowners, one challenge that they face is that most American homes aren’t ideal for aging adults. So, what makes a home ready for aging in place?
In terms of layout, it’s easier to age in place in a one-story home than a two-story. However, that doesn’t mean living in a two-story is impossible. With some considerations such as moving to the first floor, installing a chair lift, and more, you could renovate your existing two-story to be fully accessible.
In this article, we’ll look at some of the general design considerations that will help you get a better sense of remodeling for aging in place.
Room to Maneuver
When designing for aging in place, a lot of design elements come from “Universal Design” practices. Universal design allows people of all physical abilities to be able to use a space with ease. One specific carryover from universal design is the concept of increasing space for mobility.
Take a narrow doorway, for example. It may seem easy to walk through it, but when you take into account mobility aids such as walkers and wheelchairs, the space isn’t so user-friendly. So, in order to redesign a home for aging in place, widening doorways and hallways is a key first step to making your home more accessible for all stages of life.
When redoing your doorways, you should also keep an eye out for threshold heights and added steps. Reducing your threshold height to ½ an inch or below will allow full ease of movement through doorframes.
The last thing to consider in terms of maneuverability is whether or not your home has step downs. Step downs are single or multiple steps between rooms that create a split-level effect. While they have some visual design appeal, they are not very friendly to aging in place. Eliminating step downs between rooms will make your home much more accessible and help minimize tripping hazards.
Improved Ease of Use
Another design aspect to look out for is ease of use. Aging in place requires you to optimize for more ease of use than you may be used to. As we get older, common actions such as reaching up high or down low to access shelving frequently result in injury. So, to prepare your home for aging in place, you’ll probably need to update your cabinetry.
Another detail to take into account when approaching aging in place is door handles and drawer pulls. Circular knobs or pulls may work well for now, but as we age, lever handle doors and d-pull handles prove to be much more accessible. Additionally, textured handles are a helpful addition because it makes them much easier to grip.
Make sure that your handles are also installed with room to spare. By installing handles with at least a four-finger length distance between your hand and the drawer, you’ll ensure that you’ll always be able to access it comfortably.
Indoor and Outdoor Lighting
Regardless of age level, navigating around dark areas proves to be very difficult. Dark areas and shadows can obscure tripping hazards and other obstacles that make us more likely to injure ourselves. This problem becomes even more daunting when it comes to designing spaces for aging in place.
To increase visibility and prevent injuries, it’s important to light up commonly used spaces both inside and outside of the house. Some crucial areas include the top and bottom landings of a stairway, along the stairs, in bathrooms, and in kitchens. For outdoors, you also need to make sure that your driveway and pathways to doors are all well-lit for high visibility at night.
With wet floors and slick tiles, bathrooms can often be a source of injury as we grow older. Luckily, safety can be increased by a few key design elements. First, there’s grab bars. By installing grab bars around showers, tubs, and toilets, you reduce the risk of slips and falls that might occur otherwise. Second, you can install slip-proof mats and flooring. This can be as small as putting down rubber or other nonslip mats, or as big as changing your flooring to vinyl or natural stone.
One other key to renovating a bathroom for aging in place is bath and shower design. By putting in a shower bench, your shower will become much more accessible. Or, for even more ease of use, you could also consider installing a curbless, walk-in shower.
The last thing to consider when designing a home for aging in place is alert systems. From medical alerts to home safety alerts, alert systems make getting help during an emergency easy. For example, if your smoke detector goes off during a fire, your alert system will automatically call the local fire department for help. Or, if you fall, activating an alert system will send an EMS team to your location.
For full accessibility, make sure to invest in an alert system that incorporates both visual and auditory alerts. Plus, some systems can even be voice activated for added ease. Keep in mind that exact capabilities vary from system to system, so be sure to do your research before deciding which alert system is right for you.
Aging in place is a great way to grow old in comfort, but there certainly are a lot of details involved in the renovation process. If you want more information, or aren’t sure where to start, reach out to a Certified Aging in Place (CAPS) Specialist. CAPS professionals are designers trained to build safe, comfortable spaces for aging adults. From design to construction, they’ll help you think through the potential problems that your home may have, and how best to resolve them.
For more information on CAPS professionals in the San Jose area, reach out to us at HArts Design+Build and we’d be happy to assist you!