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Renovating With Age-in-Place Accessibility in Mind
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Renovating With Age-in-Place Accessibility in Mind

There are a number of factors to consider when trying to renovate your house with age-in-place and wheelchair-accessible features in mind.

If your goal is to live in your home for as long as possible or help a family member who seeks to age in place, a home remodel and additional services may be needed to make it safer while maintaining quality of life. Our minds, bodies, abilities, needs, and priorities change over the years, especially if we become less mobile, so we need to be prepared.

However, aging in place isn’t just about the elderly. We are all aging in place, if you think about it. The CDC defines aging in place as the “ability to live in one’s home and community safely, independently and comfortably, regardless of age, income or ability level.” It’s a concept that carves out a life that’s suitable and meaningful for you if you plan to stay at the home of your choosing.

Renovating & Main Floor Living

Consider all the rooms you have daily access to: the bathroom, bedroom, living/dining room, kitchen, and laundry. Do you want these rooms to be on the main floor? From there you may need to remodel depending on the layout of your home. You can hire a team of certified aging-in-place designers and contractors if you have no idea where to start. Here are some checklist items they may recommend:

A master suite that includes your bedroom and bathroom with a no-threshold or walk-in shower Vanities and sinks you can sit at for bathroom and kitchen duties Grab bars near the toilet and bath/shower Counters, cabinets and cooktops that you can reach Door levers instead of door knobs Relocating appliances Better lighting options More open spaces between rooms Wider hallways, doorways and entrances into the home A storage room to reduce clutter in your main living areas Non-slip flooring that lowers risk of falls and is easy to maintain An open “great room” that includes dining, kitchen and living areas

Universal Design as a Starting Point

The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act marked the beginning of a new era of architecture known as universal design, which takes into consideration products and spaces that can be used by the widest range of people. When designing your own home, universal design may be a good place to start, says aging in place expert and carpenter Louis Tenenbaum.

“Think of it as a design insurance policy,”  Tenenbaum says. “The best time to do it is before you develop significant health or mobility issues. You can’t buy insurance when you have a claim. It’s the same with home modifications.”

However, our houses will be as unique as we are and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to design. Some people may be able to use steps to get into their front doors and walk upstairs to their bedrooms, but others need specific accommodations to make daily life easier.

Remodel Costs

Older homeowners account for nearly half of the total home improvement spending today, compared to 30 percent historically. Partially because many old houses weren’t designed with someone’s future needs in mind. People who want to stay in their homes are finding themselves having to make design upgrades, not just paying for major replacements on high-dollar home repairs.

Retrofitting an older home can seem like a daunting task. No one wants to live under a construction zone. If you’re on a limited budget, it can be especially scary. The national average cost of a bathroom renovation including flooring, sink, faucet, and shower is about $9,000, according to Fixr. While a full kitchen and bathroom remodel can run upwards of $40,000. Even minor modifications can add up. The cost of two grab bars is about $250. Adding a ramp can cost anywhere from $1,600 to $3,200.

But according to an article in AARP,  accommodating declining health and mitigating potential hazards can be done one step at a time. Changes don’t need to be pricey and labor intensive, either.

Buying a New Home?

Meanwhile, other people are choosing to start all over by purchasing new age-friendly homes that are “lifelong housing certified.” The advantage of buying a new home is that you can choose exactly what you’re looking for and not trying to retrofit your old two-story Victorian. If you don’t want to start from scratch, many builders have stock floor plans and options to help you pick the best home for yourself now and in the future.  

What’s important to recognize is that we should be preparing now for changes down the road so we can live with dignity and maintain comfort as much as possible. Physical changes affect everyone differently, so it’s difficult to predict if vision will be impaired or if we will have far less mobility, etc. Keeping universal design principles in mind is a great place to start.

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