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Remodel for aging in place: 4 outdoor projects

Roger Diez | Improvement Center Columnist | September 6, 2013

If you or your parents are like many of today's older Americans, you are looking forward to aging in place,i.e., remaining in your own home for as long as possible -- rather than moving into an assisted living facility or a retirement community. However, if you're planning to spend your golden years in your familiar surroundings, you might need to make at least a few modifications to your home as certain physical tasks become more challenging.

While many aging in place modifications are designed to overcome indoor obstacles, you should not forget about adapting your home's outdoor environment, too. Projects such as the four that follow can make getting outside, enjoying your yard and maintaining your home's curb appeal considerably easier for those days when your body is a little less cooperative than you'd like:

1. Low-maintenance siding

As we age, strenuous maintenance tasks around the home eventually become more of a challenge. If you're watching your fixed income, you might find the cost of constantly painting your siding more than you care to spend.

Installing low-maintenance siding eliminates the need to paint every few years. Easy-care siding options include aluminum, composites, fiber cement and vinyl. From a price/performance standpoint, vinyl is a compelling choice. If cost is one of your primary concerns, weigh these factors that can affect the initial outlay for vinyl siding but could make a significant difference in its overall, long-term performance -- and your satisfaction with the results:

  • Quality. Typically, more durable grades of vinyl siding are a thicker gauge.
  • Style. Expect to pay more for elaborate styles such as log and brick patterns.
  • Insulation. Insulated siding can be more costly to install but could save you money on energy costs.

Vinyl siding installed can cost as little as $2.75 per square foot and increases depending on the above-mentioned properties.

2. Low-maintenance landscaping

While you may have enjoyed gardening all of your life, mobility issues might make this activity less pleasant than it used to be. One solution might be xeriscaping--replacing your lawn with rocks or gravel and your plants with hardier species that need relatively little care.

Again, if you're watching your expenditures, this landscaping modification could significantly reduce your water bills during the growing season. And by including an automatic drip watering system, your yard could require almost no attention at all. Here are some typical costs for materials and installation:

  • Landscape rock--$160 to $240 per ton
  • River rock--$155 to $200 per ton
  • Landscape boulders--$155 to $300 per ton
  • Gravel--$14 to $25 per square foot
  • Drip irrigation system--$0.50 to $0.75 per square foot

If you can't bear to part with your green lawn, consider swapping the growing kind for artificial turf, which requires no more maintenance than a patio--hosing it down and sweeping from time to time. Premium artificial turf is so realistic your dog can love it without turning his favorite spots brown. Installed, costs can run anywhere from $7 to $15 per square foot depending on your site preparation requirements and the quality of the product you choose.

3. New windows

Are you always looking for the room with the most light so you can kick back and enjoy reading? As we age, many of us need plenty of light to see well. Consider installing larger windows or adding windows for increased natural light.

Here are a few ballpark costs for vinyl windows, which, like vinyl siding are low-maintenance. Cost-per-inch is for unified inches--the height plus the width of the window:

  • picture window--$2.50 to $4.00 per inch
  • casement window--$3.00 to $4.25 per inch
  • sliding window--$2.70 to $3.70 per inch
  • bay window--$4.25 to $6.50 per inch

If the job is complex or requires significant enlargement of the window opening, costs can be 5-15 percent more.

Solar tubes are another natural-light option in enclosed spaces such as bathrooms. They range in cost from $300 to $650, plus installation costs.

4. Garage access

If at some point you require a mobility device such as a scooter or wheelchair, your garage may need modifications to accommodate a raised-roof van or a ramp to the house. A new garage door can cost in the neighborhood of $700 to $1,500, with a larger door on the high end of that scale. The cost of carpentry to enlarge the opening can vary, depending on your home's structure and other factors unique to your site. Installation of a ramp can also vary in cost: the amount of rise, the ramp's length and available space are all factors that affect costs.

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) has identified seniors who want to age in place as one of the fastest growing segments of the remodeling industry. NAHB Remodelers, in association with several national organizations such as AARP, has created the Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist (CAPS) designation. Architects, contractors and designers who have completed training and are qualified can receive certification to guide clients through all types of aging-in-place home modifications.

With the help of an experienced contractor and a trained specialist you can remodel your surroundings to help you achieve your plan for aging in your own home.