Age in place with universal design

Shannon Dauphin Lee | Improvement Center Columnist | September 6, 2013

There was a time when a home elevator was seen as a luxury reserved only for those with money to burn. However, as the population ages and more individuals realize the value of growing old in their own homes, elevators are often seen as a necessity rather than a posh vanity addition.

Home elevators: not just for the wealthy

The National Association of Home Builders reported that one out of every four homeowners sees a home elevator as an essential or desirable feature, according to a recent article from the Los Angeles Times. Those numbers might be due to the stark reality of the aging population: The Administration on Aging projects that the elderly population will increase from 40 million in 2010 to 55 million in 2020.

But is a home elevator really affordable?

Many people consider a nice sunroom or a fancy media room to be a "must have" for their home. Others give no second thought to purchasing a new mid-size car and making reasonable monthly payments. Here's the good news: Home elevators typically cost between $25,000 and $125,000, according to the Los Angeles Times. That is about the same, or even less, than some of these luxurious additions.

As for your actual cost, keep in mind that many factors go into the bottom line of a home elevator, including how many floors it will cover, the square footage of the elevator itself, and the type of drive used to operate it. Additional options, such as a larger cab or power doors, can add to the final cost. There could also be the cost of permits and inspection fees.

The cheapest option for installing an elevator is to include it in the construction plans when a home is being built. However, if you're building a new house but not yet ready to commit to an elevator, make sure the closets in your home are "stacked" one over the other and of ample size to be converted into an elevator shaft in the years to come. This can cut down on renovation costs and help ensure there is minimal new construction required.

If all of this still sounds pricey, keep in mind that aging in place can not only make you more comfortable, but can save on the costs of assisted living facilities. According to ElderCare.gov, assisted living can run from about $25,000 to up to $50,000 or more per year. In comparison to that, the one-time cost of an elevator for your home starts to look much more affordable.

Other renovations for aging in place

Elevators are a nice convenience for the able-bodied and can be a necessity for those with limited mobility and large homes. But the elevator is only one of the many additions and renovations to your home that can make aging in place much easier. This list of cheaper home additions can suit any home style and help ensure you are able to stay in your beloved personal space for as long as possible.

  • Dumbwaiters. These handy mini-elevators can allow you to tote laundry upstairs without carrying a thing, and can also help you move various items from one floor to another, such as grocery bags or small pieces of furniture.
  • Stair lifts. These convenient lifts allow you to sit in a chair that then rises to the top of your staircase with a smooth, fluid motion. Stair lifts are great for those who can still move around their home but find the stairs a challenge.
  • Walk-in tubs. These tubs are exactly what they sound like -- they allow the user to open a door and step into the tub, rather than stepping over and in. Walk-in tubs can make life much more convenient and help prevent injury.
  • Roll-in showers. Those confined to a wheelchair might well appreciate the convenience of a roll-in shower that can accommodate a waterproof rolling chair. The ample space gives plenty of room to maneuver.
  • Universal kitchen design. Easy-to-reach oven controls, cabinets with pull-out shelves and faucets that turn on with a wave of the hand are all thoughtful design elements that can make life easier.

Besides the obvious benefits of being able to move around your space with ease, these renovations have the added bonus of potentially driving up the resale value of your home. As the elderly population increases, the need for universal design is inevitable. A home that already has an elevator, roll-in shower and other universal design elements could have a substantial advantage in the housing market.

About the Author

Shannon Lee is a freelance writer and occasional novelist who has spent over twenty years writing about home improvement, education, relationships and medical and health topics.