Aging in place remodeling: get a head start

Jeffrey Anderson | Improvement Center Columnist | September 6, 2013

Have you given any thought about where you'll be living during your golden years? If you're like many people approaching retirement age, you may be thinking about remaining in your existing home. It only makes sense -- why leave a place with so many great memories? This rapidly increasing trend is now so popular that it has earned its very own catchphrase: aging in place. But keep in mind that a house that's functional at the moment may have to undergo a few changes to be comfortable and safe during your senior years.

It's just a fact of life that the aging process can pose special challenges. Parts of your daily routine taken for granted while young such as bathing or even opening a door may become more difficult as time goes by. While those years might seem to be in the distant future, it doesn't hurt to start preparing now. Why not get started by incorporating a few aging in place improvements into your current remodeling projects?

Age in place remodeling: never too early to start

So what exactly is an aging in place home improvement? Simply put, it can be just about any feature that might make living in your home a little easier as you get older. And while you probably don't want your home to appear to be designed for octogenarians when in your 50s or 60s, many aging in place improvements are barely noticeable - at least until they're needed. Here's a few to consider during future remodeling projects:

  • Lever door hardware -- Have you ever wondered why medical offices and other professional buildings have lever door hardware? The levers serve a very important purpose: to allow people with injuries or health issues to open the doors without twisting a knob. According to the Center for Disease Control, an estimated 50 million people in this country have been informed that they have some sort of arthritis and that number is projected to increase in the future. Just about every door hardware manufacturer offers numerous styles of lever locks designed to fit in with just about any home's interior décor. If you want to make your home ready for your retirement years, installing lever door hardware might be a good first step.
  • Interior doors -- How wide are your existing interior doors? In the past, it wasn't unusual for 30 inch or smaller doors to be installed at bedroom and bath entries - a little too small to be considered handicapped accessible. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires a 32-inch clear opening for most interior doors. While your home may never need to be ADA-compliant, that width should enable you or a loved one who may be confined to a wheel chair in the future to maneuver without difficulty. If you're planning a bed or bathroom remodeling project, think about installing 32-inch clear opening doors as an aging in place improvement.
  • Bathroom remodeling -- A major bathroom renovation can be time consuming and costly so why endure the experience twice? Installing a comfort-height toilet during your current remodeling project can make using the fixture much easier as you get older. And while you may not be ready for grab bars yet, installing blocking behind the sheetrock now can mean not having to patch walls in the future. How about a walk-in tub? Many manufacturers offer models that look very similar to spa tubs, but their improved accessibility can make bathing much less hazardous should mobility become an issue. At the very least, design your current renovation so a walk-in tub can be switched with your conventional model without any drastic structural changes.
  • Exterior entrances -- Remember when you could climb stairs two at a time? Perhaps you still can, but the time may come when even a couple of risers are viewed with dread. If you're planning a home addition with an exterior entrance, consider consulting with an architect or site engineer to eliminate entry stairs if at all possible. A lead walk with a long , gentle rise is normally much easier than stairs for those with health or mobility restrictions to navigate.

If you're thinking about spending your golden years in your existing home, it's never too early to start planning. Regis McQuaide of Master Remodelers in Pittsburgh, Pa. calls it "forward thinking." He recommends consulting with an aging in place specialist when considering any remodeling project to the home where you intend to enjoy your retirement -- even if those years seem to be in the distant future.

About the Author

Jeffrey Anderson has a Degree in English from V.M.I., and served as an officer in the Marine Corps. He worked in Residential and Commercial construction management for 25 years before retiring to write full time. He spends his time writing, remodeling his old farmhouse, and in animal rescue.