12 tips for a successful aging-in-place remodel
Focus on doors, lighting and bathroom
Certainly none of us likes to face the reality of aging. But it's unavoidable, and a growing number of people are choosing to stay in the home that they're comfortable in, or are having elderly parents come back home to stay. It's a concept known as "aging in place," and with the maturing of the baby boomer generation, the popularity of remodeling to accommodate the needs of an aging population is only going to increase.
Creating a home that's well suited to your needs as you age certainly doesn't mean turning it into a sterile, uninviting environment. What it does mean is making some alterations to the home -- some large, many relatively minor -- that will help you adjust to your physical changes.
Contrary to what most people envision with the adjustments for aging in place, these types of changes typically don't mean making the home wheelchair accessible. According to designers who specialize in these types of home alterations, only about 1.9 percent of Americans use a wheelchair. What's far more common is decreases in mobility and dexterity, decreases in strength and stamina, and hearing and vision loss.
If you're remodeling, you can consider changing doors to larger 34- or 36-inch-wide doorways wherever possible, which simply makes it easier to maneuver. But you might not even need to go that far. For example, there are offset hinges available that allow you to utilize a larger door in an existing opening. In the bathroom, where an in-swinging door might be in the way, consider swinging the door the opposite way, or perhaps changing it to a pocket door to create more room.
Standard doorknobs can be hard for a lot of people to grip, so consider replacing them with lever knobs. If turning a key is becoming an issue, there are push-button exterior locks that make a key unnecessary.
As we age, we definitely need more light -- in fact, by age 60 we need about three times as much light as we did at age 20. But it's not simply a matter of installing higher-wattage bulbs, because with that additional light can come a lot of additional glare. Instead, add more fixtures, and add task lighting wherever possible.
Consider compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs. Many put out more lumens with less wattage than conventional bulbs, for brighter light in existing fixtures. In fixtures that are hard to reach, more expensive light-emitting diode (LED) lights are worth the investment. They last considerably longer than other types of bulbs, which cuts way down on maintenance.
Skylights should be utilized wherever possible to flood rooms with more natural light, which not only helps people see, it also adds a sense of well-being. In smaller areas, like bathrooms, closets and stairways, Solatubes can be used to bring natural light down from above relatively inexpensively. Light fixtures can be added inside the Solatubes for nighttime lighting as well.
There are other simple things to help with lighting and the ability to see better as well. For example, contrasting paint colors will help people see certain areas better than uniform colors will. Also, the use of mirrors will reflect light and make rooms brighter. In stairwells, add electrical outlets so that you can install simple nightlights for stair illumination.
In the Bathroom
Larger showers are becoming very popular, with a low curb or no curb at all. Consider a bench for sitting while showering, and the bench should be open underneath (as opposed to solid tile all the way to the floor) for greater comfort. Adjustable-height shower heads are also nice.
Taller "comfort height" toilets are great if you're replacing your toilets, or add a taller seat. Both options raise the height of the seat about 2 inches. For ease in personal cleaning, consider adding a "bidet seat" with adjustable wash nozzles.
Of course, grab bars are a very useful addition in the bathroom, and should be placed in the tub, shower and around the toilet. But most people hate the institutional look of those bulky chrome grab bars. Luckily, a growing number of manufacturers are offering them in designer colors, in both acrylics and powder-coated metal, as well as in sleek new styles that are anything but institutional.
For safety and security, they need to be properly anchored to solid wood, so if you're remodeling your bathroom, be sure to install some blocking in the walls -- it's a simple and inexpensive thing to do, even if you're not planning on installing grab bars right away.