Making Your Home Work at Every Stage of Life
by Wendy Tanson
Most folks would like the option to remain in their homes as they age. In fact, the AARP notes that more than 85% of their members want homes that will grow old with them. The Universal Design movement, also called “Aging in Place,” addresses this trend by building or retrofitting homes to accommodate the needs of owners over time.
Though often thought of as targeted to senior citizens, universal design features can benefit homeowners at any point of life. For example, eliminating stairs to the front door makes it easier for strollers as well as wheelchairs. Using lever-style door handles facilitates grabbing that door with an armful of groceries for both young and old. Adjustable closet shelving provides versatility for both kids and aging parents. And such design elements can be implemented seamlessly; your home won’t look different from your neighbor’s, but will be filled with features that can accommodate reduced mobility or agility, whether you’ve broken a leg at 32 or experienced a decline in dexterity at 82.
Features for Aging in Place
There are several features to ponder if you are remodeling or contemplating the purchase of a new home and would like to include universal design features for yourself or a family member.
If you’re buying a home, look for an owners’ suite and bathroom on the first floor. At least one low or no-threshold entrance is also important. You’ll want an open floor plan, especially in the kitchen/dining area, as well as 36-inch doorways and hallways. Also high on the checklist is a low-maintenance exterior, such as vinyl or brick.
Whether buying or modifying, here are some other elements you may wish to include:
o Bright lights in all areas, including the use of newer bulbs and fixtures that replicate natural light.
o Rocker light switches, rather than traditional ones.
o Non-slip flooring, including the removal of all scatter rugs, and the placement of double-sided carpet tape or self-stick carpet mesh under area rugs. If rooms are carpeted, use low pile density with a firm pad.
o Contrasting colors between floors and walls.
o Handrails at all stairways, and thresholds which are flush with the floor.
o Lever-style door handles and faucets.
o Easy to see and read pre-programmed thermostats.
o Pre-wiring for security, including direct wiring to police, fire, and EMS departments.
o Adjustable closet shelving.
Many universal design features are centered in the kitchen. These include:
o Cabinets with pull out shelving, upper cabinets which are three inches lower than conventional height, and glass-front or open shelving for easy access to frequently used items.
o Kitchen appliances with easy to read controls and placement, including a wall oven, a microwave oven at counter height or built into the wall, a side-by-side refrigerator, and an oven with front controls.
o Multi-level work areas to accommodate cooks of different heights, and open-under-the-counter seated work areas.
o Task lighting in work areas.
o A pull-out spray faucet and levered handles.
o Matte finish paint, flooring, and countertops.
Glancing at this checklist, it’s clear that universal design can provide great home features to enjoy now, while also helping you plan for the future. By making homes more livable at any point in life, your housing can age along with you.
The design elements mentioned here are by no means exhaustive. For more information on universal design and the Aging in Place movement, check out the websites of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). Here’s to your house!
Wendy Tanson is a Broker with Nest Realty Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill. With decades of experience in the area, Wendy has the local market knowledge to be a trusted partner in the home buying or selling process. To learn more about Wendy, visit her agent page.