Remodeling Tips for Aging in Place
September 29, 2023
A major home remodel like a new kitchen design, bathroom remodel, or multi-space home remodel is an investment in your home and lifestyle. When planning for a remodel, it should be designed for your needs today and for the lifetime of your investment. Typically, a new kitchen design or a major bathroom remodel should last for 10 years or longer.
This means you need to examine your own needs, family structure, and lifestyle for that period of time. Careful forward planning with the help of an experienced design and remodeling professional means your home will be ready for any circumstances you may face, with a home design that can accommodate a wide range of abilities and needs.
Why design for aging in place?
When is it time to consider a kitchen or bath designed for aging in place? You could be at the stage of sending your kids off to college or their first job, while also planning a home remodel to update key living spaces. Or you might want older family members to be able to move into your home and live comfortably in a multi-generation household. Perhaps you love your family home and neighborhood and want to have the option to remain there for years to come rather than needing to relocate to a retirement community or a care facility.
Whatever your reasons, creating home living spaces that are designed for aging in place is an ideal solution that allows you to live comfortably and safely in your home. Designing spaces around mobility has come a long way, and no longer means a purely functional design. Today’s accessible spaces are stylish, sleek designs with fixtures and finishes that match your aesthetic and enhance your home’s style.
What is universal design?
Universal design focuses on creating accessible spaces for everyone. This means you include design principles in your planning that can accommodate everyone in your household, from the youngest to the oldest, as well as those with special needs or limited mobility. With careful planning, a universal design integrates these elements seamlessly into a stylish and functional space.
According to the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI), the seven key principles of universal design include a design that:
- Is equally useful to people with diverse abilities,
- Is flexible enough to accommodate a range of abilities and preferences,
- Is easy to understand for everyone’s abilities and needs,
- Communicates necessary information regardless of the user’s sensory abilities,
- Minimizes the chance of an accident by reducing potential hazards,
- Requires minimal physical effort to use it, and
- Is an appropriate size with room to maneuver regardless of the user’s mobility or requirement for mobility aids.
Keep these principles in mind when examining your home and creating a design suitable for aging in place, or any design that can adapt to your family’s changing needs. Choose an experienced remodeling professional who can help you identify your requirements and then incorporate them into a cohesive design that will serve your family’s needs.
Top Tips for Remodeling to Age in Place
When planning a kitchen remodel or bathroom design suitable for aging in place, the key is to design for now, but also plan for the future. Many homeowners prefer to update their existing home to fit their changing needs as they age rather than having to move to a new home, a retirement community, or eventually to a care facility. There are many ways to create a design that will fit your needs as you age, leaving you prepared for any changes in your physical or sensory abilities.
Focus on the first floor.
The best approach to accessible living is to support all your key requirements on the first floor. This does not necessarily mean that you must live in a ranch-style home, but you should be able to have a kitchen, full bathroom, bedroom, and living room on the first floor. If your home has a second floor it could eventually be used as guest rooms or even space for a live-in carer. You could explore other options, such as a stair lift, but the safest and most accessible option is first-floor living.
If you do not currently have a full bathroom and bedroom on your first floor, consider converting other rooms to accommodate these spaces. A home office and family room could become a bedroom and accessible master bathroom design. Alternatively, you might investigate a home addition that would allow you to add these essential spaces to your first floor.
Add targeted and smart lighting.
Lighting is essential to creating safe and accessible home living spaces. A layered, targeted, and stylish lighting scheme is a central component of any home design. When designing for aging in place, lighting is even more important and is key to creating a safe home where you can minimize the risk of injury.
Think about the key spaces in your home and make sure they can be safely lit at different times of the day and night. Consider middle-of-the-night trips to the bathroom or the kitchen for a drink of water. Install targeted task lighting in areas where you need to perform key tasks as well as ambient lighting to provide illumination throughout your room.
Make sure light switches are easy to find and use (rocker switches are ideal) or have a motion sensor option. Alternatively, upgrade to a smart lighting system with lights that are voice-activated or controlled from a smart device so there’s no fumbling for a light switch required. Add toe-kick lights under a vanity or the kitchen island that can illuminate floors to help you see at night, even if all other lights are turned off. Include plenty of natural lighting wherever possible, with large windows and glass doors.
Make your floors a safe space.
Walk through your home and examine your floors to see how safe they are. Floors must be level, easy to navigate, and in a material that is not prone to slipping. This is especially important if you are designing for aging in place or for anyone with limited mobility. Create a layout for your rooms that is easy to navigate without bumping into furniture or other architectural features. Keep your floors level wherever possible and limit any requirement for steps up or down to enter other rooms.
Choose a flooring material with some texture so it is not prone to slipping. If you are installing carpeting, keep it in a lower pile so it is easier to walk on. Opt for a more textured finish for hardwood or tile floors for a surface that is nonslip and safer for everyone.
Increase widths to allow for easy movement.
Make sure your doors, hallways, and foyer are wide enough to accommodate your future needs for accessibility. This could include mobility aids such as a walker or even a wheelchair. Allow for enough clearance to maneuver and turn around in a wheelchair to be sure that you can recover at home after surgery or get around should you need mobility aids on a more permanent basis. Make sure your hallways remain clutter-free and that any furniture is easy to navigate around with the risk of tripping or bumping into things. In addition to appropriate widths, avoid steps up or down to enter rooms or consider the requirements for a ramp if a step is necessary.
Install an accessible shower with grab bars.
You should make several changes in a bathroom design created for accessibility, but one of the key areas to focus on is the shower. A thresholdless or even an open shower style is essential as it allows universal access to your shower space. Include an opening large enough that you could enter it in a wheelchair if necessary and make sure there is space inside for someone to assist with showering should that be required.
Grab bars are a key element of a universal shower design. Some type of seating, either a built-in shower bench or a pull-down seat, gives your shower a spa-style vibe and helps to ensure safe showering for years to come. Multiple showerheads are a staple of most shower designs, but be sure to incorporate a handheld showerhead, which can make assisted shower much simpler if required. If a bathtub is still a priority for you, consider installing a walk-in tub that makes it safe to enter and exit the bathtub.
Go for comfort-height toilets.
Toilets are another essential component of any bathroom design. For a bathroom designed for aging in place, go for comfort height toilets that are a few inches higher than a standard toilet. This makes it easier and safer to sit down and stand up from the toilet. You could also install grab bars to assist with getting on and off the toilet. Another option is to install a seat riser that fits on top of a standard toilet.
Stick to handles that are easy to use.
As you age, you may experience the effects of arthritis or other conditions that make it more difficult to grip with your hands. For this reason, you should always go for handles and pulls that are easier to grip as well as single lever faucets that can be managed with one hand. Change any doorknobs for external or internal doorways to lever door handles that are easy to grip, open, and close. For kitchen cabinet storage, bathroom vanities, or cabinetry in laundry rooms, utility rooms, or entertainment spaces, stick to pulls instead of knobs. The same goes for kitchen and bathroom faucets, which are much easier to handle with a single lever rather than twisting knobs. Or go one step further and install touch sensor- or voice-controlled faucets.
Install accessible storage.
To live comfortably in your home for years to come, you must be able to access everything you need. This means that installing essential storage in key locations that are easy to use and access is a top priority in any design for aging in place. Work with your kitchen design or bathroom remodeling expert to assess your needs and determine how much and what type of storage you require.
Think about what you need to access regularly and make sure it is always within arm’s reach in your kitchen cabinets and other storage areas. Move heavy items like dishware and countertop appliances to drawers so you do not have to reach high or climb a stepladder to access them. Better yet, include pull-down shelves (for upper cabinets), swing-out shelves (for corner cabinets), and lift-up shelves (for lower cabinets for items like a stand mixer) that allow you to bring everything you need within easy reach. Use pull-outs and roll-out shelves in both kitchens and bathrooms to bring items out so you can see them easily. With customized storage solutions you can keep your home neat and clutter-free and find exactly what you need without any assistance.
Think about your kitchen layout.
The kitchen layout forms the foundation of your kitchen design, provides space for all the activities you do in your kitchen, and ensures you have ample and appropriate storage and workspace. Today’s kitchen layouts still use the “kitchen triangle” as a starting point for creating an efficient setup, but also establish key work zones for different activities such as entertaining, baking, or food prep.
In a kitchen created with aging in place in mind, the triangle becomes even more important, as you want to ensure the individual does not have to move too far to access food storage, prep food, and cook. It’s also essential to make sure you can easily load and unload the dishwasher, remove hot items from the oven, and put dishes and cookware away. Consider including appliances that don’t require you to bend over all the time, such as wall ovens, and plan storage that is conveniently located exactly where you need it.
Create a universal design perfect for every stage of life!
Whether you are planning for an older family member to live with you or designing a space that can take you from raising your kids to aging in place, it helps to consider accessibility when embarking on a new kitchen remodel or bathroom design. Start by considering your own family’s needs, both now and for the lifespan of this design. Work with an experienced kitchen design or bathroom remodeling professional who can help you determine exactly what you need and the best way to achieve your home remodeling goals.
Start with a layout and storage that is safe and easy to use and focus on first-floor living that minimizes the need to go up and down stairs. Choose fixtures, appliances, and accessories that can be easily managed by all abilities and create a lighting plan that prioritizes safety while still letting you easily alter light levels to suit your needs.
Your home will be as safe and functional as it is stylish and will be an enjoyable space for your family for any stage of life. Contact our team to discuss your home remodeling plans and let us help you create your ideal design for aging in place!