Aging In Place Remodeling: Planning Your Home Design

Aging in place remodeling is all about making sure your home is both functional and accessible for years to come. These steps will help you get started.

Senior Couple Preparing Food In The Kitchen

How to age in place

According to a recent study, nearly 90% of Americans 50 years of age and older want to “age in place”. So how do you successfully age in place? 85% of individuals are confident that they will be able to stay in their home without any big remodeling projects or modifications. However, it turns out only 43% of Americans over the age of 70 actually decide to age in place! 

So what is holding these individuals back? Perhaps it’s a lack of understanding about what renovation projects need to be completed, community amenities available within their current home, or even a misunderstanding of the costs involved with aging in place. Let’s start first by reviewing the needs, and then the costs associated with aging in place. 

The Needs of Aging Americans

Homeowners who are considering aging in place today are living in homes likely built in the ‘70s or ‘80s. These homes were functional throughout their adult lives, but the fact is, these houses weren’t built to comfortably accommodate the needs of an aging population. Popular designs including split levels, two-story homes, and compact half baths become a hindrance as we age. 

Modern or universal design is what most individuals need if they intend to successfully age in place. Remodeling is necessary to achieve the structural elements and amenities that make aging in place not only feasible but comfortable as well. Common reasons to kick off your aging in place remodel include: 

  • A change in physical or mental abilities 
  • Desire to increase ease of use 
  • An in-law or older family member plans to move but remain independent
  • A drastic life change
  • Generally limited mobility 
  • A chronic condition 

But some Americans have concerns about hiring aging-in-place remodelers, worried that their house will feel more like a medical facility than a home. And others may have financial concerns about the long list of projects necessary. 

Does Aging in Place Cost Less than the Alternative?

To put it in perspective, the cost for a private room in a nursing home is $7,698 per month. And the fact is, most seniors are relying on their mortgage for retirement costs. 41% of senior homeowners ages 65 and older have a mortgage today, compared to only 21% in 1989. Mortgage balances are also higher, increasing on average from $17,000 to $72,000 over the same period for the same age group.

So for most Americans, it’s costs less to remain in their current home, using their equity and other savings to reinvest in their homes with aging-in-place remodeling projects. 

What Remodeling Do You Need to Age in Place?

Rooted in the principles of Universal Design, remodeling projects for aging in place are focused on creating safe and comfortable living spaces for occupants of any and all ages. Universal Design prioritizes ease of movement and flexible floor plans that are still aesthetically pleasing spaces.

Universal Design is most effective when you’re building from the ground up, but if you’re modifying your current home to make it more accessible, you can still keep the tenants in mind.

Let’s break down each space that you and your contractor should consider updating to make your home more accessible over time. Not every project is necessary so choosing the right features for you will help you stick to a smaller budget. If you’re unsure of where to start, talk with a Certified Aging Specialist. Businesses, contractors, and installers with a CAPS designation are trained to help you make the best upgrades to benefit your lifestyle. 

Aging In Place Remodeling Kitchen

Kitchen accessibility

  • Counters: Adjustable or varied height counters and removable base cabinets for easy use. 
  • Cabinets: Hanging upper cabinets 3 inches lower than conventional height, base cabinet roll out trays, lazy susans, and glass-front cabinets all make a kitchen more accessible. 
  • Shelves: Pull-down or open shelving are common updates. 
  • Layout: Widening doorways, creating more space around an island, and changing the entire layout of a kitchen to create more space all fall into accessibility updates. 
  • Appliances: Microwave oven at counter height or built-in, side-by-side fridge and freezer (not lower drawer), raised dishwasher with push-button controls, and electric cooktops with level burners for safety while transferring between the burners. 

Bathroom accessibility

  • Showers: A bathtub is difficult to crawl into and requires a lot of flexibility to maneuver properly.  Showers offer much more flexibility and there are tons of updates that can be made to create a more age-friendly design including no transition, bars, seats, and a wider layout. 
  • Grab bars: Installing grab bars in several spots within your bathrooms can help prevent falls because of slippery surfaces. You can find grab bars at Home Depot or Lowes for just $20 to $30 each. 
  • Anti-slip flooring: Creates a safer environment throughout the bathroom to prevent dangerous slips and falls. 
  • Toilets: Raising the height of toilets is a quick and relatively easy change to make. 
  • Countertops: Lowering your countertops throughout your home is a common update to increase usability with ease. 

Stairways, Lifts, and Elevators

  • Widening stairways: Stairs can present problems for aging homeowners but simply widening stairways can make them easier to maneuver and open up the possibility to add-in a chair lift. 
  • Chair lift: The addition of a chair lift makes two-story homes suitable for all seniors, and exterior ramps can also be added to make home entry easier.
  • Elevators: The priciest update, but the most effective way to make all floors easily accessible!

Overall Floorplan

Even though the overwhelming majority of older Americans wish to age in place, there are only  3.5% of US housing units offer a zero-step entrance into the home, single-floor living, and wide doorways and hallways that accommodate a wheelchair. So when it comes to these types of overall floor plan features, you probably need to build it in yourself. Here are the overall floorplan projects most older Americans want: 

  • Main living on a single story, including a full bathroom
  • No steps or zero transition threshold between rooms
  • 5-foot by 5-foot clearance in all rooms including living room, bathroom, and bedroom
  • Lever door handles to provide easy access from room to room
  • Paddle light switches or 

What is the most common aging in place remodeling project?

According to a survey from Houzz, here are the most popular remodeling projects for Boomers and older Americans who are ready to age in place. Bathroom remodel projects  are the clear winner: 

  • Raised the height of their toilet  (38%)
  • Changed their kitchen layout (28%)
  • Added an easy-access shower (26%)
  • Added a shower seat or seating to an existing tub (24%) 
  • Installed slip-resistant flooring in the bathroom (20%)

What are the disadvantages of aging in place?

Aging in place has plenty of advantages, but it’s important to consider all of the disadvantages as well to help make the best, well-informed decision for your future.

1. It can be a burden on your loved ones. 

90% of aging in place adults rely on help from family, friends, and volunteers. Many people want to age in place in order to remain independent and self-sufficient but when the time comes, most individuals need additional support even with the added home functionalities.  

2. Home repairs fall through the cracks. 

Maintaining a single-family home is a full-time job!  And as homeowners age, there’s a tendency for their properties to decline with the list of needed fixes piling up. Some people may be unable to pay for necessary repairs or worry about tapping their savings to do so. 

Whether it’s remembering to maintain smoke and CO2 detectors or fixing a leaky sink that can cause mold, it can be dangerous to let home maintenance and upkeep fall by the wayside. 

3. Missing out on a better way of living. 

There are plenty of upgrades and changes you can make to an existing home to make it more comfortable and safe. But you can’t change everything! If you’re willing to watch the market for something that fits your needs and sell your current home, you have the opportunity to find a better location, floorplan, and list of amenities. 

With Southern California homes prices at record highs, this could be the absolutely perfect time to sell your current home and downsize. Whether you sell your home and downsize, or use the profits to invest in an alternative retirement plan, this is a great time on the real estate market to cash out on your home equity which is at a high. 

Contact a First Team agent today to review your options in today’s market or check out our post on the best places to retire.

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