Best Home Updates To Do Before You Retire



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The term Aging in Place design is very popular in design circles these days. It’s mostly a marketing term, after all, aging in place design is really just good design. The Aging in Place design concept has been around since the early 1990’s, only then it was called Universal Design ( a more appropriate term in our mind).

The universal design concept is simple: A home should be accessible by people of all ages and abilities. In practice it involves using a number of design elements like:

  • Wide hallways (42″ of more)
  • Wheelchair turnaround space in rooms (60″ radius)
  • Zero barrier entries and barrier free showers
  • Countertops with varying heights and range controls at the front of the range, not the back
  • Lever handle doors instead of door knobs
  • Good lighting (general lighting and task lighting)
  • In two story homes, planning for a residential elevator during initial construction

Today it’s mostly people who are getting ready for retirement who are thinking about these concepts but they can apply to anyone. Even a young person could twist their ankle or wrench a knee and need to be in a wheelchair for a a few weeks or months.

You might also have friends or family with mobility issues and want them to be comfortable when they visit your home. This is often referred to as “visitability”. These things are much easier to do when a home is being built than when remodeling but, unfortunately, not a lot of builders in Tallahassee have embraced this concept yet.

The Best Home Updates to Consider Before Retiring

When remodeling for Aging in Place, or Universal Design, compromises have to be made because you are working with an existing building. If you are considering an update to you home to prepare for retirement, here are some things to consider.

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Wide Entryways and Hallways

It’s not often possible to widen a hallway without doing major remodeling. However sometimes it is. If you can widen you hallyways to 42″ and all your doorways to 36″. The ADA recommends 32″ at the minimum clear opening for a doorway so if 36″ is not possible try for at least 32″.

If you can, make the entrance to your home a zero barrier entry. That means no height difference between the outside of the house and the inside of the house. This works best if your front door is covered by a porch. Another simple way to accomplish this is by using a portable ramp like this: Portable Ramp on Amazon

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Kitchen Design for Aging in Place

The kitchen is one of the most important rooms in the house that should be able to accomodate people of all ages and abilities. Impactful changes that can be made in the kitchen to make it safer to age in place include:

  • Countertop corners that are rounded and edges that have a groove in them to stop liquids from spilling on the floor
  • Under cabinet lighting that improves what you can see as you cut and prepare food
  • Toe kick lighting so you can see better when it’s dark
  • Induction cooktops that won’t burn anyone
  • Front controls for cooktops to avoid reaching over hot burners
  • Placing appliances at counter height so you do not have to bend over or reach up to access them
  • Vary counter heights for people of different abilities
  • If using the kitchen while in a wheelchair is an important consideration then build knee space under the sink and cooktop cabinets and at least under at least one prep area.
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Bathroom Design for Aging In Place

When designing a bathroom for aging in place it’s important to consider how you would update the design so that if someone needed assistance getting in or out of the shower or on and off the commode it would be easy for someone to help them. This is mostly about creating enough space for two people to be in these areas but grab bars and benches can also be a big help.

  • Barrier-free shower entry
  • Showers that are wide enough for a wheelchair to roll into (60″ is ideal)
  • Turn around space for wheelchair access is 68″
  • Grab bars in the shower, bathtub, and next to the toilet
  • Shower Heads that can be removed and adjusted for height
  • Portable shower stools and Benches
  • Raising the height of the toilet to avoid problems getting up and down.
  • Knee space under the bathroom sink so a wheelchair can rollup to the sink
  • 30″ tall vanities are great for wheelchair access, though most people prefer a vanity height of 36″ these days.
  • Adequate lighting – task lighting and general lighting. Night lights are also useful.

Smart Tech Options

Today there are a number of smart home options that can make aging in place more comfortable as well.

Voice Controlled lights and Electronics (Alexa and Google Home) make it easy to turn lights and TVs on and off. This can be done in a couple of ways. With smart bulbs, like the Phillips Hue or with smart switches. We are particularly fond of smart switches from a company called Deako.

Doorbell cameras or smart doorbells are also an easy way to add security to your home. It will notify you when someone approaches the door, allow you to see who is there using your smartphone and you can speak directly to them thru the doorbell speaker if you like.

For more information on accessibility in the home check out our blog on Universal Design as well.

Thank you for reading! We’d love to be a part of your next remodel. Check out our design services page

Paul McManus

McManus Kitchen and Bath


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