In fact, according to Financial Post Magazine, 20.4 percent of Canada’s population will be over 65 by 2025. That’s a lot of senior citizens!
So, what are many of these 50-something homeowners planning to do as they get older? They’re planning ahead and doing “age-in-place” renovations now so their home will be easier to live in as they get older.
What is Age-in-Place?
The age-in-place concept describes a homeowner’s desire to live in the same home over a lifetime regardless of age or physical condition. In order to live independently, safely and comfortably, renovation work may be needed to retrofit components of the home to provide better accessibility later in life.
Think you have plenty of time? Think again.
While your home may suit your needs today, waiting until you can’t navigate the stairs to the second floor or you slip and fall in the shower may create a dangerous environment. Many homeowners are starting to recognise this and are starting their age-in-place renos now.
A Demand Institute survey conducted in 2014 indicates that close to two-thirds of the baby boomers interviewed planned to stay in their current homes as long as possible. A good number of those seniors also planned to make modifications to their homes to ensure they could do so.
Before you get started…
In addition to understanding what renos must be done to help you live independently for years to come, you also must know how to do them. If you’re considering hiring a contractor to do the work, look for one that specializes in age-in-place modifications, has been recommended by CARP (Canadian Association of Retired Persons), and has completed the Certified Aging-in-Place (CAPS) program.
Function vs. Design
As you age, your tastes change in just about every aspect of your life. The same goes for your home decor. So, although you’re planning ahead, it doesn’t mean you have to forego style. Many manufacturers are stepping up to meet the increasing demand for uniquely designed fixtures, appliances and accessories to create products that traverse all age groups.
Here are some upgrades to consider to help you live in the comfort of your own home for years to come:
All age groups are drawn to the central hub of the home, so you’ll want to make adjustments here that will reduce the risk of falls or injury while increasing accessibility and ease of use.
- Lower wall cabinets by three inches for easier access to top shelves without using a step stool
- Open shelving for frequently used items
- Counter space close to appliances as a dish landing area
- Varied-height counters or open under-counter work areas with seating for easy meal preparation
- Roll-out shelving for base cabinets for easy access
- Extra task lighting under cabinets
- LED or CFL lightbulbs for less glare and longer life
- Lighted wall switches or motion sensors to turn on/off lights
- Levered handles and pull-out spray faucet
- Side door swing oven or wall oven to eliminate bending over and reaching with heavy dishes
- Level-burner electric cooktop with easy-to-read front controls and lighted indicators to warn of a hot surface
- Counter-height microwave
- Side-by-side refrigerator/freezer to reducing bending and reaching
- Raised dishwasher with touch controls
- Easy-to-clean, non-slip flooring—could be small tiles, low-pile carpet or textured vinyl (never use throw rugs as they can slip or become a tripping hazard
- Wheelchair access—includes a 60-inch diameter for turns or a 30-inch by 48-inch near appliances
- Small fire extinguisher mounted under the kitchen sink for easy access during a fire
Next to the kitchen, the bathroom is the most important room in the house. It can also be the most dangerous for aging seniors. Focus on accessibility and safety, but understand there are many modern fixtures available that will help the room’s aesthetics without making it feel utilitarian.
- Outside door should be a minimum of 32-inches wide and swing out.
- Wheelchair or walker access with a 59 x 59-inch meter turning radius or a minimum 30 x 47-inches open space in front of fixtures per the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation
- Extra wall bracing to support grab bars in bathtub, shower, shower seat and toilet.
- Grab bars for all the areas mentioned above that can support 250 to 300 pounds
- Free-standing shower should be curbless, a minimum of 36-inches wide. It should include a built-in seat, shelving for toiletries, adjustable hand-held shower massager, and easy access to a towel bar
- Lower bathtub wall or walk-in bath for easier access
- Extra, non-glare lighting—including the shower stall
- Easy -reach light switches
- Chair-height toilet that is easier to sit on and stand up from (should be 19- to 21-inches high)
- Easy change toilet paper holder
- Temperature-controlled, single-lever faucets
- Lever door handles
- Easy-to-clean non-slip flooring
- Adequate ventilation to eliminate moisture and reduce mold/mildew growth
- Sufficient storage within the bathroom
- Medicine cabinet installed at a maximum height of 1,400 mm so it can be reached from a wheelchair
Many older homes have laundry rooms that are located in the basement. You’ll want to move it to the first floor for easier accessibility. Install a front-load washing machine and raise both units 12- to 15-inches above the floor. Incorporate a sink with single-lever faucet, cabinets for storing laundry supplies, a wall-mounted drying rack for delicates, and a pull-down, wall-mounted ironing board. Make sure to install a non-slip flooring option and remove any throw rugs to reduce slips and falls.
A ramp may be needed in areas where stairs are currently the only entrance option. It will be ideal if you or a family member becomes disabled or have difficulty navigating stairs. A straight ramp can be used to overcome height changes up to 30 inches off the ground with a slope of approximately 1:12. For higher entrances, you’ll need extra space to build in a switchback.
Smart Home Technology
Home automation can help seniors with disabilities maintain their independence. Monitoring and automated features can be built into a customized system where you can control things such as audiovisual equipment and the Internet, appliances (for cooking, cleaning and maintenance), phone and internet, and environmental equipment such as heating and lighting.
Security features can also be built in to alert you emergency situation through an audible and visual notification method. Electronic monitoring can keep an eye on things while you’re away. It’s also possible to incorporate a two-way communication system to notify emergency medical personnel in case of a fall or ailment.
Heating, Air Conditioning and Ventilation
Energy efficiency and comfort are the primary focal points for this category. Energy-efficient heating and air conditioning units combined with a programmable thermostat will help save money while providing a comfortable environment. Replacement windows will help reduce drafts during colder months and can be opened for ventilation. Make sure to include both smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors to provide year-round peace of mind.
Age-in-place features designed for low maintenance or convenience include easy-to-clean surfaces and a central vacuum system. While neither is limited to age-in-place design, they will make things easier as you age.
Installing a video phone or intercom system will allow easier communication between family members inside and outside your home. Wireless units make convenient placement easier as no cables or electrical wires need to be run.
There’s no need to wait
By starting early and following a plan to incorporate age-in-place renos in your home before you need them, you’ll be able to live comfortably and safely well into your golden years. There are many government tax subsidies and grants available for seniors to assist in making home renovations. Enquire with your local government office for details.