A Guide to Renovating a Home for Aging in Place

In this article:

Before you or your loved one decide to age in place, essential home modifications should be done to ensure safety. This guide walks you through everything you need to know to ensure the aging process in place is as safe and pleasant as possible.

What is aging in place?

The term aging in place refers to older adults choosing to live in their own homes for as long as possible. Many seniors choose this option because it allows for independence and the ability to stay in a familiar home rather than relocate. According to the National Poll on Health Aging conducted by the University of Michigan, approximately 88% of American senior citizens feel it’s important to stay in their homes for as long as possible. Many of us plan for aging in place around the time we retire to make sure we are safe and comfortable in our homes for as long as possible.

The importance of modifying your home for aging in place

Making home modifications to ensure safety is crucial to successful aging in place. These changes can help prevent injuries and make it easier for seniors to live comfortably. Over time, you or your loved one may begin experiencing difficulty with eyesight, bone density, flexibility, and agility, making it hard to navigate a traditional home layout. Making adjustments to the home provides a safer environment you can continue to enjoy while maintaining an independent lifestyle.

How to plan your renovation project

Before making any modifications to your home, be sure you have a good idea of the process. This will help set realistic time and budget expectations and avoid frustration and surprises. A typical home renovation process includes

  1. Setting a budget. Finances are very different after retirement than during your working years. Work with a financial planner or another trusted party to decide what you have the budget for now while still being able to accommodate your other financial goals.
  2. Deciding what renovations to make. In the sections below, we’ll discuss a variety of modifications you can make to your home, so it’s easier to navigate over time. Also, consider any current mobility limitations, like joint pain, that may be exacerbated down the line. Create a prioritized list of these projects so it’s easy to discuss with a contractor and fits within your budget.
  3. Consult with a home inspector. Discuss your renovation plans with a professional who can let you know whether or not your home is set up to accommodate them. Everything from the load on your electrical system to changes to your mechanical systems must be considered, and a home inspector is a great resource to help.
  4. Get bids from at least three different contractors. Discuss your renovation with contractors from the internet or referrals from friends and family. You’ll want to get three bids to choose a price, timeline, and person to fit your needs.

Top renovations for aging in place

You can make a wide variety of renovations to support aging in place for yourself or a loved one. Here is a list of the most common projects.

Entrances and exits

Making some home modifications to the entrances and exits of the home is recommended to improve safety. Here are some ways to adjust these areas to make them safer for the senior adult in your life.

Grab bars

Sturdy grab bars make it easier to navigate stairs and walkways, particularly in bad weather or slippery conditions. Grab bars can also be installed in other areas inside the home, like the bathroom, to provide additional support. Ensure that the grab bars are securely anchored to the adjacent wall, so they’re sturdy and strong enough to support a full-sized adult’s weight.

Wide doorways

Widening the front and back door can help make them easier to navigate, particularly with a mobility device. This project may need to be done by a professional and reputable contractor since changes will need to be made to the door frame, and a larger door must be installed. Replacing standard door knobs with lever handles makes opening and closing the door easier.

Ramps

Building a ramp is a smart addition, especially if you have difficulty walking up stairs. Ensure the ramp is built at the proper incline, constructed using sturdy materials, and secured using concrete footings. Always ensure the ramp is wide enough for a mobility device if needed in the future, and don’t forget to account for turns if required.

Intercom or video doorbell

An intercom allows you to talk to people when they approach the door without opening it. A video doorbell is also a great choice and gives you the ability to see the person while talking to them, even if you’re in a different room of the house. Both are easy to install and provide more security whenever someone comes to your home.

Level entrances and exits

Even, level ground is vital to ensuring safety. Check to ensure that the home’s entrance and exit areas are properly leveled to help prevent accidental slips and falls, especially amid inclement weather. You may need to consult a professional if these areas need to be graded or adjusted.

Steps and stairways

Modifying steps and stairways is vital to safely age in place. Slipping and falling on the stairs becomes a bigger risk as time passes, so these adjustments are extremely important.

Handrails

Like the grab bars, sturdy handrails should be installed along stairways inside and outside the house. Look for handrails that are easy to grip and will securely anchor to the wall. Metal railings are recommended over wood to prevent splinters.

Non-slip treads

If you have hardwood or hard surface stairs, adding non-slip treads helps to prevent accidents. Find non-slip treads at many home improvement stores. This is a project that’s easy for most people to do DIY. Your option should have a textured material to provide a secure grip. Consider non-slip treads for outdoor walkways as well.

Stairlifts

For homes with multiple floors, a stair lift can be a lifesaver. While this project is costlier than other modifications, many people find it worth the investment if they use a wheelchair. Consider getting a home inspection done to see if the property is fitted and capable of handling a stair lift before you proceed.

Lighting improvements

Adding more lighting to exterior steps and interior stairways makes it easier to see as you go up and down the stairs. Additional lighting should be installed throughout the home, including in hallways, the kitchen, and all bathrooms. The brighter an area is, the lesser the odds of someone getting hurt or accidentally falling. Consider using motion lights at the ground level, and don’t forget to install them outside.

Bedroom

While it’s easy to modify which rooms you use in your house, the bedroom typically isn’t optional as we age in place. Be sure it’s easy to navigate in the long run.

Bedroom location

As you plan your renovation, consider if relocating the bedroom could be an option. Locating all of the most important amenities (washer and dryer, bathroom, bedroom) on the home’s ground floor can limit your use of the stairs and, thus, mitigate fall risk.

Adjust the bed height

Adjusting the bed height may make it easier to get in and out. A particularly low or high bed can make it harder to get your footing, especially in the dark. The Disability Rights and Education Fund states that the bed should be approximately 20 to 23 inches high from the floor to the top of the mattress.

Improve organization

Organization systems can seriously reduce clutter in the bedroom, including clothing, shoes, and excess decorative items. Consider adding closet organizers, shelving, or other storage systems to ensure a place for everything in your bedroom. Organize everything in bins, boxes, or baskets with a large label and clear text, so it’s easy to find what you need. Removing clutter from walking spaces and the floor can make it easier to navigate the bedroom, especially in an emergency.

Lower light switches and raise electrical outlets

For those using a mobility device or wheelchair, consider lowering light switches and raising electrical outlets. This makes them much easier to reach and use without straining. You can also set up smart lights and outlets that you can operate from a smartphone, which requires less work.

Living room

Here are some changes you can make to the living room to promote a safer environment.

Arrange furniture for easier navigation

Move the furniture in the living room to the edge of the wall, so the center of the room is clear. Make sure nothing is blocking doorways or windows. This simple change promotes easier navigation and may help to prevent someone from accidentally bumping into sharp corners or tripping over furniture.

Update the seating

Choose living room seating that’s both comfortable and supportive. Look for ergonomically friendly, adjustable seating that provides adequate support. A lift chair or recliner also makes getting in and out of chairs easier without assistance.

Install non-slip flooring

Consider installing non-slip flooring or adding floor mats with additional tread. Avoid tile, hardwood, or other smooth surfaces resulting in slips and falls. Look for non-slip flooring like interlocking rubber tiles, or replace the tile with carpet to ensure a safe surface.

Use contrasting colors

Use a variety of contrasting colors for the walls, flooring, and furniture. This makes it easier for those with vision impairment to navigate the living room and the entire home, including areas like the kitchen and bathroom.

Kitchen 

We spend a lot of time in the kitchen socializing, cooking, and sometimes just lounging. Be sure it’s set up for safety and comfort.

Lower counter and table heights

Lowering the kitchen countertops and the kitchen island can prevent how much you need to reach and strain to use working surfaces. If you use a wheelchair, remember that they are between 31 to 32 inches high, so in some cases, you may need to raise the height of the tables to accommodate them.

Install pull-out shelves and drawers

Upgrade shelving and drawers by adding some pull-out options to make it easier to access what you need. Move items to the lower cabinets so you won’t need to reach up or stand on your tiptoes to find items. Pull-out shelves prevent you from bending forward and reaching up to grab things in the kitchen. You can also keep a grabber tool on the kitchen counter for any up high items.

Install a wall oven and cooktop

Consider adding a wall oven and a separate cooktop instead of the traditional combined oven and range. This will make adding or removing food from the oven easier, while the cooktop helps with easy access to hot surfaces for pots and pans. Be sure that cooktop knobs are on the front of the appliance, so you don’t need to reach over a hot surface to turn off a burner.

Install a side-by-side refrigerator

Consider installing a side-by-side refrigerator/freezer combo instead of one that keeps frozen items on the top or bottom. This reduces how much reaching and bending you’ll need to do on a regular basis. 

Bathroom

The bathroom is especially important since this moist environment can result in accidental slips and falls. Here are a few key bathroom upgrades you can make.

Install a walk-in shower or tub

Adding a walk-in shower or tub reduces the chance of slipping on a wet surface because you spend more time balanced on both feet. If there’s a shower in the bathroom, install a handheld showerhead for hard-to-reach areas.

Install a raised toilet seat

Installing a raised toilet seat reduces the distance you need to move when you sit on the toilet. Raising the toilet seat by just a few inches can make a big difference in the strain required to sit and stand back up. Find raised toilet seats online and at many home improvement stores; they’re easy to install.

Install a wall-mounted sink

Consider replacing a standard vanity-style sink with a wall-mounted sink in the bathroom. This modification frees up space underneath the sink, allowing room for feet or mobility devices.

Install a shower bench or seat

Add a shower bench or seat for a safe, comfortable bathing place. Unless you have one permanently installed, these can easily be moved in and out of the tub or shower. Find them at many stores and online; no installation is required for the freestanding version.

Modifications and home value

Before you make your renovations, it’s important to consider the bigger financial picture. Many Americans’ retirement savings rely partially on real estate appreciation, so consider how renovations may impact your home’s resale value.

How aging in place modifications affect home value

Here are some examples of modifications that increase and decrease home value.

Modifications that increase home value:

  • Adding a full bathroom on the main level
  • Widening doorways to at least three feet wide or more and hallways at least four feet or more
  • Installing non-slip flooring
  • Creating entrances without stairs or steps
  • Replacing door knobs with lever handles
  • Installing hands-free faucets in the kitchen and bathrooms
  • Upgrading to pull-out drawers instead of standard cabinets
  • Installing a smart lighting system with LED bulbs and rocker switches, video doorbells, and more that can be controlled from a smartphone

Modifications that decrease home value

  • Adding chair or wheelchair glides to stairs
  • Installing permanent exterior or wheelchair ramps
  • Adding large grab bars and push bars on doors instead of lever handles
  • Installing an elevator
  • Walk-in bathtub installation

Home inspections for seniors

All homeowners should get a professional home inspection to ensure the home modifications are safe according to current codes and standards. With a thorough inspection, you’ll know you’re doing everything right, and you’ll also have peace of mind.

If you prefer to age in place, keep these home modifications in mind to ensure a safe space. You or your loved one can continue living independently with simple upgrades. Aging in place is one of the best ways to promote and support good mental health and happier golden years.

Guest Post from Inspection Support Network

Written By

I love what I do! Highly insightful, analytical and creative, there is nothing I love more than helping you find the right solution for your real estate transition. My mission is to serve my clients with honesty and integrity, exceeding their expectations in service and support… and to help others by donating a portion of every transaction to Habitat for Humanity.

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