Updated: Nov 20, 2020
It is never too early to think about aging in place. A home designed with this in mind is good for any stage of life. The top goal is to have one-floor living which is desirable for all ages. At a minimum a first floor master suite with ensuite bathroom is ideal. Second floor bedrooms can be used for family, or live-in assistance if need be.
In this blog article I'm going to focus on the elements of design for one floor living with limited mobility using examples of things I've learned working with clients.
I had a client in her sixties that broke her ankle and had to be in a wheelchair for a couple of weeks. This was a huge challenge for her for everyday living within her home. Her laundry room, bedroom, and biggest bathroom were on the second floor. She would have to get up and down the stairs at least once a day which was extremely difficult. This experience led her to realize that her home was not a place she and her husband could live in as they aged. Therefore, a new home was designed and built to make it possible to age in a home that could accommodate limited mobility.
Not everyone has the luxury to build a new home from scratch. But lets learn from the design of said house, and other resources, to examine ways to modify an existing home.
Exterior Access / Ramps
Minimal or no steps into the home is ideal. Even when building new it might not be possible to lower the house enough to avoid steps. My clients bought a small lot that had a slope up from the street. A ramp on the exterior would not fit in the allotted area. Therefore, they built a larger garage to accommodate a ramp (sorry I don't have a photo).
Maybe you have steps from the garage into the house. Would it be possible to build a ramp in the garage in place of the steps when the time would come? Is there space to have a ramp built to your entry door?
An ADA recommended 1:12 slope ramp takes up a lot of linear feet. The 1:12 slope ratio means that for every inch of rise, you will need one foot of ramp. As an example, a 12 inch rise would require a 12 foot ramp to achieve a 1:12 ratio. The ramp can be steeper if using a motorized wheelchair or if pushed by an assistant.
A ramp does not have to be unattractive. If you do an internet search of "landscape wheelchair ramp" you will find many interesting ramps that blend nicely with the home. Click here for real-life examples of wheelchair ramps on suburban homes. Here is one of those.
Once inside the home, the interior needs to function well for limited mobility. First place to start is with pathways. Pathways must be clear of clutter so that walking is unobstructed and nothing is jutting out from the wall. Keep flooring uniform, or if you have rugs be sure that they are flat and have gripper pad under them.
Well lit walkways, hallways, and stairs should be a priority so that any obstacles can be seen. If fixed overhead fixtures or wall sconces are not available or possible, consider plug in lighting to illuminate the floor.
If you have a hallway with one light fixture, it could be changed to surface track type fixture to illuminate more of the hallway. Click here for some options.
The most important aspect of laundry room design for aging in place is to have the laundry on the main level of living where hopefully your bedroom is. If that is not possible, it would advantageous to have the laundry on the level where your bedroom is to avoid carrying laundry up and down stairs.
When planning new, front load washers and dryers raised up are best. This will eliminate bending and reaching to access the laundry. A sink nearby is ideal as in this example above.
An important feature in an aging in place home is a safe bathroom.
While a curb-less shower is ideal, it is not always possible, as in this condo's small bathroom example. Therefore the bathroom was remodeled with grab-bars, two shower heads (one a hand-held), a bench in the shower, towel bars and toilet paper holder that double as grab-bars, and a retractable grab-bar next to the toilet.
Changing the in-swing hinged door to a pocket door increased the space entering the bathroom and providing easy access to the wall grab bar.
These multi-purpose grab-bar elements shown below must be installed by a professional to be securely fastened into structure.
Open Living Space
An open living space is ideal for aging in place. For this project shown above the kitchen island is central to the space. The dining side of the island is at table height (30") so that conventional dining chairs (or wheelchair) could be used. The nearby dining area with a freestanding banquette and round pedestal table provide the ability to bring over additional dining chairs or a wheelchair if needed.
This arrangement provides functional versatility and flexibility. Choosing a center pedestal dining table that expands will provide the ability to have family gatherings.
The freestanding banquette we used in this example was a simple way to have comfortable seating for everyday use. There are upholstered and non-upholstered options. Here is a link for the one shown above.
There are many ways to modify your home to ease the ability to stay in your home as you age. Or perhaps you may downsize and relocate, keep the above ideas in mind as you look at future homes.
My motto is "Improve Your Home ~ Improve Your Life". Your home should be a happy place for all stages of your life.