How To Age-Proof Your Home

Once the kids have left home to begin lives of their own, many mature homeowners downsize to a smaller home and some move to a seniors-only community. But thanks to smart planning and a wider array of services available to mature adults, more and more retirees are deciding to stay in their homes lifelong or as long as they possibly can.

Living the best life in your own home in retirement requires some changes. After all, thoughts of retirement and aging-in-place probably weren’t factors when you chose your current home. By making needed modifications now even if you’re in your 50s you’ll save time, money and inconvenience later.

Every home is unique and each person ages differently, but here are just a few essential points to consider when it comes to age-proofing your home. Here are some tips on how to age-proof your home:

  1. Use lever-type handles instead of doorknobs and lever handles for faucets.
  2. Make doorways 36 inches wide, instead of the standard 32 inches, to accommodate a wheel chair.
  1. Position light switches 42 inches off the finished floor where they are accessible to someone in a wheelchair and are a comfortable height for most people.
  2. Use motion sensors for lighting at entry areas of the home.
  3. Select floor coverings that can accommodate a wheelchair or walker: commercial grade carpet, wood, laminate and ceramic tile with grout joints not more than 3/8-inch wide. For kitchen flooring, Mary often recommends commercial carpet squares, which can be cleaned or replaced.
  4. Use pocket doors when possible.
  5. Put dimmers on all light switches, allowing a mix of daylight and artificial light. At night the light level can be changed.
  6. Use pulldown wardrobe lifts for upper clothes-pole spaces in walk-in closets. Hafele offers such a wardrobe system, which allows the user to pull down the upper rack. The system requires a 48-inch-deep closet.
  7. Provide open spaces in base cabinets accommodate wheelchairs.
  8. Vary counter heights, and include pullout boards that lock in place for use as extra counter space.
  9. Install faucets to the right or left of the sink instead of behind it.
  10. Install appliances at accessible levels. Mary also points out that microwave ovens are usually placed too high. "Ideally, microwaves should only be 8 or 10 inches off the finished counter," she says.
  11. To make dishwashers more accessible, she suggests elevating them or using dishwasher drawers placed on either side of the sink. Front-loading laundry equipment also can be elevated.
  12. Select non-reflective counter surfaces and appliances with easy-to-read controls to prevent eye strain.

Consult with experts. Look for professionals in your area who hold one or more of the top certifications that show specialized training and understanding of the needs of older adults. They can make home assessments and are knowledgeable about home modifications, and creating attractive, barrier-free living spaces and updates that allow independent living for all ages. Talk with several specialists by phone and invite your favorites to conduct in-home consultations to begin planning how to age-proof your home within your timeframe and budget.