Baby boomers crave independence; they’re determined to live in their homes forever. Of course, they may remodel to make that independence possible, but they also want their homes to look inviting, attractive and well-designed, not like a hospital.
If you fit that description, be a little forward-thinking. Consider remodeling for aging in place and do it in phases — starting now. Instead of labeling remodeling as “aging in place,” think of it as making your home “user-friendly” in an inclusive way. Remodelers often use the term “universal design,” meaning that your home will be comfortable for anyone living there or visiting — including children, someone with temporary or long-term disabilities, healthy adults (who can get sick at times) or older relatives.
Aging in place works better when the kitchen, bedroom and bathroom are on the first floor. Another issue: The recommended doorway width for wheelchairs or walkers is 36 inches compared with the 28 inches in many homes. So, your remodel might include widening doorways.
You also want smooth flooring throughout a house to avoid tripping and falls. Better lighting, possibly with LED fixtures, might help and maybe nightlights for hallways, bathrooms and kitchens. You will also need up-to-date smoke and carbon monoxide detectors as well.
But the most important rooms in your house to update are the kitchen and bathrooms. So zero in on them first. Here are some ideas to consider:
Aging in place in the kitchen: It’s vital for staying independent to safely cook your own food in your own kitchen.
• Appliances should have clearly displayed labels and controls. The microwave should be at or below counter height instead of hanging over the cooking range. You can even install a microwave inside a drawer. You might consider switching to an induction cooktop where heat comes on only when a pan is actually on a burner.
• A cutoff cooking timer can prevent fires. You can set how long the stove should be on; then if you forget about it, the timer will turn off the burner when time is up.
• A shallow sink is best for washing dishes as you get older.
• Design cabinet storage carefully to cut down on heavy lifting. Deep pullout drawers are good for storing small appliances and heavy pots and pans. Use lazy susans in corner cabinets. Add slideout shelves to cabinets. Use cabinet and drawer organizers. You can even have drawers with racks for plates and dishes.
• Switch to D-shaped handles and drawer pulls — a good feature if you have arthritis.
Creating an accessible and beautiful bathroom: A safe bathroom can still look like a luxury spa.
• Install a curb-free shower with no barrier. If you want a curb, make it as low as possible.
• You can add a walk-in tub. But remember you have to enter the tub before filling it with water and then sit there after a bath until water drains out. A better idea might be a new shower with a seating area.
• Mount sinks on the wall instead of on top of a cabinet for a more modern look. You might lose some storage space, but it allows someone to sit on a chair at the sink.
• Buy faucets with levers instead of knobs.
• Taller toilets are easier to access and are usually only two or three inches taller than the average toilet.
• Grab bars and similar devices for today’s bathrooms are now designer hardware that will improve the look of the room.
For more do-it-yourself tips, go to rosieonthehouse.com. An Arizona home building and remodeling industry expert for more than 30 years, Rosie Romero is the host of the syndicated Saturday morning Rosie on the House radio program, heard locally from 8 to 11 a.m. on KNST-AM (790) in Tucson and from 9 to 11 a.m. on KGVY-AM (1080) and -FM (100.7) in Green Valley. Call 888-767-4348.