Senior Renovations Often Make Sense
Champlain Business Journal
Joyce L. Carroll
Builder Tom Moore of Underhill Center has fond memories of the childhood years he spent sharing the family home with his grandmother. Today, while some aging homeowners move to retirement communities or independent/accessible living facilities, many remain in their own home or move in with family members.
"With accessible living facilities costing between $40,000 and $60,000 a year, renovating the home becomes a no-brainer," Moore said, adding that people tend to live longer in their own environments.
The benefit to taking in an aging parent moves beyond dollars and cents. " It's also the value of time spent with elders," he said. " These are the tangible things lost with accessible living."
Moore, now a third generation custom homebuilder and cabinet maker, is a proponent of a growing movement referred to as "aging in place." Recently certified in the field, Moore renovates existing homes and builds new ones with the future years in mind.
While not all senior citizens are wheelchair bound or disabled, many of the structural changes he suggests are also suitable for the physically challenged population because they follow universal design guidelines. These ensure that the changes, whether they are structural in nature or via the addition of hardware, are a benefit and not a deterrent to independent living.
The guidelines require adherence to these seven tenets: equitable use, flexibility in use, simple and intuitive, perceptible information, tolerance for error, low physical effort, and size and space for approach and use.
Adapting a home in this way, if done properly, actually increases its value, Moore said.
For new construction or renovations, he suggested shoring up walls at the same time, particularly if the work is in the bathroom where handrails may be needed in the future.
Doorways leading from one room to another should be widened to 34 inches to allow for walkers. This, he said, can be accomplished easily by cutting the stops halfway down. The threshold, he said, should be made as level as possible, since any height differential can lead to stumbling. A wider threshold with a bevel often does the trick. Ramps, he said, are not necessary unless the individual is wheelchair bound.
Rounded corners on countertops and full-extension tracking for roll-out cabinetry will likewise prevent injury and negate the need for bending or reaching. Moore said when he's hired to build a home, these structural accommodations don't add to the cost when implemented during the initial construction. If done up front, he said, there's no need for backtracking further down the road.
Beyond structural adaptations, hardware and fixture modifications go a long way toward making the home more user-friendly for an aging parent.
"Many of these products are not the sterile Plain Jane variety found medical supply stores." Moore said. "They are beautifully designed now."
He suggested these changes: All faucets should be changed to lever-style. Likewise for doorknobs. Lever-style doorknobs can even be activated with the individual's arm if using a hand is painful.
Light switches should be changed to the larger rocker-style switches, and the amount of available light should be increased.
Toilet risers with a grab bar along the toilet and shower bar in the tub will provide a more stable and safer environment in the bathroom.
Moore stressed that mounting fasteners must be high quality and durable. He recommended using a Wing-its fastening system or the line of secure-mount anchors made my Moen. "These work well," he said. "They are expensive, but if you're going to do it, you should do it right."
If the family has taken in an elderly parent, these adaptations don't need to be made throughout the entire home but rather in the areas most frequented by the parent. When done correctly, he said, the changes would be comfortable for all the inhabitants of the house.
Realizing that the elderly are often more sensitive to the cold, Moore also suggested creating a cozy space in the house exclusively for the parent where the temperature is set a bit higher.
Whether it's taking in elderly parents or adapting their own home, Moore said it's important to seek out someone certified in this more specialized field of home renovating.
The task, he said, is not just about infrastructure. Moore said often he interacts with the health care provider along with the children of the aging parent when adapting a home. This, he said, assures that changes implemented to improve the quality of life are made with the specific needs of the individual in mind.