correction: An earlier version of this story gave the incorrect name for the organization Joanne Theunissen chairs. This version has been corrected.
Planning to stay in your home well into your golden years? Doing some renovations before you retire can help make your house more accessible and safe for your life ahead.
Nearly 90 percent of people over age 65 want to stay in their homes for as long as possible, according to research by the National Conference of State Legislatures with AARP Public Policy Institute. However, many people make the mistake of waiting too long to make renovations that facilitate aging, says Marianne Cusato, an adjunct associate professor at the University of Notre Dame’s School of Architecture. “You don’t wait until you have mobility issues to make changes to your house,” she says.
Of course, some preemptive renovations make more sense than others. Installing ramps to accommodate a wheelchair, for example, is an expensive and potentially unnecessary change because “not everyone winds up in a wheelchair,” Cusato says.
Still, there are some universal design changes and remodeling projects that will help you grow older in your home comfortably and safely.
For older adults who have mobility issues, climbing over the edge of a bathtub can be difficult. A walk-in shower can solve this problem and make your bathroom look more modern, says Joanne Theunissen, 2018 chair of the National Association of Home Builders Remodelers.
Cost: Tearing out an old tub or shower and building a walk-in shower can be expensive. Although there are walk-in shower kits that start as low as $200, you need to be knowledgeable in plumbing and framing to do the work yourself. Having one of these kits professionally installed will add another $750 to $2,500, depending on the bathroom layout and plumbing requirements, according to home-improvement resource BobVila.com. For a professionally installed custom shower, expect to pay anywhere from $6,500 to $15,000, or more, depending on the size of the shower and the materials.
Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall, the National Council on Aging (NCOA) reports. Adding grab bars in select areas can help reduce your risk of falling. However, “just having a grab bar in every room of your house for the sake of having one doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” says Steve Hoffacker, a certified aging-in-place specialist and instructor. “You have to think strategically about where you want to install them.”
Your main shower (even if it’s a walk-in) should have one. And a spot that deserves a grab bar yet is often overlooked is the front door. “When you’re trying to balance packages or grocery bags that you’re holding, it’s nice to have something to hold onto other than the door handle,” Hoffacker says.
Cost: Grab bars generally require professional installation. On average, it costs $140 to have three grab bars installed by a handyman, according to Fixr.com.
One of the best ways to age-proof a house is by having a master bedroom and bathroom on the first floor, says Mark Hager, founder of AgeInPlace.com. “You want to have everything you need on one level so that you don’t have to climb stairs as you get older,” Hager explains.
Cost: If you don’t already have space on the first floor that you can turn into a master suite, you’ll have to build an addition. But be prepared: It costs a lot of money to increase the footprint of your home. To add an extra room, homeowners spend, on average, $80 to $200 per square foot, HomeAdvisor says. So, if you’re building a 250-square-foot bedroom and bathroom, it can cost anywhere between $20,000 and $50,000. “It’s a big expense, but it really pays,” Hager says.
Nearly half of people 65 years or older have arthritis, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. And when you have arthritis, even grasping a doorknob can be painful. One solution: Replace doorknobs with lever handles throughout your home.
Cost: At Home Depot, stainless lever handles start at about $5 apiece. More good news: You don’t need to hire a professional to replace a doorknob with a lever handle — this is an easy DIY project.
Floor surfaces can be slippery depending on their material. Some homeowners try to address this issue by covering hardwood or laminate floors with rugs. However, “rugs can create a hazard, because they change the grade of the floor,” Cusato says.
If you do a Google search for “slip-resistant flooring” you’ll find seemingly endless options. So, let’s simplify things: Replace any hardwood, laminate or tile flooring with carpeting in every room except for the kitchen, bathrooms and mudroom. Why? “Carpet can help cushion a fall much better than a hard surface,” Cusato says.
One caveat: Most wheelchairs and walkers don’t roll over carpet as well as they roll over hard flooring, so make sure the carpet is no higher than a half-inch and the padding underneath is firm (not squishy).
Cost: Many factors go into carpet prices and installation costs, such as room size and shape, carpet material, furniture removal, and labor. But, in general, high-quality carpeting and padding can be installed for $19 to $38 a square yard, or $300 to $600 for a 12-by-12-foot room, CostHelper.com says.
Pullouts aren’t designed only for aging homeowners, but they’re helpful as you age by giving you easier access to dishes, tools and cookware. Indeed, “you don’t want to have to bend over or reach the back of the cabinet to take out a pot or pan, because you might have trouble getting back up,” Cusato says.
Cost: The price tag varies depending on the size of the cabinets, but a 22-inch-deep pullout shelf costs $58.69 at Home Depot. And you don’t need a handyman to replace shelves with pullout drawers.