Creating an environment that is both aesthetically pleasing and functional for your aging-in-place (AIP) home might seem like an uphill battle, but it shouldn’t. The goal of any aging-in-place renovation is for the safety features to blend seamlessly with the home’s overall style and design.
Doors, windows, acoustics, and contrasting colors are just a few items of importance to the design of an aging-in-place home. A Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS), who can help ensure that your safety doesn’t get in the way of your home’s style and comfort.
A CAPS professional can explain both the form and function advantages of certain designs. Furthermore, as long as these designs are implemented correctly adding aging-in-place features can increase your property value. Here are just a few ways aging-in-place design can be incorporated seamlessly into the design of your home:
- A roll-under sink is quite elegant and can make for a minimalist design feature. The lost storage space can easily be restored with the use of a rolling cart.
- Lever door handles and double stair handrails can offer accessibility and safety without sacrificing aesthetics. With the use of modern finishes, these AIP features can actually upgrade the look of the home.
- If constructed properly, wider hallways, deeper closets, and broad door openings can promote open areas with a brighter and more airy mood.
While safety and accessibility are the most important reasons to introduce AIP features, a CAPS professional can help you turn them into a selling point by integrating them into the overall design of your home.
A critical part of any aging-in-place renovation is the HVAC system, especially for those who are sensitive to drafts, allergens, and temperature and humidity fluctuations. It’s important that your CAPS professional includes a comfortable and easy-to-control heating and cooling system.
Controls should be easy to read, easy to understand, and easy to access. The best type of thermostats are ones with large, digital displays and simple up and down buttons to control the temperature. Typically, contractors place thermostats higher than 48-inches, but you should at request an extra control wire for future relocation to a lower height.
When it comes to the type of system that is best for your home, there are many factors to consider, such as the type of furnace, the maintenance involved, the noise, and the cost. Rather than telling a contractor what size or equipment you envision, offer specifics about the type of performance you want it to have.
In an aging-in-place remodel, the electrical system, controls, and back-up power provisions are all important considerations.
To make sure your electrical system is safe and accessible, keep these tips in mind:
- Proper grounding and circuit protection are essential
- Breaker panels should be in accessible locations
- Ground fault circuit interrupters should be installed in potentially hazardous locations
- Arc fault interrupters should be installed in all sleeping areas
- Outlets should be 18-inches above the floor or higher
- Switches should be located no higher than 48-inches above the floor
There are seven types of controls that can be used to provide convenience in your new home:
- Dimmers provide variable lighting intensity and should use a slider to control brightness
- Three-way switches prevent someone from navigating a room without any lighting
- Rocker switches are easier to use in case one’s hands are full
- Electronic push-button timers are ideal to remove moisture from a bathroom, improving air quality and eliminating mildew growth
- Motion sensors are great when three-way switches can’t be installed and can be set to automatically turn on and off when someone enters and leaves an area
- Security lights provide exterior light
- Wireless control systems can provide the ability to turn off all lights from one location
In the case of an outage, it’s important to have emergency backup power, and an automatic backup generator system that is powerful enough to handle your home’s electrical requirements is ideal. Generally, they operate with natural gas or propane, so it’ll be important to have the proper fuel close at hand.
- Lighting and Glare
Bright, effective light is one of the most important aspects of improving home safety. But just because it’s bright doesn’t mean it has to be clinical. An aging in place contractor can help you evaluate your living space and determine how the lighting can best be improved for safety and design. This may require multiple visits so that lighting can be observed at all hours of the day.
Sometimes the simplest solution is to increase the light bulb wattage. Light fixtures can’t always accommodate a higher wattage, but lighting can still be improved if you switch to an LED bulb.
In some cases, it may be easier to just add more light fixtures and bulbs. Critical locations like entrances, hallways, and stairs should have at least two bulbs per fixture. Adding an additional light over a kitchen sink or LED strips under a cabinet can provide night lights for easy navigation.
When it comes to glare, generally there are two types:
- Contrast glare, which occurs with low levels of interior lighting and creates a dazzling effect when someone steps into daylight from a dark area. Contrast glare can also be produced by lamps if they are by a bright window or if the shades are not at eye level.
- Veiling reflection, which occurs when reflections on a floor are viewed through a thickened eye lens and look like water. A window or door at the end of a shiny corridor can provide a similar effect, which can result in tripping.
Most glare-related accidents can be prevented by proper design and construction, increased light sources, and non-reflective surfaces on flooring and countertops.
The amount of space you need in your doorway depends heavily on the direction of the swing, the angle of the approach, and whether you have physical limitations that require a walker or wheelchair. The design of the doorway should allow for someone using a wheelchair to easily make it through, accommodating the need for 32-inches of clearance at knuckle height and at least 18-inches of maneuvering space. Your CAPS professional should conduct a proper assessment of your doorway needs.
If a doorway requires widening, there are several options available:
- Swing away hinges replace existing door hinges and provide up to 1¾ inches of additional clearance.
- Changing the jack studs can widen a doorway by up to 1½ inches.
- Installing a header bracket will allow enough width for a larger, standard door.
- Removing the applied doorstop can create as much as one inch of additional clearance.
- Reversing the swing direction allows for a wider door and can prevent someone from blocking a door from the inside.
- Converting to a cased opening can provide up to 2¾ inches of additional clearance and simplify the approach and use of the doorway by not having a door at all.
- Enlarging the opening can be considered if the above options don’t provide the required clearance.
It may be beneficial to use other types of doors like pocket doors, sliding doors, and folding doors. A CAPS contractor can show you how deviating from a standard door can improve your home while also ensuring your safety.
Windows are crucial for providing natural light, ventilation, and an escape route in the event of an emergency. A CAPS professional can help determine whether the window is sized properly to provide visibility from a seated position while also meeting code standards to act as an escape route. In some cases, code standards do not require the size of the opening to accommodate those with mobility or other physical impairments. However, making sure all windows are fully functional and easily operated by those with such impairments is critical to those looking to age in place.
- Vehicle Access
When designing your driveway, consider a minimum width of twelve feet to allow for transfer beside a vehicle. A hard surface, like asphalt or concrete, is preferable to pavers or loose gravel, which can provide an uneven surface and increase the chances of falling.
A single garage door should be at least nine-feet wide by eight-feet high to allow enough clearance for a van. When considering the amount of space needed in the garage, be sure to include space for a future ramp. If designing the garage from the ground up, try to keep the garage level with the main floor of the home to create a zero-threshold entry.
In most homes, fabrics, upholstered furniture, carpeting, window coverings, and textured ceilings can provide enough acoustical absorption of ambient sound. However, some spaces can present a challenge. Remember these tips:
- Special care should be given to rooms with a lot of glass or tile, especially if you are hearing impaired
- If not addressed, noise creation from HVAC equipment, exhaust fans, and other equipment can be louder than warning alarms or conversations
- Windows and doors facing noisy streets can also interfere with warning alarms, conversations, and other auditory cues, such as timers, microwave ovens, etc.
Addressing these challenges can be difficult. Sound batts are often used to reduce noise, but their effectiveness is limited, which is why contractors sometimes limit loudness by employing the same design and construction techniques used in the creation of a home theater. Acoustical-grade drywall products can be mounted to resilient channels in a given area to isolate vibration and reduce sound.
- Contrasting Colors
When using sharply contrasting colors in the design of your home, you can effectively highlight changes in level, steps, edges, or railings. If you have low vision, two quick design tips can help orient you to a room more easily:
- Use contrasting colors at adjoining corners to distinguish between walls.
- Select furniture or tables that contrast with the surrounding environment to make it easier to find, approach, and use them.
When preparing your home for aging in place, there are numerous considerations that may not immediately come to mind. To ensure your design and safety are similarly prioritized, consult with a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist before getting started on your next home renovation project.