As we age, our muscles tire out and our joints get stiff. If you’ve watched your parents grow older, you’ve seen how simple things like opening and closing the front door or a kitchen drawer are now a challenge. And, sometimes even painful.
There are a lot of aging-in-place renovations that you can make to an older adult’s home that require a professional contractor. Luckily, making drawers and doors easier and less painful to open and close is not one of them! By replacing door knobs with easy-to-grip door handles and pulls, you can make an immediate difference in the life of an adult who is aging in place. And, you can do it in just a weekend.
Swapping Out Door Knobs for Handles and Pulls is a Perfect Project for DIYers
In this article, I’m going to teach you how to remove an existing door or drawer knob and replace it with an easy-to-grip handle or pull on an exterior entryway door, interior door, and a drawer.
Installing an Easy-to-Grip Door Handle on an Interior Door
Each handle is going to come in a box with its own set of instructions unique to that particular handle. When you open up the packaging you should find the parts of the handle that include:
- Lever Set
- Strike Plate
Tools You’ll Need:
Pro Tip #1: Have both tools on hand if you can. I always choose an electric drill over a screwdriver for jobs that call for it. However, when you’re dealing with the small screws that come with door handle hardware, you’ll be happy you have a screwdriver by your side. Have both ready to go. You’ll be happy you did.
Steps to Install an Interior Doorway Handle
Step 1: Remove the Existing Knob
First, remove the existing door knob and lock. This is as easy as removing the screws holding the knob in place. There should be two to four screws in all.
Step 2: Insert the Latch
Once you’ve removed the old knob and you’re working with a clean, bare door, you’re ready to install the new handle. Start by inserting the door’s latch into the hole on the side of the door that’s flush with the doorway trim.
Step 3: Install the Handle
Of the two handles in your handle set, take the handle with the tailpiece first. Insert the handle’s tailpiece through the round opening of the door so it passes through the latch.
Pro Tip #2: Give the latch a push to make this work. When you push in slightly on the latch, the handle and latch opening will line up.
Step 4: Secure the Handle with Screws
Place the other handle over the door on the opposite side so the two line up. Secure the handles together with the screws and tighten. Now your new handle is ready to go!
You’ll also need to make sure your strike plate on the door jamb lines up with the latch. The existing strike plate may work well, and if it does, you may decide not to add the new one, since widening the screw holes can offset the plate. If it’s a little off, you might as well add the new one, especially if it matches the new hardware’s finish.
You have a ton of interior door handles to choose from when you begin your search. For safety reasons, I always recommend non-locking interior door handles for older adults aging in place wherever possible, like on closet and pantry doors. For interior doors that require a lockable option, this push-button locking handle from Schlage with its ergonomic handle is a good option.
How to Install an Exterior Entry Door Handle
There’s a bit more involved with the installation of an entry doorway handle, but this is still a pretty quick and easy DIY project that can immediately make a huge difference in the life of an older adult with arthritis or joint pain.
Like with interior door handles, your entryway handle set will come in packaging that includes the following parts:
Tools You’ll Need:
Steps to Install an Exterior Doorway Handle and Deadbolt
Use your electric drill to unscrew the existing door knob and lock hardware. Then continue by removing the screws on the side of the door to remove the deadbolt and door latch. Be careful not to nick or damage the door or the trim nearby.
Step 2: Insert the Latch
There will be two openings along the side of the door. Insert the latch through the bottom of the two openings in the door. The end of the latch – the portion sticking out beyond the door – will have a sloped side. The sloped side should face toward the inside.
Step 3: Install the Exterior, Lockable Lever
Next, you’ll install the lever set. Of the two handles, start with the lockable handle. The lockable handle should face the exterior of the home. You’re going to insert the lockable handle’s tailpiece through the round opening of the door so it passes through the latch.
Step 4: Install the Interior Lever
The second lever handle fits over the exterior lever that’s already through the door. The two levers need to line up in order for the one to fit through the other. Line up both levers and slide the second lever on so you have both handles facing the correct direction and are covering the door handle opening. Then, insert the screws and tighten them with the screwdriver until they’re secure.
Pro Tip #3: The interior handle and the plate it’s attached to are two pieces that can be separated. If you unscrew the handle, you can set it aside while you attach the interior handle’s plate to the lever set. This will make it a lot easier to reach the screws right next to the lever and you can just reattach the handle and plate when you’re done. To remove the handle, just loosen the small screws on either side with an Allen Wrench. When you’re ready to place the handle back on, just tighten the screws back on.
Step 5: Install the New Deadbolt
Insert the deadbolt into the existing lock opening. Then, just like with your lever install, place your lock hardware on either side of the door’s lock opening, line them up, and use your screws to secure the lock hardware in place.
Pro Tip #4: Do NOT over-tighten the deadbolt screws. They should be secured enough to hold the lock in place and that’s it. If you over-tighten the deadbolt screws, you’ll have trouble opening and closing the deadbolt lock. Imagine how much harder – and potentially painful – the task will be for an older adult with arthritis if the lock is too tight.
Pick the Right Aging in Place Exterior Door Handle Based on the Homeowner’s Needs Now and Potential Challenges Down the Road
There is no shortage of quality exterior door handles that can make life easier for older adults who struggle to open their front door. Wright Products makes a brass mortise set with an easy-to-grip handle that’s worth looking into. Keyless entries can also be a huge help to older adults. This keypad entry door handle from Schlage is a great option if using a key to get into the home is a challenge. I particularly like keyless entry keypads if the adult has arthritis that’s likely to to worsen as he or she ages. Keys require the use of a lot of fingers at once and this gives an adult aging in place one less key to deal with.
Installing an Easy-to-Grip Drawer Pull
Like with door handles, installing drawer pulls in place of knobs can make a huge difference for older adults who deal with arthritis and the pain that can come with aging joints. Swapping out drawer hardware in your kitchen or bathroom, or any drawer in the house, is a pretty easy job compared to some other aging in place projects. Use the instructions that come with the drawer pulls as your starting point. The hardware package should include the handle and a couple of screws.
Pro Tip #5: The thickness of the drawer is going to determine the length of the screws you need. Most cabinet drawer hardware comes with screws, but you may need to go out and buy longer or shorter screws. Use the old knob’s screws to gauge the length your pull screws need to be.
Tools You’ll Need:
- Phillips Head Screwdriver
- Electric Drill
- Small Square Ruler
- Wood Filler
- Measuring Tape
Steps to Install a Drawer Pull
Step 1: Remove the Knob Hardware
Unscrew and remove the knob and its hardware. Hold onto the screws for now.
Step 2: Fill Holes with Wood Filler if Necessary
If at least one side of your new pull hardware doesn’t line up with the hole placed from the old knob, you’ll need to fill in the old hole with wood filler. There are a lot of good wood filler options out there. Try to match the color of the filler to the paint or stain of the drawer so the old hole is less noticeable.
Step 3: Find the Drawer’s Center
Measure the drawer horizontally to find the center and mark it with your pencil. Then, do the same vertically. Use a square ruler to ensure that your measurements are on an even plane so the intersection of the horizontal and vertical centers are accurate.
Step 4: Measure the New Pull and Mark the New Hardware Holes
Measure the distance between the two screw holes on the new pull. Then, with your measuring tape and pencil, mark the distance of half of the new pull from the center of the drawer in both horizontal directions. These points will be the location of your two hardware holes when you go to install the new pull’s hardware. This should place the center of the pull at the center intersection of the drawer.
Step 5: Drill the Pilot Holes
Using the standard drill bit on your electric drill, drill the pilot holes on top of the two spots you marked for the pull hardware holes.
Step 6: Install Your New Pulls
With your pilot holes drilled, place your hardware over the holes and screw the pull into place.
That’s it! You’re now ready to upgrade the knobs throughout the entire home to easy-to-grip door handles and drawer pulls for aging in place. Give these DIY updates a try and use the comments section below to ask me any questions as you go. These hardware updates are going to make a huge difference for aging hands!