The Ultimate Guide to Faucets for Aging in Place

faucets for aging in Place

It may not seem like a big deal, but making sure the fixtures in our home meet our changing needs as we age has a direct effect on our safety. Faucets are no exception.

This Ultimate Guide to Faucets for Aging in Place examines the importance of making sure fixtures work to complement the changing physical needs of aging homeowners. We’ll look at:

  • General considerations for aging in place faucets
  • Unique room requirements
  • Water valve systems
  • Ideal types of faucets for aging in place
  • Price overviews and associated costs

When considering the options, it makes sense to review the choices with the assistance of a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS). By taking advantage of their expertise, homeowners can be sure the faucets they select meet the recommendations made by the National Associate of Home Builders and the AARP.

General Considerations

When approaching aging in place realities, a homeowner should take a fresh look at all the environmental and physical factors that are part of daily living.  Specifically, a homeowner should identify all potential obstacles with their sinks and faucets and look to implement simple, relatively inexpensive fixes that promote continued independence.

For example, we know arthritis is a common condition after retirement. More than half of adults 65 and older have osteoarthritis in at least one joint. Yet, if the affected joints are in the hands, arthritis can make gripping extremely difficult if not impossible.  For this reason, levers on faucets, rather than knobs, are highly preferable because they are easier to control.

Likewise, vision typically worsens as we get older. This is why hot and cold-water fixtures should always be clearly marked or color-coded.  Scalding is a real concern for seniors and unfortunately, it’s entirely too common. Hot water at 111 degrees can produce stinging pain. First-degree burns can develop at only 118 degrees. Yet many household hot water heaters generate temperatures of 140 degrees or greater. Simply making fixtures more visible can help prevent household accidents. Since aesthetics are still a priority for many seniors, there is a wide range of contrasting finishes that can effectively delineate temperature settings without incorporating a clinical or institutional feel.

In general, when homeowners are considering faucets in terms of aging in place, it’s a good idea to follow the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) usage guidelines. By meeting these basic requirements, homeowners can be assured the faucets will promote ease of use and accommodate their changing needs. Today, finding a faucet that meets ADA standards is as easy as looking at its packaging. Most ADA compliant faucets being sold are clearly marked as such.

Although it’s simple to find clearly-labeled ADA compliant faucets, deciding which one best fits a homeowner’s needs can be more difficult. Homeowners should test each contender to see how much force is needed to turn it on, how long the water flows from automatic sensors, and the height of the faucet. All ADA compliant faucets should turn on with less than 5 pounds of pressure, automatic faucets should flow for more than 10 seconds, and the faucet handles shouldn’t be more than 48 inches from the ground. Homeowners should test each faucet and determine which one will best fit their lifestyle.

There are several types of faucets that comply with ADA requirements, including hands-free, lever, wrist blade, and cross handle models. The critical factor is ease of use. People must be able to control the faucet with one hand, and using the fixture cannot require tight pinching, grasping or twisting of the wrist. The unit must turn on and off easily (regulations stipulate less than five pounds of force.) and water flow from hands-free faucets must run continuously for at least ten seconds.

When we think about sinks and faucet features in the home, two areas come immediately into focus: the kitchen and the bathroom. Naturally, these areas have special considerations.

Kitchen Considerations

Kitchens are the heart of many people’s homes, and sound faucet and fixture design is essential for creating a safe kitchen environment.

Many people are familiar with seeing touchless or “hands-free” faucets in public settings. These types of fixtures are becoming increasingly more popular in residential settings as well. (We’ll look at different types of hands-free models a little later).  While the value of hands-free faucets in terms of ease of use is undeniable, it’s important to note that faucet upgrades can be effective without incorporating the latest technology.  For instance, one-lever faucets have been in homes for decades—and they are still recommended for aging in place kitchens because they remove many of the physical constraints associated with declining fine motor skills.

Also, a homeowner doesn’t have to be an ADA expert or tech wizard, he or she just needs to be mindful of how the equipment will be used.  For example, is the kitchen sink sprayer separate from the faucet? Is there a high spout clearance from the sink? Both considerations will make dishwashing easier and kitchen activities safer for individuals with physical limitations.

At the end of the day, aging in place equipment does not have to be complicated. However, a homeowner needs to determine if their existing equipment, or any new equipment, will accommodate their needs as their abilities decline and safety concerns become paramount.

Here’s A Suggestion: Look at faucets that promote greater independence such as pot-filler faucets.  These faucet units are installed near the cooking surface area and eliminate the need for filling pots with water and hoisting them to the stove. Pot-filler faucets have two separate levers: one to turn on the water supply to the faucet and the second to release the water into the pot. The spout reach for these units can extend to up to 24 inches. This type of faucet can be expensive, though (they can exceed $1,000 with installation). A more cost-considerate option is an adapter with a rotating, swivel faucet head. These add-on attachments promote ease of use and many types can be purchased for under $100.

Bathroom Considerations

Most bathrooms are the smallest rooms in a house, but with aging adults, as well as other family members, it is statistically the most likely spot for a home injury.

According to a 2011 CDC report, more than 234,000 people a year have accidents in the bathroom that require trips to emergency rooms; nearly 15% of these accidents result in hospitalizations.

Because of these statistics, homeowners should take a closer look at their bathroom faucets. Like the kitchen, bathroom faucets should be lever-operated or touchless and promote easy use and control. In the tub area, the height placement of the showerhead is very important for safety and body control. If the showerhead is too high, it may cause people to reach. If it’s too low, it may force a contorted body positioning. Both possibilities affect balance and could lead to scalding or slips and falls.

For this reason, hand-held showerheads are often a good solution to help safeguard bathing activities. These systems are typically reasonably priced as well. A quality hand-held shower wand will cost as little as $40 and a complete valve hand shower system kit will run about $400. For adults with greater physical needs, there are hands-free shower chairs that fit into standard shower stalls or bathtubs and require no renovation. These tend to be higher-cost items ($3,800) but may be worth the investment for many people.

Note: According to most real estate professionals, making faucet upgrades throughout your home not only promotes added safety and comfort but if done correctly, can also improve the value of your home.

Water Valve Systems

When considering the possibilities available to you for the kitchen or bathroom, you should know there are different types of faucet valves as well as different types of applications.

A pressure balanced valve makes sure that your shower or tub water remains at nearly constant temperatures with no variances due to pressure changes in one of the hot or cold supply lines.

All of us may recall the joy of someone flushing the toilet while we were showering and the sudden rise of hot water. Or similarly, if the hot water was used elsewhere, the resulting jolt of cold water. Pressure balanced shower valves prevent both unpleasant occurrences by using an embedded partition or piston that compensates for fluctuations in either supply line. The water pressure may still drop, but the temperature will not change. Since many aging residents live in older homes, having pressure balanced valves is necessary since it can prevent scalding injuries and falls.

Depending on usage needs and quality, pressure balanced valves vary widely in cost, starting around $30 and going as high as $300 or more.

Thermostatic mixing valves (TMV) blend hot and cold water by using a thermostat, rather than a static mixing valve, to maintain a constant hot-water temperature.  The TMV device shuts off quickly if there is a surge of either cold or hot water making it possible to keep a safe maximum outlet temperature despite pressure or flow changes.

There are three main types of TMV systems.

  • Heat source controls are the basis of central heating systems that use water circulating through pipes to regulate household temperatures. This type of system stores an ample amount of hot water and controls heat distribution through tempering valves. This allows the system to use radiant heat under the flooring to keep the house warm while preventing excessively hot tap water output.
  • Group Controls cover the entire home and regulate multiple purposes and outlets. Its main benefit is the same as its potential downside: all systems run through one source. If everything is working, it’s great; if one thing isn’t functioning properly, chances are nothing is.
  • Point-of-Use Controls use a single outlet TMV to regulate separate distinct uses like showering, washing dishes, or laundry. This type of system is frequently referred to as thermostatic faucets, taps or valves. Some thermostatic mixing valves cost as little as $10, but they can be priced much higher. The cost of the unit depends on its quality and usage demands.

In addition to these valve systems to control the temperature to your faucets, there are also several types of faucets that are perfect for an aging in place home renovation.

Faucet Types

Determining which faucet and valve system is right depends family needs as well as the home itself. Beyond the standard lever or knob faucet systems, there are several other types of systems ranging from smart control faucets to hands-free pedal operated systems.

1.Smart Control Faucets are becoming more popular for residential use. This system is equipped with temperature gauges and efficiency sensors that permit easy access and enhanced control. There are three different types of smart control faucets: hands-free, digital, and combo.

2.Hands-Free faucets contain small sensors that control the flow of water when motion is detected and turn off once the stimulus has been removed. There are two basic types of motion sensors: active sensors and passive sensors. Contrary to popular opinion, these units do not work by magic or tiny aliens. The truth is far more interesting.

a. Active systems send out a signal, frequently sound waves, which is reflected by the normal surroundings—in this case, the sink basin. When hands enter this area, the signal is altered, the signal wavelengths change, and the sensor activates the system.

b. Passive sensors are activated by changes in infrared radiation—or heat, around the sensor. When hands are placed under the faucet area, the sensors pick up on the change in the heat generated from the body and the movement itself, and the system is activated. Infrared sensors are typically set to detect sudden or extreme changes in the environment. This is why the faucets turn on or off only when we wave our hands and not every time someone enters the room or when the temperature changes throughout the day or night. Active and passive sensor faucets begin around $40 and range upward to hundreds of dollars.

c. Capacitance Sensor Faucets are a type of hands-free system that fall into the passive sensor category. Every human has something called capacitance. This is the ability to house an electrical charge. To visualize this capacity, think about how when people walk across the carpet in socks and touch something metal—or a person’s ear, and generate a small shock. Capacitive touch sensors measure this electromagnetism in the environment.  When the sensors are attached to a faucet, a baseline capacitance level is established. Once set, the sensor searches for any deviation in electromagnetic presence. The energy in our hands changes the baseline and the water turns on. When we take the energy source away, the water shuts off. Capacitance sensor faucets begin around $300 and can easily extend beyond the $1,000 range.

3.Digital Faucets regulate and display the exact temperature of the water. Homeowners may raise or lower the heat level based on their personal preferences. This system is advantageous for seniors because the hot water temperature can be set at a comfortable level without the risk of scalding. Digital faucets can be purchased as full units or add-on attachments that are compatible with most household faucets and showerheads. Digital faucet controls and interfaces start at around $100 and range upward to over $1,000.

4.Combo Faucets integrate the benefits of hands-free models with the efficiency of digital systems. Since a combo faucet is just that—a combination of touchless technology and digital precision, they tend to be more expensive than either stand-alone system.

5.Hands-Free Mechanical or Pedal-Operated Faucets are similar in function to sensor faucets but are operated by a touch of a foot or knee. Pedal-operated faucets are often found in doctor’s offices, schools or labs, but today are becoming more popular in residential settings. They are controlled by the foot or knee and allow hands-free access to water. Today, these types of systems can be easily installed in the floor, on a shelf or concealed in a wall or cabinet and can be fast or slow-closing to adjust water flow.  This type of system is typically less expensive than a sensory system. They are simpler in design with fewer moving parts but serve the same purpose. Residential pedal-operated faucet hardware starts as low as $50 and most systems cost less than $200.

It is highly advisable to seek the advice of experienced professionals who can help make the right choices, which leads us to one of the most important questions most aging in place homeowners typically have.

Professional Installation or Do It Yourself?

While faucets are relatively simple components, a homeowner should give careful thought to whether they want to undertake this type of project. Even if they have the experience and skills to do the work themselves, it may be in their best interest to let someone else do it. Consumer Reports suggests in its Bathroom Remodeling Guide that complicated jobs, such as plumbing and electrical work, should be left to skilled professionals. This is especially true when you are adding new hardware elements to an existing system.

Even the most seasoned professionals can make mistakes, but if they are licensed and bonded, you would be covered in terms of insurance and repair costs. As a rule, homeowners should be very careful when considering DIY projects that entail three criteria:

  1. There is a real risk of bodily harm or death.
  2. Possible damage to the home which could diminish its value.
  3. Permits are necessary to begin the work.

If you found this article helpful please bookmark or share for your future reference. Also, please feel free to contact us with any questions regarding an aging in place home renovation, including the selection of your kitchen and bathroom faucets.