Homeowners who plan on aging in place — remain in the home of their choice for as long as they’re able — should incorporate the principles of universal design into the home. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) defines universal design as “the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.”
Plan for Future Needs
Karen Smith is an occupational therapist who holds the Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS) designation from the NAHB. When Smith purchased a new home about a year ago, she decided it was time to start to age in place herself.
Smith purchased a 2, 000-square-foot home in Dagsboro, Del., from Ryan Homes. The house has two stories, but the 61-year-old Smith uses the upstairs bedroom and bath for her home office, preferring to have her office space separated from the main living quarters of her home. “I thought the upstairs could become a caretaker’s quarters if that possibility happened, ” she says. “Or for family members who come to visit who are able-bodied.”
Other than the office, everything else Smith needs is on the first floor, including her master bedroom. “This is my last home, ” she says. “First-floor living was really important to me.”
Smith spent about $2, 000 on options and upgrades to have the builder add a zero-step entrance from the garage into the house, blocking to reinforce the bathroom walls for grab bars, extra ceiling lights and a double shower rather than a tub/shower combination. “It was important to have a shower rather than a tub to step over, ” she says.
The house already had wide hallways, a spacious bathroom and open spaces, all of which would allow for walker or wheelchair access if needed someday. “It’s really a nice way for me to start aging in place, ” she says.
Other principles of universal design that allow for aging in place include:
If you purchase a two-story home like Smith, make sure that you have a bedroom, bath, kitchen and living or family room on the first floor. More than 40 percent of new homes have master suites downstairs, a 15-percent increase over a decade ago, according to the NAHB. That allows those with aching backs or knees to avoid the stairs.