What It Takes to ‘Age in Place’

Would you like to be able to live in your current home for the rest of your life? With the older baby boomers now in their 70s, it’s a possibility more and more Americans are exploring.

A recent AARP study found that “90 percent of people age 65 and over would prefer to stay in their own homes as they get older.” For most homeowners, however, some enhancements are needed to make staying put a reality.

Before we get much further, let’s look at two complementary concepts that come into play here, aging in place and universal design: 

  • Aging in place, as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is “the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level.”
  • Universal design is “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,” according to the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University.  (See “Key Principles of Universal Design” below for more details.)

Cost Considerations

How affordable is it to add universal design features to the home? It depends.

On the one hand, there are relatively inexpensive improvements, such as:Aging in place home design

  • Grab bars in the shower and hand-held shower heads
  • Comfort-height toilets, sinks and vanities
  • Level handles on faucets, doors and windows
  • Pull-out cabinets in the kitchen along with larger cabinet and drawer pulls
  • Improved lighting
  • Handrails at external steps and porches


On the other hand, there are features that will put a bigger dent in your wallet. For example:

  • Wider interior doors and hallways to accommodate wheelchairs and walkers
  • A ramp or zero-step entry to the home
  • A curb-less shower
  • A raised dishwasher and front-loading washer and dryer (to minimize back strain)
  • Locating laundry appliances on the same floor as bedrooms
  • An elevator
  • A chair lift at the stairs

Incorporating universal design principles is a smart investment in your safety — and in the long-term value of your home. If you’re considering any features on the more complex end of the spectrum, be sure to speak with a qualified general contractor like Custom Contracting. We’d be happy to discuss the possibilities with you.


The Principles of Universal Design

The Center for Universal Design established the following principles “to guide a wide range of design disciplines including environments, products, and communications.”


Principle 1: Equitable Use

The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.


Principle 2: Flexibility in Use

The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.


Principle 3: Simple and Intuitive Use

Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.


Principle 4: Perceptible Information

The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.


Principle 5: Tolerance for Error

The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.


Principle 6: Low Physical Effort

The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.


Principle 7: Size and Space for Approach and Use

Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of user’s body size, posture, or mobility.


Source: http://projects.ncsu.edu