Designing a home you’d like to live in for the rest of your life can be a daunting task. Planning for the future includes a lot of unpredictable aspects—everyone ages differently, and you don’t know how you’ll be affected. And designing a home that prepares you for that uncertainty? Well, that’s why many seek help from professionals. Registered architect Michael Leaveck from DesignSmiths Architecture in Traverse City recommends designing a home for aging in place with one key factor in mind: adaptability.
“A little bit of extra thought in planning now can really make things a whole lot easier in the future,” he shares. “That’s what we emphasize. Build the house you want now, but think a little bit about the future. So you can adapt if you need to.” That means while you may need grab bars in your bathrooms as you age, don’t install them quite yet. But think ahead and install blocking within the walls now, so when bars are needed, you can easily adapt.
“Most people want one master suite on the main level. What we tell people is that it’s a good idea to think about these things long term, but don’t necessarily let that dictate everything you do. Because things change a lot. Kids may leave the area—or live next door. What happens if one of us ends up in a wheelchair? But there’s a good chance you won’t. A lot of things happen as we age.”
So what else should you think ahead about when designing a home for aging in place? Michael shares his advice.
Washers, dryers and kitchen ranges only last for so long. Get what you want now and replace with front control buttons in the future when you need to.
While you can install low countertops now (and end up stooping over for years preparing meals), instead install regular-height countertops and budget for the potential future need. You can always adjust one or more sections of the cabinets to a lower level when the time comes for a relatively reasonable cost.
We joke around here: “If you stop using the stairs, you lose your ability to use the stairs.” So keep an upstairs if you want it, just build extra-wide stairs to get to those rooms. You have the ability to add a mobility stairlift later in life if you need assistance to get to your bedroom on the upper level. And these stairs can be wide enough for someone to join you on your route.
Entry to the House
The main factor to consider now is how to get from the garage into the house. And plan ahead for a ramp. You don’t want to install the ramp now, but think about where it will go in the future.
A full-width door into the master bedroom and master bath—do it now. It’ll feel more comfortable and they are easy to operate. Plus, it’s not a bad idea to build a roomy bathroom, either.
Assistance with accessing the toilet, shower, and sink includes an easy installation of grab bars. But there’s no need to install these until you have to. Changing out millwork is pretty easy. Having the blockwork ready to go is easy to do day one. Just make sure to take pictures before the drywall goes up and put it in the house binder to refer to.
Levers on Doors
Some people struggle with round door knobs later in life—especially those who develop arthritis. Levers are easier to control with limited mobility to your hands.
Install these now instead of double-hung windows. Since casement windows don’t get harder to open as you crank, they’re easier to operate with age.
You can have a smart home now for only a couple hundred dollars. Have it day one or wait until later. The big game changer was when the technology added voice control. Before you needed to be a geek to get into this stuff. Now it’s just, “Alexa, turn the lights on!”