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10 renovations that promote aging in place

Posted on Jun 1, 2022 in:
  • Seattle Times HomeWork
  • Homeowners

Jun 1
I’ve lived in my home for 20 years and I would love to always live here. Unfortunately, I don’t have family nearby to help support me as I age. Are there any essential home renovations I can make now to safely age in place?

A: Yes, there are definitely renovations that will allow you to stay in your forever home. To help you to identify the most important changes you can make, here is a list of 10 remodeling projects recommended by Ron and Jennifer VanderBeken, who are certified aging-in-place specialists with Snohomish County-based VanderBeken Remodel.

1. Convert to an open floor plan

Converting your home’s layout to an open floor plan is a good first step for enhancing accessibility as you age in place. Fewer obstructions improve mobility for people with vision impairments or walking difficulties, or who use wheelchairs or walkers to get around.

Reducing the number of interior walls also allows light to travel throughout the home, increasing overall visibility and further protecting you from falls and other accidents.

2. Add a first-floor primary suite

As people age, stairs can become a major impediment. First-level primary suites prevent you from having to walk up and down stairs to use the bathroom or settle in to sleep. Those living in multilevel homes can accommodate this change by either downsizing to a single-story home or redesigning the first floor of their current residence.

3. Widen doorways and hallways

Most residential doorways are not wide enough to comfortably accommodate wheelchairs, walkers or other mobility assistance devices. All hallways and doors in public buildings must be at least 32 inches to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility standard. However, residential doors and hallways don’t always meet this minimum, particularly in older homes. In these cases, doors and halls should be widened wherever possible.

4. Replace flooring according to needs

Universal design advocates typically recommend homeowners swap out certain types of flooring for materials that are soft, slip-resistant and well-suited to wheelchairs or walkers. The right type of flooring will differ based on the individual homeowner’s needs.

Refinished hardwoods can resist the bumps and grinds of regular wheelchair traffic more effectively than other flooring options, such as carpet.

While ceramic tiles may also work well for wheelchair users, they can get quite slippery. To avoid this issue, shop around for ADA-compliant, anti-slip tiles.

5. Update with smart home tech

From security cameras to smart light switches, there are dozens of home tech options available to support seniors aging in place — many of which are eligible for AARP discounts. Updating locks, lights, window treatments and appliances with smart tech makes it easier to centrally (and safely) manage appliances, energy use and home safety.

6. Install a walk-in shower

The majority of falls at home occur in the bathroom, where floors can be slippery and support features are often limited. Because of this, many designers recommend eliminating tubs — which can be difficult to climb in and out of — and installing walk-in showers with benches, treads and grab bars instead. You might also consider mounting grab bars next to toilets.

7. Paint in contrasting colors

Both color and depth perception decline with age, affecting as many as half of all American seniors. People who wear multifocal glasses or contacts are even likelier to struggle.

The good news is something as basic as painting a door frame a different color can help people with vision impairments cope. Color contrasts can help you determine where things should be located, and designers suggest painting trim, doorways stairs, and edges of counters in contrasting colors.

8. Increase kitchen accessibility

It’s essential to make kitchens more accessible as we age in place. Try grouping appliances together to avoid carrying heavy pots and pans from one end of the room to the other. Limit mounted fixtures that are difficult to reach.

Do not install cabinets over the stove because leaning over a hot surface can pose a hazard, especially when balance is impaired. Also, try swapping out lower cabinets with under-countertop drawers because they’re easier to pull out.

9. Eliminate thresholds wherever possible

Homeowners who are aging in place should eliminate thresholds wherever possible by leveling sunken living rooms, single steps and half-floors. Small sets of steps can be more dangerous than full staircases because they are not as obvious, clear or distinct to people with limited depth perception (see above). The right remodeling firm can help you fill in sunken spaces and level off any dangerous steps.

10. Build housing for a caregiver

Seniors who anticipate needing professional help or assistance from family members in the future might consider building an addition, an accessory dwelling unit or a backyard cottage to house them on their property. This can be pricier than most of the other improvements discussed here, but adding extra living space for a caregiver can save you time, money and peace of mind in the long run. It’s also convenient for the caregiver.

Whitney Harsh is the project developer at VanderBeken Remodel, a member of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties (MBAKS). If you have a home improvement, remodeling or residential homebuilding question you’d like answered by one of MBAKS’s more than 2,600 members, write to


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