Facing old age in an old house

By: Shannon Lee , Contributing Writer
In: Home Improvement Tips

For many people, the early years of living in an old house are filled with restoration and renovation. Many homeowners choose to do it themselves, as evidenced by the numerous television shows, books and websites devoted to how to spruce up your old house. But what happens when the inhabitants of that house become older themselves?

There are many aspects of an old house that are charming at the start, but can become hard to live with in later years. That narrow staircase that seemed so quaint is now too steep for arthritic knees. The uneven floors that were once signs of character are now trip hazards. The cramped kitchen was once charming, but now it has no room for a necessary wheelchair.

How can you successfully age in place when your house is elderly, too?

Making your old house friendly for your old age

This is a tricky situation, because of course you want to maintain the historical integrity -- that history is part of the reason you fell in love with the place, right? -- but you also want to live in a comfortable, accommodating home during your golden years. Making that happen might require renovations, and that could go against the restorations you painstakingly tried to perfect in the earlier years of home ownership.

A good compromise is to include new renovations in your home that can be changed later. For instance, adding a wheelchair ramp that fits over the back steps, rather than replaces them, means that you can eventually remove it should you so desire, leaving the original steps intact. This can also be done on a smaller scale with things like faucets, doorknobs, light switches, and other elements that can be switched back over to the originals within a weekend.

There are some touches you can add to your old house that won't compromise the integrity of it but will keep you safer. A good example of this can be found in the bathroom, where sturdy grab bars around the tub are a must. Choose grab bars that match the existing bathroom style. You can even opt for grab bars that double as towel-holders. It might not be entirely accurate from a historical standpoint, but it will be a good compromise for safety.

What happens when you can't compromise?

Some upgrades are actually very good things. For instance, upgrading the wiring to accommodate more light switches and outlets makes good safety sense, no matter how long you plan to live in the house. More insulation to battle heat and cold is another upgrade that simply needs to happen.

Other upgrades might mean compromising on the historical integrity of your property if you intend to live there for the rest of your life. The question then becomes: How far are you willing to go? If you can't imagine living anywhere else, then changes like installing that walk-in tub or widening the doorways to accommodate walkers and wheelchairs might be your only option.

The consolation is this: Houses change. Even the most historical home probably looks different now than it did when it was first built. We make changes to property with new advances in technology, such as installing electric lights instead of relying on gas lights. We make adjustments based on life changes, such as adding on a bedroom to accommodate a growing brood. Ultimately, the changes you make to your home will become a part of its history, and that isn't necessarily a bad thing.