Renovating now for aging in place later

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

Have you fallen in love with an old house? The charm of that gorgeous house might be perfect right now, but if you intend to stay in your home for several decades -- or even the rest of your life -- that charm could obscure the very necessary improvements that old house might need in order to allow you to age in place.

Aging in place is something that we rarely think about until the time comes. But at that point, you might suddenly need a ramp for a wheelchair, wider doorways, or even a lift up the stairs. All these things can be difficult to handle in an old house, but with some advance planning, careful renovation can make the house livable for the rest of your years.

Aging in place with old house renovation

One of the goals of most old house enthusiasts is to restore, not renovate. But sometimes, renovation is necessary in order to continue enjoying your home through the years. This renovation can be as gentle as possible and still allow you to retain the spirit and beauty of your old house. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Bathroom upgrades. Most old houses will need a renovated bathroom at some point. Since it must be done anyway, why not use this time to incorporate universal design elements? Roll-in showers are a good idea, and so are walk-in tubs. If you must keep that old clawfoot beauty, you can still make it safer by installing sturdy grab bars. Look for faucets that can be easy for those with arthritis to use. Install non-skid flooring and choose rounded corners for all countertops.
  2. Kitchen changes. The kitchen is just as important as the bathroom when it comes to universal design in your old house. When upgrading your appliances, look for those that can be operated by someone in a wheelchair. Install faucets that turn on with the wave of a hand. Countertops at various heights can allow the disabled to help out in the kitchen.
  3. Where will the elevator go? In many old houses, the narrow stairway might allow for stair glides, but you might not have enough space at the top or bottom of the landing. To solve this common problem, many homeowners choose an area where a small elevator might work to move you from one floor to another. Though this does add something to the home that doesn't suit the historical value, the elevator could be designed to fit in with the time period during which your home was originally built.
  4. Make lighting better. Old houses often have light switches that are difficult to flip, or lighting fixtures in odd places. As you make changes over the years, choose fixtures that are more suitable for the space, and have a professional move them to a new place if necessary. Look for switches that are easier to flip, or go with sliding switches, which can be activated with a simple nudge.
  5. Making floors safer. Many old houses have floors that slope in various directions. Though there isn't much you can do about that, you can make the room safer by removing raised thresholds and fixing warped boards. You can also choose non-skid flooring for the bathroom and kitchen. If you have a floor that is particularly wonky, you can mark the changes in slope with non-skid tape.
  6. Handling the outside. The exterior of your home can be much easier to change. Consider installing a ramp that suits your landscaping -- many people find that installing a ramp at the back of the house provides more security and doesn't compromise curb appeal. Install attractive, sturdy railings along the sidewalk and stairs.

Keep in mind that most of these universal design improvements aren't just for the elderly or disabled; most can work very well for anyone. If you start now by incorporating these aging in place designs, you can help avoid the sticker shock of having to do it all at once during your golden years -- and you can rest assured that staying in your treasured home longer will be a viable option as you get older.