Are you first-time homeowners who would love to never move again? Are you baby-boomers interested in aging-in-place, rather than moving into a retirement or assisted living community? Are you a homeowner interested in selling your home as quickly as possible and for top-dollar? Do you plan to have a parent, grandparent or in-law living with you for some time?
If you answered, yes, to any of these questions – I recommend turning your attention to what we call accessible design principles.
Senior Friendly, Accessible, Universal or Livable – Good Design Matters
The terms accessible, universal and senior friendly frequent design publications these days. This is partly due to baby boomers, but it’s also about something bigger and larger than that.
It’s the post-2008 perspective shift that makes people want to buy a home they can make home, without worrying about flipping or investing. It’s about the mobile worker population who can live where they want and work without having to transfer companies or uproot their families. It’s about families who are choosing to care for one another in the comfort of their own home, rather than relocating in senior-only communities.
Finally, it’s about people realizing that accessibility improves life for everyone, not just those in acute need. With that in mind, let’s look at some of the ways you can make your home more accessible.
Lighting and electrical plans
It starts with something as simple as a lighting and electrical plans. By building these things in now, you won’t have to cut into walls and amend things later.
As with any good lighting plan, you need to accommodate for safety and task lighting. Make sure that all exterior walkways, stairs, and doorways are well-illuminated. Lighting inside the home should be bright enough on a dark night to illuminate the full room, with fixture placement such that shadows are minimized. Safety lighting can also take place via toe-kick or undercabinet lighting that provides an ambient glow when desired and also serve as wee-hour night-lights for the kitchen and bathrooms. Putting all of your fixtures on a dimmer switch is the best way to keep lighting under your desired control.
In terms of electrical plans, I recommend installing some well-placed floor outlets in the living and family rooms. This minimizes exposed cords from floor lamps, which are common, senior trip hazards.
Have a master suite downstairs
If you have a two-story home, I highly recommend placing a master suite or a comfortable guestroom with an attached bathroom on the downstairs, or most accessible, level. Even if you choose to sleep upstairs, for now, it means you and/or your partner will be able to have an accessible bedroom/bathroom, that doesn’t require navigating stairs, when you’re older, are recovering from a surgery or illness, etc.
Ample room for maneuvering
Accessible designs are always focused on seniors, but what about when a family member has an unexpected accident that renders them in a wheelchair, with a walker or on crutches at one point or another? What about family gatherings or parties, when guests may have mobility aids that need to be accommodated?
Accessible designs leave at least 36-inches between and around furnishings and walls, down hallways, around tables and chairs, between your perimeter cabinets/countertops and the kitchen island, etc., so people can maneuver easily. You’ll never regret building that access into the design now, and it makes for a gracious and flexible home.
No grip faucets, cabinet handles, and door pulls
Things that seem easy to grip take on a whole new personality the minute hands are out of commission as the result of injury or arthritis. This is why accessible designs incorporate faucets, handles and pulls that don’t require strong gripping action. Plumbing fixtures can be touch-free these days, and larger bars or levers are preferred for doors and drawers.
If you’re a young family, you’ll appreciate that more accessible kitchen and bathroom fixtures mean more autonomous kids, not to mention less wasted water.
Plenty of daylight
We know now that electrical light is not nearly as beneficial as light from the sun when it comes to our circadian rhythm (sleep and wake cycles) as well as mental and emotional well-being. This is true for everyone, and it becomes especially important for those who work from home or are more housebound – spending more time indoors than out. Adequate daylighting also makes colors look brighter and fresher, it makes rooms appear more spacious and inviting and it helps indoor plants to thrive.
Make sure you have adequate windows and add skylights and solar tubes for extra benefit. A solar tube placed over a home workstation is superior to fluorescent or LED lighting any day!
Think about grab bars and handles
Shower and toilet area grab bars and handles are like a quintessential senior design feature. But, let me tell you if they’re available – you’ll use them. They also make bathrooms safer for people of all ages. If you plan on aging in place, having seniors or physically challenged house guests, these bars are worth well more than their weight in gold.
Your bathrooms will look infinitely more stylish if you incorporate these features into the design now than if you have to install them later.
Implement slip-free surfaces
Finally, slip, trip, and fall hazards are the leading cause of injury for adults over the age of 65, and this includes serious traumatic brain injuries or the need for surgical procedures that can lead to further complications. Since most falls occur in or around the home, it makes sense to minimize slip, trip and fall hazards when designing any space.
Select slip-resistant flooring in kitchens and bathrooms. Invest in high-quality area rugs that don’t curl at the edges and corners, and reinforce them with full-coverage, non-slip mats underneath. Be thoughtful about the transitions or thresholds between hard surface and carpeted flooring. Minimize stairs wherever possible and design a ramp if you’re able to for exterior stairways.