Remodel For The Future

User-friendly design upgrades add to market value

Baby boomers are a driving force for remodeling efforts that allow residents to live at home as long as possible despite changes to physical health. These efforts are known as aging-in-place and universal design, and their features improve present and future lives while adding value to the home. Major considerations include personal safety, better energy efficiency, better sound control, and better building health and safety – all useful concepts in any home.

Design Improvements Around the Home’s Interior

Several concepts work for more than one living space. “Some are subtle, such as using levers versus knobs on entry and interior doors because they are easier to use,” said Leslie King, CGR, CAPS, CGP, GMB of Greymark Construction. “We also increase door openings into master suites and also downstairs bathrooms. Doors can be put on swing-away hinges instead of widening them.”

King looks at putting a shower downstairs in powder rooms if all bedrooms are upstairs, and using curbless shower entries. Other standard bathroom future-proofing ideas are grab bars, higher toilet seats, counters that a wheelchair can fit under and adjustable-angle mirrors.

Lower cabinets with drawers instead of shelves allow the user to see in back more easily. “You can even have a drawer-type microwave that you put as low as you want, which is a lot safer than reaching over the stove,” said Larry Abbott, CAPS of Abbott Contracting.

“With a 42-inch-tall countertop height, you don’t have to bend over and everything is at midsection level. That also means you can raise the dishwasher,” Abbott advised. A 30-inch countertop is good for those in a wheelchair; the heights can be mixed if desired.

One-touch faucets are useful for anyone with their hands full. A farm sink sticks out about six inches and can be built to make it easier for a wheelchair to roll under part way. A motorized sink raises and lowers, with flexible drain and waterlines.

Abbott is a fan of LED lights because they give off little heat and have low operating costs compared to other types. To let in more sunlight, he recommends Solatubes, which are similar to a skylight. They let in a lot of natural light during the day; they’re engineered to collect light even if the sun is low in the sky. Once you pay a professional to put them in they cost nothing.

For better acoustics, use carpet or soft laminate on floors, acoustic ceiling tiles, and fabric wallpaper or special drywall textures. Abbott advises listening to the sounds of running appliances in the showroom. Most people with hearing problems will have issues if an appliance operates noisily. The size and type of window you put on the street side also affects noise level; Abbott recommends using smaller or high-quality ones to block out the sound.

One of the largest retrofitting jobs for aging in place is installing an elevator in a two-story home, still an expensive proposition. Tech­nology is making it easier, but it’s best that when you remodel or build to think about where it’s going to be and set up the framing in the very beginning, Abbott advises.

Simple Solutions Around the Home’s Exterior

Dan Bawden, CAPS of Legal Eagle Contractors, emphasizes the importance of outdoor lighting. The pathway from the driveway to the house is often poorly lit. Toro lights on a timer or photocells placed along the walkway and in garden beds keep people from tripping, he said. The solution to poor lighting at the back and front doors is a light directly above the door, which makes it much easier to see the lock mechanism.

Bawden recommends making sure house numbers are well-lit, freshly painted and not obscured by bushes in case emergency services needs to find the home.

For the transition outdoors to indoors, Bawden uses a removable ramp that can be made out of a pressure-treated wood or aluminum with nonslip tread. A more permanent ramp can be made in a discreet manner for better resale value. It’s useful to have at least one flat threshold. To deter weather and insects once a threshold is removed, Bawden recommends installing a device from Pemko on the bottom of the door.

Outdoor patios can be made easier to use with ramps with lots of room to maneuver and a lower grill.

These ideas make it easier for everyone in the family, and are nice if someone in a wheelchair comes to visit, Bawden said. If you’re going to make some upgrades, handicap upgrades can be invisible and don’t detract from market value. Great design ideas are good for everyone.