There are plenty of people who plan on staying put in their homes and communities well into their senior years. For those folks, remodeling is a great solution to make their homes more comfortable and livable as they age. Writer, Carla Waldemar explored how remodelers are responding using Aging in Place and Universal Design sensibilities for the Guidebook.
No Place Like Home (If you Plan for Growing Older)
By Carla Waldemar
You love it. So why leave it? Your home is where your heart is; your neighborhood, the place you want to be. Perhaps you’ve already added a porch or family room or freshened up the kitchen, so you’re no stranger to the benefits of remodeling. Now’s the time—whether you’re 35 or 75—to score some easy steps that will allow you to age in place. (That’s remodel-speak for staying put just where you yearn to be.)
“It’s a growing market as baby boomers age,” says Pete Jacobson, President of Stay at Home, a division of Lake Country Builders. But, as Sue Jacobson is quick to add, “The public’s mindset still tends to be, ‘I’m active, I’m healthy; I don’t need to worry about that yet.’” Her response: “When doing other remodeling, why not incorporate universal design features? They’re good for everybody and should be in all design.” Right: What young mom, balancing a laundry basket on one hip and a toddler on the other, wouldn’t appreciate UD’s recommended 40-inch hallway width rather than the standard 36, plus wider doorways? Doors that open with the gentle push of a handle rather than firm grip on a knob. And the list goes on.
“We make those suggestions. We listen to a client’s needs and offer ideas, then engage them in the design process,” Pete said. “Maybe even convert a family room to a master bedroom on the main floor.”
Jim Kuzzy, project manager for Plekkenpol Builders, agrees. “The typical home in Edina is two-story with a half-bath on the main loor, no laundry and a detached garage. Our clients love their neighborhood, so we can help them stay put with features like redesigning the entry to hold a washer/dryer or stack them in an existing closet. We can widen halls and doorways to accommodate a future wheelchair.”
“Most commonly, we remodel the bathroom. Out goes the tub, replaced by a generous shower with grab bars and no curb. Safety is primary,” he reinforces. “So, remove door thresholds, replace carpet with a hard surface, and change faucet handles to push levers, or even electric eye (like in airports).”
Oh, wait: Did you say ‘grab bars’? Shudder! Well, listen to Jolynn Johnson, owner of Crystal Kitchen Center. “Ten years ago they were ugly, commercial-looking. Now, they’re just beautiful—for instance, a toilet paper holder or towel rack as grab bar in many designs and colors.”
“In the bathroom, the big thing is safety,” she said. “Like a curbless shower: just roll in. When planning for a wheelchair, make room for a 90-degree turn. Allow room to a side of the toilet to pull over for a side straddle. My mom deals with some incontinence, so she’s installed a washlet in the toilet to fend off bladder infections. Also, heated floors for folks that, getting older, suffer tingly hands and feet when cold. Even little stuff, like a mirror that tilts downward.”
In both bath and kitchen, these remodelers strongly lobby for installing cabinets off the floor to allow for a wheelchair. They also recommend adjusting the height of cabinets, washers, dryers and dishwashers to eliminate bending. Stay at Home’s Jacobson suggests removing the middle three feet of, say, an eight-foot counter so a wheelchair can roll right in. Also, an induction cook-top which won’t start a fire if accidentally left on. Buttons to open cabinet doors, with shelves that move down. “Even fun things,” adds Johnson, “like wastebaskets that just need a bump to open.”
Improved lighting is vital, all agree. Kuzzy emphasized improving kitchen lighting and adding LED lights under cabinets. And lighting of different types—“both overhead and task-focused,” suggests Cherie Poissant, design consultant for Murphy Bros. Remodeling. “Add color or variations in surfaces to delineate features like stairs to aid failing eyesight … nothing that makes a big cost difference, just design it in,” the Jacobsons said.
“Many things can be done to existing homes without lots of time or effort to improve livability, and at little cost. It’s cheaper to remodel and stay in your home for a few more years than to transfer to an assisted-living facility,” Kuzzy added. And lots more fun!
See Aging in Place in Action on the Fall Parade of Homes
Stay at Home, Inc.
16201 Holdridge Road W., Wayzata
A recent widow—a past client of Lake Country—wished to remodel her kitchen to lift her morale. Judy, of Wayzata, has a lovely home, but its attached garage was, as she recoils, “pretty icky.” Her plan was to replace it with a modern kitchen—one outfitted to age in place. Her new cabinets feature accommodation for a possible future wheelchair—“lots of swing space”—and close with just a light touch. Washer and dryer have been moved to the main level. All lighting is new (the garage had none), including hanging lights over the huge central island. Those on the stairs to the driveway operate via an automatic motion detector.
The front door formerly opened onto a large step over the threshold—a hazard Stay at Home, a division of Lake Country, her remodeler, eliminated. “It’s very nice now,” she attests. “The new front stoop has a railing on one side and an attached bar on the other wall.” Grab bars, levered handles and a newly-comfy toilet seat enhance the powder room she’s added in the former garage,
Judy love-love-loves the in-floor heating in the mud room section, thanks to a furnace installed in crawl space. But her biggest treat is—wait for it—an elevator. It shuttles the four feet between kitchen and driveway, freeing her from lugging groceries up and trash receptacles down, and perhaps a wheelchair in the distant future. How happy is she with the quality, thought and thoroughness of the work accomplished? “Pretty darn much!” she testifies.
Dream Remodeled Home #R58
Crystal Kitchen Center, Inc.
8001 38-½ Avenue N., New Home
Remodeling a Mid-Century Modern Rambler ... What a designer can live with and without
by Jolynn Johnson, owner Crystal Kitchen Center
It’s not that I was truly looking for a new house. In the spring of 2016 I realized I was turning 55 in a few months and thought about how much longer I was going to be working and owning Crystal Kitchen + Bath. You have to start coming to grips with life and retirement when you own a business and want to sell at some point in the future. I love what I do and could not imagine doing anything else (maybe just not so much to make it possible to take a vacation once in awhile).
I built my then-current house in St Michael 18 years ago. I love that house; it sits on a lake with a 280-degree view. It was so peaceful and quite, the whole family loved it-including two dogs and cat. I didn’t want to leave on weekends but I was also missing out on what was happening in the city.
Then one day when I was driving to a client’s home, I noticed a house for sale a short three blocks from the office. My head whipped around and I thought “I could live there.”
Shortly thereafter I was sitting in traffic on my way home (my original half-hour commute had grown to 45-60 minutes each way). I thought “can I do this drive for 10 more years? What would I do with an extra one or two hours per day?”
That’s when I called the realtor and had my first walk through. While the ad said move-in ready, I was’t prepared to live in the 80’s. But I knew I could make this house into what would work for me, after all it’s what I do for a living. I talked to my husband and the deal was done. I started drawing up plans to remodel it for the next phase of my life. My thought was this would be my last house-the next address would be a nursing home.
Read about the project on the Parade of Homes Blog.
The 2017 Fall Parade of Homes Remodelers Showcase® is sponsored by Marvin Windows and Doors.