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Want to Age in Place? How to Make Your Home Work Long Term

age in place renovations
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Good question. Who knows? No one can predict what future situations might arise that require a change in location. And most of us don’t think that far ahead, anyway – especially if we buy when our kids are young. We base our decisions on our immediate priorities – good schools, quiet street, nearby parks, number of bedrooms, affordable price, etc. Who thinks about the practicality of the house as we age? I get it. Young parents lead active, busy and chaotic lives.

I am one of those people who bought a house when my children were young. The kids were ages five (5) and (2) in 1996 when we closed, and are now 29 and 26, living on their own. We assumed when we signed the papers we would stay for five (5) years. That was the plan. It’s funny, I actually thought at that time I had control over my future plans, but learned that often unanticipated events effect our decisions whether we are OK with the changes or not. 

When five years turns into forever

Still in the two story house where we raised our family, we have far more space than we need. I can’t remember the last time I went upstairs. There’s no reason to climb the steps – we live in our master bedroom and bathroom, kitchen and family room which are all on the first floor, which is fortunate. Others in similar situations have their masters on the second floor which is problematic sometimes as we age. Despite the downstairs master, the house is still not easy to navigate for someone with disabilities. Not only do we have friends and family members older than us who we want to make comfortable when they visit, we are not getting any younger ourselves. Additionally, maintenance on the house, inside and out, is a headache, both in terms of cost and expense.

So why don’t we just move? The simple answer is we love our home, our neighborhood and our community. We want our kids to come “home” to their old bedrooms, and we want a place for future grandchildren to stay overnight. We want space to store the toys and books my kids left behind so we can pull them out for their children. Finally, the thought of this house being our “forever” home is comforting – one less change to deal with as we age.


The checklist below contains features to consider if you decide to renovate to stay in your home, but it is not a comprehensive list. It’s a place to start.


  • Accessible path of travel to the house
  • At least one no-step entry with a cover. Install a ramp if needed.
  • Handrail for steps where needed
  • Sensor light at exterior entry focusing on the front-door lock 
  • Front door that measures a minimum width of 36-inches
  • Slope no greater than one inch rise for each 12-inches in length, adequate handrails
  • Five-foot landing provided at entrance
  • Low-maintenance shrubs and plants


  • Non-slip flooring in foyer
  • Flush threshold preferable

Overall Floor Plan

  • Main living spaces on a single story, including full bath with no steps between rooms
  • Doorways a minimum of 36 inches wide
  • Levered door hardware
  • Task lighting in appropriate work areas
  • Smooth, non-glare, slip-resistant surfaces, interior and exterior
  • If carpeted, use low (less than a half inch high pile) density, with firm pad


  • Countertops with varied heights and removable base cabinets
  • At least one wheelchair maneuverable bath on the main level 
  • Grab bars securely installed in walls around tub, shower, shower seat, and toilet to support 250-300 pounds
  • Curbless shower with a minimum 36 inch wide entry
  • Lower bathtub for easier access
  • Tub/shower controls offset from center and lower for easy accessibility
  • Adjustable/handheld showerheads with a 6-foot hose
  • Toilet two and half inches higher than standard toilet (17-19 inches) 
  • Light in shower stall
  • Toilet paper holder design which allows roll to be changed with one hand
  • Slip-resistant flooring in bathroom and shower
  • Lever handles on shower and sink faucets
  • Thermostatic or anti-scald controls

age in place renovations

Kitchen and Laundry

  • Adjustable and/or varied height counters and removable base cabinets
  • Upper wall cabinetry three inches lower than conventional height
  • Counter space for dish landing adjacent to or opposite all appliances
  • Easy to clean surfaces
  • Base cabinets with roll out trays and lazy susans
  • Pull-down shelving
  • Glass-front cabinet doors
  • Open shelving for easy access to items used frequently
  • Multi-level work areas to accommodate cooks of different heights
  • Open under-counter seated work areas
  • Loop cabinet door handles for easy grip and pull

2 Pack Illuminated Light Switch, Decora Paddle Rocker Light Switch


  • Easy to read controls
  • Front loading washer and dryer raised 12-15 inches above floor
  • Microwave oven at counter height or in wall
  • Side-by-side refrigerator/freezer
  • Side-swing or wall oven
  • Raised dishwasher with push-button controls on outside of door
  • clear space at appliances or 60-inch diameter clear space for turns


  • Adjustable closet rods and shelves
  • Lighting in closets
  • Easy open doors that do not obstruct access


  • Rocker or touch light switches by each entrance to halls and rooms
  • Light switches, thermostats, and other environmental controls placed in accessible locations no higher than 48 inches from floor
  • Clear access space in front of switches and controls
  • Audible and visual strobe light system to indicate when the doorbell, telephone or smoke or CO2 detectors are activated
  • Pre-programmed thermostats
  • Flashing porch light or 911 switch

     Outdoor 28 LED Wireless Waterproof Security Solar Motion Sensor Lights,

Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning

  • HVAC designed so filters are easily accessible
  • Energy-efficient units

Work with a contractor or interior decorator well versed in the concepts of universal design if possible. With a little advance planning you can create an accessible home that is also aesthetically pleasing! If you have other ideas for age in place renovations, please comment below!

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