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Five Tips to Age in Place at Home

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By Dan Clar

As Vermont homeowners age, many discover their homes were not designed as places in which to grow old. In my work as a building contractor, clients often tell me they love the homes they have maintained for years or in which they raised their children.

They don’t want to walk away from the gardens they’ve planted or that familiar view of a vista or lake or some other feature that makes their house uniquely feel like “home.”

But Vermont’s housing stock, much like the general population, is an aging one, and many structures built more than 100 years ago retain a familiar layout—a communal space (kitchen, living room) on the first floor and bedrooms and bathrooms upstairs. As someone recently told me, “Home is going upstairs to go to bed.”

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But for many homeowners whose kids have grown up and moved out, it’s time to start thinking about what comes next. Does it make sense to maintain a large home designed for a young, growing family? And if so, how can the home conform to the needs of its aging residents?

For those who have chosen to “age in place,” a few simple design modifications can help you to successfully remain at your home in your 60s, 70s, 80s, and beyond. Our homes won’t change with us unless we take the steps to allow them to do so. By taking a few simple steps, we can continue to live in and enjoy the homes we love for a lifetime.

Don’t wait to begin planning: When we buy health insurance that will help in case of an emergency, we are planning for the future by preparing for unforeseen events. But it’s harder and less common to take similar steps to prepare for a future in our homes. Take some simple steps, while a contractor is there, to rough-in the plumbing or install the blocking for grab bars.

Add railings and replace door handles: Adding or improving simple architectural elements can make it easier to live at home without breaking the bank. Adding a railing or replacing door knobs with levers can make things substantially safer and easier to use.

Organize single-level living: Stocking necessities on the ground floor can be a huge benefit as homeowners age. But is there room for a bedroom and bathroom within the existing lower level floor plan?

If not, can you sacrifice a communal space for that purpose or perhaps build an addition? It’s one way to eliminate the need to climb stairs.

The same goes for laundry. Many of us head down to the basement to do our laundry. And in many homes, the basement stairs are the steepest and the least substantial. It’s often possible to install a stackable or “all in one” washer/dryer unit on the first floor, with no need to move walls or alter the floor plan.

Swap tubs for showers: For many, a tub becomes an unwanted obstacle when stepping into the shower. For those of us in that category, replacing a tub with a curbless shower can help create a smooth transition and remove the unnecessary hindrance to getting clean. These showers are not only a practical aging-in-place detail, they also create a beautiful space in the home.

Install pull-outs in kitchen. Simple kitchen modifications can make a big difference. Installing pull-outs in lower cabinets can provide easier access for those who experience physical discomfort when bending over or kneeling on the floor.

Dan Clar is the owner of Clar Construction in Montpelier and a regular advertiser in The Bridge