Seniors who wish to age in place or families who have members with health challenges often are faced with a major dilemma: Should we renovate an existing space or move to a new home that is accessible to all members of the household. Either way, here are several things to know regarding new and retrofitted homes with so-called “universal design” or barrier-free living.
What is Universal Home Design?
A home is considered accessible if it provides at least one accessible component in each category (one accessible toilet, one accessible door, etc.). In contrast, a universally designed home is barrier-free throughout the entire home, providing alternate means to perform actions independently. Incorporating this from the inception of building a home, or renovating with a longer-term perspective, has become more common as baby boomers have aged.
Is Universal Design a Law?
Laws do not mandate universal design. Rather, it is a progressive way of thinking to anticipate future needs. It is not assistive technology. It is an awareness of consumer products and how to adapt them for greater usability regardless of ability.
What is Aging in Place?
Many seniors or adults with disabilities wish to remain independent, living in their homes as long as possible. Home design and renovations are now accommodating this desire by providing altered living spaces. Adjustments to layouts and home features mean greater accessibility and mobility. For multi-generational families, this means aging family members can stay longer versus entering an assisted-living facility.
What is CAPS?
Certified Aging-in-Place Specialists are trained in the needs, tools, and regulations regarding universal home design. Once certified, a CAPS professional must successfully complete continuing education each year. The need for such professionals is fueled by a large number of baby boomers who are living longer and want different options than their parents’ generation.
How to Choose a Contractor
The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) maintains a list of current CAPS-certified contractors and professionals. CAPS professionals can be remodelers, general contractors, designers, architects, or healthcare professionals.
What Does an Aging-In-Place Renovation Mean?
The object is to minimize injury and accidents. Some simple elements include grab bars in bathrooms, handrails for staircases, and lever handles instead of doorknobs. Other options are lowering kitchen appliances to countertop height and changing light switches to toggles or rocker-type switches. More extensive renovations include widening doorways and hallways and making entryways level. For new homes, stacking closets on top of each other provides the option to later install an elevator, if necessary.
Who Benefits from Universal Design?
Even if you don’t have elderly family members living with you, it might be worth considering a universal design. Incorporating universal design makes your home more welcoming to elderly or disabled family and friends.
Related – Home Renovations Key to Aging in Place