When remodeling, consider Aging in Place features
By Felicia Feaster
Atlanta Journal Constitution
Quoted: Richard Hoffman, Specialty Builders Remodeling, NARI Atlanta
Few of us embrace the idea of getting older.
But a vanguard in the contracting, real estate and design industries is focused on bringing attention to the need for good design for Atlanta’s aging population and the greater number of people who want to stay in their homes instead of moving to assisted living.
The Atlanta Regional Commission reports that by 2015, Atlanta’s older adult population will have doubled. By 2030, one out of every five residents will be over the age of 60.
With the housing slump meaning more and more homeowners are deciding to make their present home their “forever” residence, a cottage industry has arisen of contractors who can help them adapt their homes to their changing needs.
Contractors like Richard Hoffman, owner of Specialty Builders Remodeling in Conyers, have seen an increased need for their special skills. Hoffman is a National Association of Home Builders Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS) and a National Association of the Remodeling Industry-approved Universal Design Certified Remodeler (UDCR). Either one of those designations allows contractors to recommend features that homeowners can adopt to make their home accessible as they age.
Contractors emphasize that the price of adapting a home using Aging in Place (www.ageinplace.org) principles can be anywhere from a few hundred dollars to add grab bars and a comfort height toilet to $200,000 for a whole house adaptation, including enlarging doorways and entryways and equipping kitchens with accessible appliances. But Hoffman emphasized that these kinds of modifications can be relatively painless when incorporated during a remodeling job.
“Home modifications don’t have to be as costly as people think” said Dara McMillan, co-owner with her husband Chuck of Aging in Place contractors My Accessable Home. In fact, stressed Dara, they can be a viable alternative to other options. “For a nice assisted living facility, you might spend $4,000-$7,000 a month. For about two months of what you would spend in assisted living, you can do an awful lot in your house.”
CAPS-certified Sandy Springs residential renovator Simone Feldman recently remodeled a bathroom near Chamblee for Rabbi Scott Saulson and his wife, clinical psychologist Diane Wulfsohn, who are in their 50s. Because he works as a mediator for adults with aging parents transitioning to a new living situation, Saulson was aware of the need to incorporate some Aging in Place features into his bathroom remodel.
“We were very conscious of doing it so that it would serve a long-term purpose and it would enhance the retail sale of the house,” he said. Saulson is thrilled with the modifications which he called “as aesthetically pleasing if not more pleasing than what was already there.” The remodel includes vessel sinks, which keep users from having to stoop so much; heated floors; adjustable lighting; the elimination of a lip in a shower stall for wheelchair access; a glass shower door on hinges for better access; and an adjustable shower head with a support bar.
Lane Tharp, a National Association of Realtors seniors real estate specialist with Coldwell Banker in Dunwoody, said that Aging in Place features have made homes more appealing in the past two or three years.
“As the baby boomers are aging and dealing with their own parents, yes, it’s becoming something that more people are interested in," she said.
Sandy Springs Keller Williams real estate agent Michelle Miralles echoed the idea that there is more and more demand for accessible homes and for specialists like her who can help buyers find Aging in Place resources. Recognizing that the language of Aging in Place and making homes "accessible" for all can be off-putting, Miralles is working to change the terminology in agent listings from “handicapped accessible” to the more inclusive term “universal living.”
MaryLea Quinn, co-founder of the local Atlanta chapter of the National Aging in Place Council, said the goal of getting homeowners to adopt Aging in Place practices is for them to do so early on, before they are too old.
“We are trying to hit these baby boomers in their 60s and give them this information now, before they buy their next home,” said Quinn.
Like all of these specialty contractors, Dennis Lippy, the CAPS-certified owner of D.K. Lippy Construction Company in Tucker, is also trying to get the 60- and 70-year-old population to think ahead. As he noted, “The tide is slowly turning where people are starting to be proactive and while they are remodeling, thinking, ‘You know, I’m going to be here for life and so I need to do something."'
How to do it
A number of Atlanta companies specialize in not just remodeling homes for the aging population, but have extended networks of contacts who can help their clients access other useful services. Contact any of these contractors for help in adapting your home: www.simonefeldmandesign.com; www.myaccessablehome.com; www.specialty-builders.net; www.dklippy.com; and www.adaptedlivingspaces.com.
Choose a master on main floor
A great layout for home buyers thinking of making their next residence their “forever” home.
Plan ahead when building
If you are adding stairs, provide blocking in your walls to accommodate a stair lift. If you are remodeling a two-story home or adding on a second-story addition, stacking closets allows for the future installation of an elevator.
Keep it simple
Adapting your home doesn’t have to be pricey. Inexpensive details like offset door hinges can allow for easier access to a home without widening the existing doorway. A "tub cut" allows an existing tub to be adapted with a lower threshold to more easily step over and can be reversed when it comes time for resale. Shower platforms also allow for easier access with a small ramp placed at a shower lip. For those who don’t want a comfort height toilet, a riser can be installed to raise the height of your existing toilet.
Consider options while you are still healthy
Look at your neighborhood. If it is no longer safe, isn’t close to public transportation and isn’t viable as you get older, contemplate moving while you still have the ability.
In the kitchen
Think about appliances designed with access in mind, such as a side oven door. Pull-out cabinets, which are now standard in the kitchen, are exceptionally useful for someone in a wheelchair. Choose a cook top with controls on the front rather than on the top for better access. A dishwasher placed higher is more accessible for someone in a wheelchair, but also much more comfortable for someone standing to use because it requires less bending.
In the bathroom
Make sure your bathroom has plenty of room to accommodate a wheelchair. Flooring should be non-slip. It’s easy to disguise functionality in details like a toilet paper holder that does double duty as a grab bar or grab bars that look like towel bars. A curb-less shower is ideal for someone in a wheelchair or with limited mobility.
Lighting is key
As we get older, additional lighting sources throughout the house become more important. A dimmer switch allows homeowners to customize the lighting for whomever is using the space at any one time.
Think about access
Even the smallest details make a difference in a home’s accessibility. Placing light switches lower, raising the height of electrical outlets, installing thermostats with big, easy to read numbers and using lever handles on doors are all great features.
Re-do your entry way
A step-less entry is key, with no more than a 1/2-inch threshold.