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Interior Home Adaptation for Aging-In-Place
by Valerie Garrett
Aging-In-Place (A-I-P) means remaining in your home and community as you age while remaining as independent as possible. When seniors are surveyed, they list remaining in their homes as their top priority. A-I-P and sustainable home design share much in common. Low-impact homes conserve water, energy and materials, have healthy air quality, lower carbon emissions, minimize waste, allow for household flexibility and frequently have space-efficient floor plans.
The United States Administration on Aging projects by 2030 the number of seniors 65 and older in the will be almost double what it was in 2000. The fastest growing segment of the population is those 85 and older. Whether building new or adapting an existing dwelling here are some interior upgrades to consider for your own home.
Basic rules of thumb are safety, minimal effort, comfort and long-term affordability including preparation for some anticipated memory, motion, sight and hearing impairment. Aging-In-Place design is incorporated into Universal Design which creates “environments usable to the greatest extent possible by everyone, regardless of their age, ability, or status in life.” Many A-I-P features can be incorporated or added with minimal impact benefitting those of any age, those who are physically disabled or temporarily impaired. For in-depth professional A-I-P design and construction assistance hire a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) found on the National Association of Home Builders’ website.
Basic home improvements
These can include a bedroom and full bath on the main level, 36-inch wide door openings, lever door handles, low-pile wool or recycled-content carpet or non-skid flooring with flush floor thresholds and non-glare surfaces. Consider handrails on both sides of a stairway, wide hallways free of area rugs and large, operable windows for day lighting and views. Look for ways to incorporate salvaged, recycled-content and non-toxic materials where feasible.
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For comfort and ongoing affordability have above-code wall insulation and a zonal-control energy efficient heating system with programmable thermostat – such as a ductless mini-split heat pump. Rocker-type wall switches can be mounted 42-48 inches, and outlets mounted 15-18 inches, above the floor. Install hardwired carbon-monoxide and smoke detectors, bright interior and exterior lighting in ceilings, on walls and as task lighting. High-tech upgrades could include a blinking doorbell connected to the phone, voice-controls, an elevator, motion and daily-routine sensors, smart phone keyless entry, video intercom and a security system with panic button.
Amenities can include an under-counter knee space for a wheelchair or seated cook. Install counters, a section of counter or a pull-out work surface at a lower height of 34 inches, in lieu of 36 inches. Surfaces should be non-slip and easy to clean with minimal joints or grout lines. Contrasting edges and rounded corners at counters are preferred. Cabinetry options include pre-fab from sustainably-harvested wood, formaldehyde-free, low-emitting materials and salvaged wood. Upper cabinets with glass and interior lighting help with memory- or sight-impairment and can be hung three inches lower than regular height for easy reach. Wire pull handles are easier to use than knobs. Easy-reach storage includes roll-out shelf drawers, pull-out pantry shelving (chef’s pantry), pull-down shelves and lazy susans. Side-by side refrigerators and wall-mount ovens offer ease of use. Smooth, Light-up cooktops that can be raised and lowered and large, easy read controls are helpful. Exhaust fans should be down-draft or exterior-venting hoods to remove odors and water vapor for healthy air quality. For energy efficiency choose EPA ENERGY STAR appliances, building materials, light fixtures and bulbs.
Typically the first area aging or mobility-impaired individuals experience challenges is the bath. Sliding or pocket doors can a good alternative if a swing door does not afford enough width. 180-degree (L-shaped) hinges allow doors to swing out of the path of a wheelchair. Doors into small rooms should open outwards so entry cannot be blocked from the inside.
A regular tub opening can be replaced with an all-in-one acrylic shower surround fitted with a fold-down seat, grab bars and hand-held low-flow shower hose. For wheelchairs, a large roll-in shower with no curb is needed. Clear floor space for a wheelchair to turn is 60 inches in diameter. Grab bars can be installed in showers, above tubs and beside commodes with wood blocking inside the walls. Single lever or touch controls for both the shower and wall-hung lavatory are easier to operate than dual knobs. Scald controls should be installed as well. Low-flow, or high efficiency, commodes with “comfort height” models, are available. Look for EPA WaterSense plumbing fixtures for low water use.
Include a low-noise, high air-flow exhaust fan to ensure water vapor is moved to the exterior and mold risk is minimized. Models are available with motion sensors, humidistats or can be switched with the overhead light or on a timer. For baths, kitchens and laundries opt for non-skid flooring such as natural linoleum, fiberglass resilient flooring, matte or textured tile (available with recycled content.) Energy efficient and bright lighting is essential in every space, especially in the shower. Use compact fluorescent (CFL) or light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs rated for fixtures in damp areas.
Valerie Garrett, LEED AP teaches a home adaptation class for Portland Community College Community Education and can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Valerie has a Texas architectural license and rehabilitates early Portland homes with resource-efficient upgrades.
An Aging-In-Place Village?
An A-I-P Village is a geographic area of home-owners, renters and like-minded individuals coming together to access services and amenities while living independently in their homes. Volunteers and services come to members with the benefit of reduced costs due to the buying power of the Village community. Started in 2002, Boston’s Beacon Hill Village was the first Village in the United States. Currently Oregon has Villages in Bend and Ashland. Portland Metro now has several villages forming.
To learn more visit: VillagesNW.org.
Financing the Modifications
Opportunities Credit Union offers a special loan program
The Independence Fund Is an innovative program that offers affordable financing and terms for all types of assistive technology to improve someone's life, including home and vehicle modifications, wheelchairs, scooters, computers, assistive equipment, hearing aids and dentures. Home modifications could include installing a ramp, installing a lift, remodeling a bathroom to be ADA compliant or any modification that makes someone's residence more accessible, specific to their disability.
Since 1993 the fund has provided funding in excess of $2 million to more than 300 Vermonters allowing them to become more independent at home, work, play and school. Rates range from 3% to 6.49% depending on the type of equipment or scope of modifications. Funding is made directly to the vendor or contractor making the modifications from a fund created specifically for this type of lending. As payments are made, the funds are replenished so they can be lent out again. More information at Opportunities CU 800-865-8328 for more information or apply online at oppsvt.org
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