If aging in place is what you've decided is best for you, then it's never too early to think about what the really means. And it's especially critical to think about it before you build your dream home or undergo a major renovation or remodel project. Here are some tips we've learned about since 1991 when we began building custom homes:
Zero threshold entry -- In our area where we typically build on pilings, piers, or a raised slab, this usually means at least one entry into the home should have a ramp. If the house is on pilings (like most beach houses), then that ramped entry should be near the elevator.
Outlet and switch height -- Think about lowering the height of wall switches so they can easily be accessed by someone in a wheelchair. Outlets can be located between. 15 to 48 inches above the floor. Again, making it easier for someone with limited mobility to reach them. Be sure to keep your electric cords neat and tidy so they don't pose a tripping hazard.
Widen doorways -- Wheel chairs are usually 25 to 36 inches wide so make sure all your interior doorways will accommodate them. You can't age in place if you can't access portions of your home.
Easy to operate switches -- Install rocker light switches instead of the traditional toggle switches as they can more easily be operated with the palm of your hand or even your elbows. In areas of the home that may be transited through at night consider rocker light switches with a built-in night light.
Install low maintenance flooring -- Some people have difficulty picking up their feet when they age. Wall-to-wall carpet should have a tight pile and be installed over a tight, thin, firm padding. Consider taping corners of area rugs to the floor. If you prefer hardwood, remember it can be a slip-and-fall hazard so choose one with as much texture as you can find.
Drawers over doors -- In kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms and wherever cabinets are installed, use drawers instead of doors whenever possible. You can see the contents more easily. Use handles instead of knobs and pulls on all your cabinets.
Light and contrast -- Darker colors absorb light and lighter colors reflect light. As we age, we need more light see well. Consider the lighting plan for each room. Does it have enough task lighting? Color and contrast perception diminish as we age and our eyes are more sensitive to glare. Consider skipping monochrome color schemes such as all white kitchens and install a countertop that contrasts with the cabinets and flooring.