Preparing for some home improvement projects? You’re not alone: Fifty-eight percent of homeowners are planning for home improvement projects this year, according to a survey of more than 1,400 homeowners from LightStream, a division of SunTrust Banks Inc.
While renovating your backyard for a fun outdoor living space or replacing a dated kitchen countertop may be on your to-do list, more practical renovations are likely there as well. In particular, many homeowners are planning updates that will help keep them at home as they age and lose mobility.
Fourteen percent of homeowners cited “aging in place” as the motivation for their home improvement project. That includes homeowners who aren’t yet approaching old age, as 11 percent of respondents ages 18 to 34 and 10 percent of respondents between 35 and 44 years old cite staying in the home as they get older as a reason they plan to renovate now.
Of course, at 44 or even 65 years old, you don’t need to be converting your home into a personalized assisted living facility. Particularly while you’re still mobile, you can make relatively minor updates that will prove useful as you gradually lose flexibility, eyesight or lower body strength.
Before you start making changes to your house’s furnishings and hardware, however, decluttering is the best first step to ensure getting around your house remains easy, says J.B. Sassano, president of Mr. Handyman, a national home improvement company based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and a part of the national home improvement company Neighborly.
“One of the things we do over the years is gather stuff – we accumulate and accumulate,” Sassano says. “But to make it easier to get around, people have to declutter. They’ll be able to make sure they can easily walk. If they have to use a wheelchair or some other walking device, there has to be that mobility around where they’re going to spend most of their time.”
Here are seven small projects to tackle in your home to help you age in place.
Add an anti-slip surface to your tub or shower. Slipping in the shower isn’t just a hazard for the elderly, though a fall is more likely to cause injury as you get older. An easy solution is to add a little traction to the floor of your tub or shower. Stick-on treads or a coating applied to the bottom of a tub are good options, as is a no-slip shower mat, as long as it doesn’t create its own tripping hazard.
Even if there’s already an anti-slip surface in your tub, Brad Hillier, CEO of bathroom remodeling company Re-Bath, says to update it because you won’t notice it’s no longer effective until you fall in the shower.
Tack rugs and mats to the floor. Knock out other spots where a fall may be more likely to happen, such as the entryway or hallway by the stairs, and ensure all rugs are secured to the floor. “They need to make sure there’s something underneath that’s going to make sure it’s going to hold in place,” Sassano says.
You can attach grippers to the corners of your rug to keep them flat, or attach tape that will keep your rug stuck to the floor. 3M even makes rug anchors that look and act like the company’s Command strips, but they are designed specifically for attaching rugs to the floor.
Opt for a taller toilet. To help make standing up from feeling like a chore, opt for a taller toilet when you replace it, “so that it’s taking less lower body strength to get up and down off the toilet,” Hillier says. Kitchen and bathroom products manufacturer Kohler cites a standard toilet seat height typically being between 15 and 17 inches. For a height more similar to a chair, look at seats between 17 and 18 inches tall, according to Kohler’s website.
Add a colorful strip to step edges. To prevent a fall on the stairs, Sassano recommends adding some color variety to help you distinguish between the edges of steps, since your vision gets less and less sharp as time goes on. “Put a stripe on the stair that you’re used to walking over all the time, but now you can’t really see where it is,” Sassano says. “That’s probably one of the No. 1 causes of falls for folks.”
A piece of colored tape along the edge of a step can be all you need. Or, if you have wooden stairs, you can use paint to solve the sight issue, and also incorporate a design technique – different colors on the vertical parts of each step – to make it appear less like an aging-in-place project.
Install grab bars. For additional support, install grab bars throughout the house where getting into a standing position may be more difficult over time or to help keep your balance. In the shower and next to the toilet are the most common spots for a grab bar. “Nowadays, grab bars are incorporated into a lot of products that are already in your home so that it doesn’t have to look like a facility,” Hillier says.
Switch out doorknobs for pull-down handles. Arthritis and loss of grip strength are common issues as you get older – and both can be a chronic struggle for younger people as well. Switch out your traditional, round doorknobs throughout the house for lever handles that don’t require as much stress on your hands.
Take this project one step further and switch out round cabinet knobs for long handles you can pull without gripping. Hillier also recommends swapping twist faucet handles for larger, single-level faucets.
Get in the habit of tightening things. As you plan to age in place at home, get in the habit of “making sure that things are tightened down on a regular basis,” Sassano says. Whether it’s tightening bolts on a grab bar or applying glue and a couple screws to the banister post on your stairs, making sure parts of your house won’t fail is a key way to reduce your chances of injury at home as your need for physical support grows.