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Renovation Boom: Aging-in-Place and Universal Design

Last Updated on January 2, 2020

Renovation Boom: Aging-in-Place and Universal Design

There are close to 80 million baby boomers in the United States alone. The effect of baby boomers on many fronts is widespread due to their vast numbers, and the housing renovation industry will feel those effects over the next 20 years. At 80%, Americans over the age of 55 have the highest home ownership rate of any age group in the country.

In a March 2011 report from the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University entitled, “Housing Turnover by Older Owners: Implications for Home Improvement Spending as Baby Boomers Age into Retirement” (PDF), authors George Masnick, Abbe Will, and Kermit Baker write:

“As baby boomers relocate or downsize in retirement…they will release a very large amount of housing onto the market. Older homeowners (age 55+) accounted for about one third of housing turnover in the U.S. between 1997 and 2007, and this share will increase as the large baby boom generation continues to age into their retirement years.”

The study behind the report indicates that this housing turnover will increase renovation business in two ways. First, by baby boomers upgrading and repairing their homes pre-sale to increase marketability, and also by the post-sale remodeling by the younger homebuyers.

Though many people over the age of 55 will choose to sell their homes, an even greater number will decide to stay put. The results of “Fixing to Stay: A National Survey on Housing and Home Modification Issues,” released by AARP, indicate that 82% of respondents aged 45 and over would prefer not to move from their current homes. The desire to retain independence rather than seek other accommodations, such as assisted living facilities, is part of the “aging-in-place” movement.

“There’s been a growing demand for remodeling as a means to enhance Americans’ independence as they choose to remain in their homes into their retirement years,” says Leon Harper, AARP’s representative on a task force that is developing the Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) program. CAPS is a collaborative effort between AARP, National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), and 50+ Housing Council.

According to the CAPS task force, 75% of remodelers have seen an increase in requests for aging-in-place renovations, and the aging population is the second most pressing issue to affect the remodeling industry over the next five years. “Remodelers can’t afford to ignore the aging-in-place market,” says Dan Bawden, a remodeling contractor from Houston who heads the CAPS task force.

The aging-in-place concept is growing, as is the concept of “universal design.” The two go hand-in-hand, in fact. The concept of universal design was developed by Ronald Mace, founder of The Center for Universal Design in Raleigh, NC. Mace defined the term as “the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.”

With this in mind, tenets of the universal design concept will be beneficial to remodelers. Homeowners will want to update and reconfigure their houses for more comfortable living, as well as accommodate any special needs due to age or health concerns.

Specific suggestions include:

Lighting – Use bright lighting under kitchen cabinets to reduce eye strain, and in other areas of the house to prevent falls.

Handles – Install handles on cabinets and faucets that are easier to grasp, or use faucets with motion sensors. Lever-style door handles are also easier to grasp than traditional door knobs. Push-button controls on appliances are more comfortable to use than tiny knobs and dials.

FlooringFloors should be slip-resistant. Natural materials are softer, and therefore cause less fatigue for someone to stand on for long periods of time. Carpet fibers should be short to prevent falls. Entrances should have low or no thresholds.

Stairs – Reduce or eliminate the number of stairs, and install strong guard rails. Keep stairways well lit and use contrasting colors from surrounding areas.

Countertops – Place countertops and vanities at a comfortable height — 36″ is recommended. Countertops that are adjustable offer more flexibility. Keep other frequently used items within safe reach, too. Sinks should be shallow, cabinet shelves should pull down, and drawers should slide out. Avoid sharp corners and edges on counters and other furniture.

Bathroom – Install grab bars and slip prevention in showers and bathtubs, as well as a grab bar near toilets. Shower and bath chairs can add comfort. Walk-in showers and bathtubs can be very helpful.

Emergency – Phones in the bathroom and smoke detectors that utilize lights as well as sound are also smart safety concerns.

Rachelle Matherne is a professional journalist for firstSTREET Online, a leading provider of innovative retirement gifts. From the Portable Electric Typewriter to the WOW! Computer for Seniors, firstSTREET has unique products to help seniors enjoy retirement, live independently, and even stay connected in a digital world

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