radio resources
welcome home magazine
inside des moines des moines cooks des moines home & garden health matters    

Long-Term Plans
By Tracy Dickinson
KITCHENS & BATHS February/March 2018
home :: home & garden :: kitchen & bath

round round2
Welcome Home Des Moines digital edition
>view our
digital edition
round4   round3

round round2
>subscribe now
round4   round3

round round2
Sign up for our Free Email Newsletter

round4 round3

round   round2
round4 round3

advertise with
Designing for aging in place is both practical and rewarding.

Designing for aging in place is both practical and rewarding.

The age-old question for any homeowner considering a remodel is whether the benefits of remodeling outweigh the costs. But when the homeowner is also nearing retirement age or dealing with health issues, that question carries even greater significance. It’s a matter of creating practical solutions that offer long-term rewards.

Defining new terms

As more homeowners have opted to remain independent in their current homes and communities, designers have sought to address the unique needs of those aging in place.

Cheryl Arganbright of Woodharbor says, “Aging in place just means the ability to stay in your home as you age.”

“It often includes modifying your home to be more accessible so you can maintain your normal lifestyle,” says Sunderland Brothers’ Sarah Young.

Recognizing that homeowners in this situation have needs that range across a broad spectrum, organizations such as the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) have created educational programs to help designers identify and address these issues.

Factoring in new needs

“With the growth of the aging in place movement, the industry has identified that there is much more of a need to properly educate everyone involved about the needs, processes, and tools available to help complete this type of project properly,” explains Angie Nichols of Sunderland Brothers.

“Sometimes remodelers aren’t familiar with how to compensate for aging-in-place situations, and educating them on these specifications may need to be part of the remodeling process as well,” Young says.

“The NAHB offers a certification course that provides wonderful instruction for aging-in-place designing. It addresses everything from the range of needs these homeowners may have to how to promote your services to this market,” Arganbright says. She says the course was helpful in really understanding the issues that face older homeowners. “Little things like the difficulty grasping small drawer pulls and the type of flooring or placement of rugs can be huge factors in the comfort and safety of the home, and that should be as important to the design as the look of the space.”

“The design aspect of an aging-in-place project takes a little more thought in some ways,” explains Sunderland designer Jennifer Sweet. “You have to take into account the current situation as well as the distant future and how those needs might change.”

Adapting existing homes

The two rooms that typically benefit from adaptation are the kitchen and the bath. Depending on the circumstances, those changes can be small or large.

According to AIM Kitchen & Bath’s Corey Gersdorf, “Most aging-in-place homes are single-story with all of the living necessities on one floor. Things like good lighting, user-friendly and accessible products, and possibly even wider doorways can be incorporated to create this type of space.”

Nancy Ruzicka of Beisser Lumber says, “Designing for aging in place could be very extensive if you have several different levels to your home and need to consolidate living spaces. Or it could be as simple as installing handrails, grab bars, and a taller toilet in the master bath.”

According to Angie Nichols, “Some adaptations are much less involved than others. For example, as opposed to a total gut and remodel of a bath, there are a number of methods for transitioning the traditional shower and tub surround into a zero-entry shower. We carry preformed, completely waterproofed shower bases that are designed to tile over and can be installed directly in place of the existing tub surround.”

“You don’t have to break the bank to make your home more livable when you get older,” Gersdorf says.

The ideal home, according to Ruzicka, “would probably be a ranch plan with a low incline to the front and back doors. It would have wide hallways and room for wheelchairs to turn around, and it wouldn’t have a lot of steps and narrow openings.”

But if a homeowner isn’t in that ideal situation, key changes may be possible in order to adapt the home for those future concerns.

In the kitchen, simple changes like placing the microwave within easy reach, replacing small drawer and cabinet pulls with horizontal pulls, and exchanging faucet knobs for touch-responsive units can provide low-cost adaptations to help homeowners transition their home. When physical limitations require more significant changes, issues such as counter height, wheelchair access, and pull-out trays in lower cabinets may be necessary (see “Smart Changes”).

For the bath, small adaptations like grab bars are typically only a temporary solution. Replacing tubs with curbless or low-profile units, exchanging the vanity for a stand-alone sink to allow for wheelchair access, and installing a comfort-height toilet may all be necessary changes in order for a homeowner to stay in the home longer.

“Simple changes like grab bars, a flip-down shower seat, and a handheld showerhead are just a few things you can do to make your bathroom more livable for a long time,” Gersdorf says.

Sweet also suggests considering some of these factors even if you aren’t at retirement age. “If you’re already planning a kitchen or bath remodel, it’s easy to add some features that will help with accessibility in the future.”

Nichols agrees. “We find that zero-entry showers are not only functional for the aging-in-place client but also extremely trendy and upscale in appearance, which appeals to homeowners of all ages.”

However, there are occasions when a professional will advise a homeowner against remodeling.

“If modifying the home for aging in place will destroy the integrity of the home, they’re better off moving,” Ruzicka says.

Nichols says, “When you weigh the expense of relocating vs. remodeling, you have to consider the return on your investment,” even if you plan to stay in the home indefinitely.

“You also have to consider the home’s current condition,” says Arganbright. Sometimes a remodel will uncover other issues that require updating or repairs, which can add significantly to the cost of the project.

Despite the complexity of designing for aging-in-place requirements, most professionals find these projects especially rewarding.

“Helping the client stay in their home as long as they can is very rewarding,” says Gersdorf. “Knowing that you’ve been able to adapt their current home and make it more user-friendly for them is a great feeling.”

Sweet says, “Designing for aging in place is an investment in the future and the homeowners’ ability to stay in their home longer. Ultimately, this means making life better for them.”

“One of my favorite aspects of these projects is helping people maintain their privacy and comfort while still being able to enrich their surroundings with good design and ease of mobility,” says Nichols.

“I like the satisfaction of seeing the homeowners be able to stay in the home they love, where they’re comfortable and feel safe again,” Ruzicka says.

Customer satisfaction is always the reward with a good design project, but when that design means homeowners can remain independent in a home they’ve come to love, that offers a reward all its own.

Smart Changes

For homeowners considering modifications to allow aging in place, here are some features to consider for the kitchen and bath.

  • Lower-height wall cabinets
  • Glass doors or open shelving
  • Adjustable or varied-height countertops
  • Task lighting
  • Roll-out trays in base cabinets
  • Lazy-Susan shelving in base cabinets
  • Lift-up cabinets for large or heavy items such as mixers
  • Microwave at counter height or below
  • Peninsula kitchen layout for accessibility
  • Touch-responsive faucets
  • Curbless or zero-entry shower
  • Multihead shower or water-jet system for therapeutic use
  • Comfort-height toilet
  • Free-standing or floating bathroom sink
  • 36-inch hallways, doorways, and kitchen pathways
  • Horizontal drawer and cabinet pulls
  • Smooth but slip-resistant flooring materials


home | inside des moines | des moines cooks | home & garden | health matters
subscribe | digital edition | advertise | about us | contact us
des moines events | easy recipes | healthy tips | house photos

home productions llc. 4220 ne 94th avenue | elkhart, iowa 50073
phone (515) 965-0507
© 2014 home productions llc. All rights reserved.