Interest in aging in place home design is more popular than ever before as the country’s maturing population is on the rise. Baby boomers, of which there are over 70 million, are well into their retirement years, and Gen Xers are quickly following in their footsteps as they begin winding down their working years around 2030. These groups are diverse with a wide variety of needs, preferences, and circumstances. Add to that, concerns about COVID-19 and restricted social gatherings are causing many to reflect and re-evaluate what it means to feel secure. This realization adds to the already strong desire among this generation to maintain independent living in an existing home or new construction.
At KGA, we’ve been thinking about aging in place design features for over 20 years — long before it was a common term in residential design or something many homeowners thought about. Since then, we’ve been integrating aging in place design features that are accessible, functional, comfortable, and design-forward in our clients’ homes and communities to increase longevity and wellness.
Aging in Place Must-Haves for Remodeled Homes
If moving isn’t an option, there are several renovations and upgrades that can be done to an existing home. These changes can significantly improve the quality of life for those either in or approaching their post-retirement years.
Making changes to a home’s design that allow everyday tasks to be performed comfortably is key. Widening doorways and circulation space, installing handrails and grab bars, and rounding countertop corners are a few examples. In the kitchen, raising appliances and adding more task lighting will add comfort and extend independent living.
Slip and Fall Prevention
According to the National Council on Aging, one in four Americans over 65 falls each year. Injury prevention is paramount among this group of homeowners. A bathroom remodel should include transitioning from a standard bathtub to a luxe walk-in tub equipped with spa-worthy features like hydrotherapy jets and heated head/neck rests. Replacing the shower with a sleek curbless model is on-trend and also a must-have. Installing slip-resistant flooring and motion sensors for lights allow for safer movement from room to room.
Embracing the ease and convenience of single-level living is a priority, and it’s possible to achieve in a larger multi-level home. Some two-story floor plans can be remodeled to create a master bedroom and bath on the main floor, reducing the need to go upstairs and the potential for falls. If significant upper-floor access is a must, installing a home elevator or staircase landing will increase safety and comfort.
Less time mowing the lawn means more time on the green! If the front and back yards are grass and plant heavy, re-landscape these spaces. Incorporating more pavers, pathways, and other hardscaping will protect knees and backs without sacrificing beauty.
Aging in Place Considerations for New Homes
New construction should include the above-mentioned aging in place innovations as standard or upgraded features, with flexible design options. There’s a misconception that aging in place design is sterile and institutional, which simply isn’t the case! A good architect can seamlessly integrate these features to create a beautiful, functional, and safe home that can adapt as needs change over time.
Future-forward Floor Plan
If the ‘not so big house’ and tiny house movements have taught us anything, it’s that bigger is not necessarily better. Smaller homes are easier to maintain and encourage a care-free, lock-and-leave lifestyle, especially for the 55+ family for whom downsizing remains a priority. New neighborhoods would do well to offer single-level ranches and plans with main-floor masters to reduce or eliminate stair usage among this buyer segment. In areas where basements are common, adding a finished basement can double the square footage of smaller homes, creating space for visiting family members.
Universal design principles support architecture and features that accommodate the lives of individuals of all ages and abilities. It provides the creation of forever homes that can adapt as life needs change. When lot size and zoning allow, multi-generational layouts, casitas, and accessory dwelling units (ADUs) offer separate and private living spaces while keeping extended families together. If the need arises, these private living spaces can also house a live-in caretaker or nurse.
Private Outdoor Living
Easy access to the outdoors is a key factor for better health and well-being. Given the COVID-19 gathering and social restrictions currently in place, creating a small, low-maintenance, and private outdoor living space is a priority. Particular attention should be paid to using hardy drought-resistant plants and shrubs, and shade for sun protection. Safety features like adequate lighting and flat seamless pavers and walking paths with handrails will help prevent trips and falls.
Built-in Smart Home Technology and Security
Today’s seniors are a tech-savvy bunch and expect high-performance features integrated into home design. Don’t neglect included and optional collections of smart home products, like smart locks, thermostats and appliances, touchless entry, motion sensors, cameras, and integration with virtual assistant technology.
What it means to live well among the 55+ community continues to evolve, however, some characteristics transcend generations, preferences, and socio-economic considerations. Location and proximity to services, shopping, and everyday needs can help mitigate mobility and transportation obstacles. Amenities that create opportunities for gathering and connection in a socially-distanced environment – golf, flat walking paths, parks, and gardening, to name a few – may combat feelings of isolation and loneliness.
And, as we begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel and COVID-19 restrictions begin to ease, expect a resurgence in demand for active adult-style amenities, including fitness centers and classes, coffee shops and cafes, and community mixers and events.