While not in our 50's yet, my wife and I are about to send our two kids off to college in the next 6 months which naturally has us thinking; "Do we stay in our 4 bedroom home just the two of us?" We love the home and location, but things will definitely be different without the kids. What home improvements might we consider?
Like us as we approach the nest phase of our lives, more homeowners are taking on projects that will allow them to age comfortably in their current home, according to the “2017 Aging in Place Report” from HomeAdvisor. But they don’t like the term “aging in place.”
Researchers, who surveyed those 55 years old and up for the report, found that many of these homeowners are completing projects that put more emphasis on ease-of-living improvements than aesthetics. But researchers also found that many homeowners won’t call these improvements “aging in place,” even though the term may accurately describe the projects.
“People don’t think of themselves as aging—even when they are. There’s no specific age or moment in time in which people become officially ‘old.’ Additionally, the stigma surrounding aging keeps most people in denial long past the point at which the process is clear,” according to the report.
While aging is a fact of life, aging uncomfortably, unsafely or unhappily doesn’t have to be a given. As one survey respondent in the 55 to 75 age group noted: It’s hard to anticipate the modifications homeowners may need to make as a result of aging, so some modifications — like grab bars or widened door frames — may need to be implemented as the need arises. But other home improvements — like self-cleaning gutters; accessible storage; and plumbing, walkway and roof repairs — not only offer greater ease of living in the short term, but they also stabilize the working order of a home for the long term, which provides the best foundation for aging in place as well as future aging in place improvements.
Typically, people think of projects like ramps, stair lifts and main-floor master suites as the key to facilitating aging in place, when in fact the inverse is true. As we heard from survey respondents both aged 55 to 75 and aged 75 and over, the key to facilitating aging in place is actually taking a holistic approach to home improvement leading up to aging in place — doing things like simplifying landscaping, repairing and replacing windows, swapping out door handles, and organizing closets and storage areas.
Take a front walkway, for example. If there are cracks or dips in the concrete, homeowners would want to address those existing safety issues before consider installing a wheelchair ramp or a railing that they’re not sure they’ll ever need. And installing self-cleaning gutters will not only make life easier in the short term, but it will also ensure that gutter cleaning is covered when climbing a ladder becomes too precarious later on.
Easy Living Paves the Way for Easy Aging
Improved ease of living is a key motivator for homeowners making home improvements. Both homeowners aged 55 to 75 and homeowners aged 75 and older cite ease of living as the impetus for most of their home projects, even above aesthetics, safety, accessibility and increased home value. Interestingly, the projects they’re completing to improve ease of living — projects like installing smart thermostats, replacing appliances and replacing lower kitchen cabinets with drawers — will facilitate aging in place, even though only about half of respondents are familiar with the concept by name. (Presumably, homeowners find the term “ease of living” more relatable than the terms “aging in place” and “accessibility” because it doesn’t carry the same negative connotation.)
Homeowners’ motives for completing home projects change with age, as each life phase brings new challenges and opportunities. So, while both homeowners aged 55 to 75 and homeowners aged 75 and older cite ease of living as the impetus for most of their home projects, it’s not surprising to see that they are completing some of the same projects for different reasons.
But how do homeowners prepare for aging in place when they refuse to admit it? Researchers say they first perform regular maintenance and complete projects to keep their homes operating smoothly. Then, they’ll often start to layer aging-related projects as they become needed.
Researchers identified these improvements, among others, as a few of the most popular projects for homeowners aged 55 to 75:
- Adding pullout shelves in kitchen cabinets
- Changing doorknobs to lever handles
- Installing a smart fire detection system
- Installing a smart security system
- Installing a smart thermostat
- Installing a voice-activated device
- Installing comfort-height toilets
- Installing grab bars in bathrooms