With all of the discussion about aging in place, and the articles about this topic on the internet, homeowners and renters might be thinking to themselves that this is something they would like to engage in but that they want to undertake it themselves. There must be an official website or other online resources that explain how they can make their homes suitable and functional for them with an aging in place design makeover. Well, there isn’t – not in that sense.
There are sites that talk about best practices – things a person might want to do to make their home safer and more visitable for themselves and others who might come into their home with them for a party or to help with caregiving. There are sites that discuss the seven principles of universal design as created by North Carolina State University’s Center for Universal Design in 1997. There is AARP’s “Home Fit” and many other online resources that provide a glimpse into what a safe dwelling should look like.
There also is something known as the “Americans with Disabilities Act” or ADA (see ADAAG for more information). This is not mandatory for any single-family dwelling (a single unit in a building) or dwellings of up to four in a building (one, two, three, or four units in a single structure). Some local building codes require various aspects of these standards or mandate compliance with particular guidelines, but on the whole, the ADA guidelines do not apply to residential construction. Nevertheless, they provide some great ideas on functional heights and widths of where and how to locate and install items in the home.
All that said, the bottom line is that aging is place is personal. It applies to individuals, and it is specific to a dwelling. The home itself may have certain needs and functional limitations based on the way it was designed, how it was built, when it was constructed, how well it has been maintained over the years, and changes that already have been made inside it and around the property. It might have an entrance that is hard to use or quite narrow, The interior hallways might not be as wide as they need to be for safe and comfortable usage. It might not provide sufficient lighting or solid footing. The bathrooms and the kitchen may not be as safe to use and navigate as they can be, and there could be other limitations that affect the comfortable use of the structure by the residents or anyone else.
This is a large challenge in aging in place renovations – working within the parameters of the existing structure. of course, it can be changed, but an assessment needs to be made of where the home is currently and its potential for accommodating ts occupants in a safe and accessible way.
Because no two dwelling are created exactly alike – even if they were built at essentially the same time by the same builder and sit next to each other physically. Initially, they could have had different interior features selected or added. Over the years, features of one type or another could have been added to satisfy the needs and desires of the owners. The way the home and its package of features have been maintained since it was new is huge. Two dwellings, next to each other but with very different maintenance programs, could look entirely different today even though they started out essentially the same.
One home could have been modified to accommodate more accessibility (a widened hallway or reduced threshold to step into the home from the outside, for instance). The kitchen cabinets and flooring could have been upgraded. The bathroom fixtures could have been improved. The painting, lighting, and flooring materials could have been upgraded. Perhaps some of the doorways have been widened or the door hardware switched to the lever-style.
There are so many factors to consider just in the physical attributes and condition of the home. Then we need to look at the physical needs of those who live in that space. Both are important and necessary for deciding on effective aging in place design solutions.
So where does one find the appropriate solutions to use in a renovation? There are no textbooks or online resources to use that have a picture or sketch of this home and a description of the occupants. We must supply this for our clients. They can have some measure of success in doing improvements themselves to meet their needs, but as certified aging in place specialists, we have the ability to aid them in a special way.