Aging in Place: What To Look for in Your Forever Home

by Cassandra McCullersJanuary 25, 2018

For most of human history, people have lived only in one place or in a small handful of homes their whole life. Frequent moving, driven by job mobility and changing markets, took place in many U.S. households over the last fifty years, but there has been a growing interest in returning to the concept of putting down roots and “aging in place.” This is defined by the CDC as “the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level.” When you age in place, you’re able to remain in your home as you get older, and as your needs change and your mobility decreases.
Senior man taking care of his disabled wife.
Shopping for a home with aging in place in mind isn’t just a good idea for those families who really plan on staying put, but it can also be of tremendous value if someone becomes seriously injured, even temporarily, or if you end up staying in a place longer than expected. By having a home that is “aging in place” friendly, you might also increase the attractiveness of your property when you go to resell. Like living in a good school district, there aren’t any significant drawbacks to having a floor plan and features that make the home more suitable for a greater range of individuals. Here are a few common things that you’ll want to look for when house shopping with aging in place in mind.

Downstairs bedroom

This is often considered to be the bare minimum required for a good aging in place home. Stairs are notoriously tricky for some elderly and the disabled. And while you can install a chairlift, it’s nicer if you won’t have to. Look for a downstairs room that can be used as a bedroom, even if it might be initially used as an office or craft room. A downstairs bedroom can also be a boon for visiting parents and grandparents or can make a good recovery room while someone is healing from a bad sprain or broken leg.

Wide doorways

In the United States, standard building codes typically require interior doors to be 6 feet and 6 to 8 inches tall, and 28 to 32 inches wide. However, some homes, particularly newer constructions, use a much more comfortable 36-inch wide door. In addition to improving access for wheelchairs, this also makes moving bulky furniture so much easier. And adding wider doors isn’t an easy fix if needed later, so it’s very nice to have those already installed before you buy.

Shallow stairs and wide stairwells

If you want to preserve access to your top floors as your family ages, think about the width of your stairwells and the rise of the steps themselves. U.S. code again places some minimum requirements on new construction, namely that there be no greater than 7 and 3/4 inches of height to each step, and 10 inches of depth to the tread where you’ll be stepping. This still makes for a fairly steep stair, and some construction companies will use a much gentler ratio with shorter risers and deeper treads. Likewise, the width of stairwells can vary greatly, and a wider stairwell will allow you to put handrails on both sides for added safety. Like the doorways, these are other home improvements that are very difficult to retrofit for, so keep it in mind when house shopping.
Installation wizard for wooden railing for stairs Wooden planks.

Lighting

Dim rooms and poorly lit hallways can be a big contributor to tripping and falling in the home. Look at each room’s recessed lighting, light fixtures, and task lighting that targets a specific area such as kitchen counters. If there aren’t sufficient light fixtures already in place, think about how easy it would be to add some, including lamps.

Bathrooms

By now I think that most people know that bathrooms are the most dangerous place in the house, for family members of all ages. Take a look at how safely the bathrooms are laid out. Is there adequate space in the shower or tub to add handrails? What sort of flooring do they use? How difficult would it be to retrofit for a barrier-free shower stall, if one isn’t already in place?
Muted toned bathroom with grab bars

Landscaping and the community

When shopping for a new home with aging in place in mind, don’t forget to consider what is going on outside the home. These are some questions to ask yourselves regarding the location and exterior of the home:

  • How much work will it be to maintain the landscaping and mow? Steep hills are harder to maintain than a flat yard.
  • What about maintaining the exterior of the house, cleaning gutters and the sorts?
  • Are there businesses nearby that can provide ready access to home care services?
  • How close will you be to other family and friends? How close are the grocery store and pharmacy?
  • How easy will it be to get from your car into your home? Are there exterior stairs, or a long walk?
  • How close are you to public transportation?
  • What type of extreme weather services does the neighborhood get, such as snow plowing and debris removal?
  • What are the nearby hospitals like? How close are you to them, in case there’s an emergency?

If aging in place is a serious concern for you or even just a passing interest, be sure to mention it to your realtor. They can help identify options that may provide many of these features, making your new home more adaptable, safe and comfortable well into the far future.

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About The Author
Cassandra McCullers
Cassandra is a writer with a background in engineering, enjoying the rural life in the Virginian Appalachians. When not working, she enjoys writing fiction, running a blog, camping, working in the garden, and tending to her flock of chickens! In addition to writing, she has a passion for art and graphic design. Her interests include disaster preparedness, homesteading, landscaping, cooking with natural ingredients, history, and animal husbandry.