Remodeling For Universal Design – also known as Aging in Place

by Doug Callahan

There’s no place like home, right? Well, you can make that saying truer than ever when you home custom-fit your home to your comfort and safety needs. And these days, there is no shortage of options for such home modifications.

“I think, more and more, because of the economy and the inability to sell their homes because of lost value, they’re starting to look at home modifications,” said Chuck McKee, president of Accessibility For Life. After more than 30 years of experience in the upscale custom home business, McKee shifted to working with accessibility and safety-related home modifications two years ago.

“Because of our custom home building experience, we are able to be very innovative. We can make the home mods look nice. It doesn’t have to look institutional,” McKee said.

Indeed, that “institutional” feeling is something a lot of homeowners are reluctant about. Edward Wright of Wright Design specializes in home modifications for the environmentally minded, and he said that he deals with this fear a lot. “I think the biggest challenge to people’s perception is that it’s going to be like a hospital, or it’s going to be like some hot rod car that’s so tricked out that no one will ever want it again. But it’s not really that way. It’s just making a nice change to your house so it feels better for you and makes it more useable.”

So what kind of changes are people making to their homes? One of the biggest safety concerns of aging in place is getting in and out of the bathtub or shower, so it’s no surprise that this is were a lot of modifications take place. Chris Stafford of Safeway Safety Step said his company offers two popular products to alleviate this worry.

“First, the Safeway Step is a product that can be used to modify any existing bathtub, regardless, of whether it’s fiberglass, stainless steel or cast-iron, and transform it into a more accessible step-in shower,” Stafford said. “We are able to cut away a part of the existing sidewall of the bathtub, and install our product in as little as two to three hours. It allows the resident to avoid the most dangerous part of entering and exiting the tub, which is stepping over that sidewall. And it helps you avoid the costly and time-consuming process of removing the existing bathtub.”

“The second product that we’ve developed is the Safeway Tub Door,” Stafford continued. “The added feature is just that. It features a water-tight, sealable door that can be opened and closed. So you’re essentially transforming your existing bathtub into a walk-in tub.”

But if you’re really looking to customize your home, that’s really just the beginning. McKee said that fall protection and bath renovation are the most popular services, but, “We’ll do anything from grab bars up to whole home renovations. There is absolutely nothing that we won’t tackle and that we don’t have the ability to do. There are so many other things we can do, technology-wise, such as remote control lighting and blinds and motion-sensor lights. The sky is really the limit.”

So if you are looking at retirement living options, it’s worth calling one of these companies first, to see if some changes to your home will help you age in place.

“It’s always a recommendation to get an assessment of needs and the challenges leading to those needs, and what type of modifications might facilitate the ability to stay in your residence longer,” Stafford said. “In some cases, it has literally been life-changing. You’re suddenly giving someone the ability to regain that mobility and accessibility that they lost, and within a reasonable budget. “

And not only can these modifications be more comfortable, Wright said they can also save you money over a few years. “It can be expensive, but if you contrast that to what it costs to move to a facility, you’re going to spend in three years what a renovation is going to be. And if you live there another 3 years, you’re going to have spent that again. So if you like your house and your neighbors and where you live, and you’re comfortable, why not invest in it and keep it for the long term?”

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