Remodel for the Future

If you renovate your home, start adding accessibility features early on, say experts

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Grab bars in the bathroom, wide doors and hallways are some of the recommendations contractors make to people who plan to age in place. Photos courtesy of Albright Remodeling, Canandaigua.
Grab bars in the bathroom, wide doors and hallways are some of the recommendations contractors make to people who plan to age in place. Photos courtesy of Albright Remodeling, Canandaigua.

If you’re planning a home renovation, think ahead to when you may need accessibility features. They add value to your home should you sell someday. If you want to stay in your home, you’ll save money over making changes later, both because costs continue to go up and because retrofitting is usually more costly than making changes initially. Especially if you’re still working, it’s important to make home investments before your income is fixed.

“Usually what we find is when folks are in their mid-50s and they’re doing remodeling, they’re still not thinking of what happens when they get older or that they may get disabled,” said Miguel Millan, vice-president of 101 Mobility of Rochester. “They spend thousands on a bathroom that won’t do them any good in 5 to 15 years.”

He recommends installing a floor drain in the center of the bathroom so that clients who may become dependent on a caregiver can protect the floors from excess moisture. He said that an attractive drain can cost as little as $200 if the floors are open for renovation anyway.

Installing the sink plumbing from the wall instead of up from the floor can allow a vanity with wheelchair access so you won’t need to gut the floor later. Millan said that it’s not that difficult to make plumbing come from the wall.

He advises clients against tubs with doors because while the water is draining, the user must stay in it cold and shivering for a long time, especially if your home’s plumbing is older. Many municipalities don’t allow heat lamp installation over a tub.

Millan prefers a no-lip shower instead of a walk-in tub. Wheelchairs can roll in them and with a hand sprayer, many people can bathe independently for longer.

Jim Albright, 72, and owner of Albright Remodeling in Canandaigua, is a certified aging-in-place specialist designated by the National Association of Homebuilders.

He said that if you’re planning major work on a room, it’s important to widen the doorway to 32 inches to allow access to a standard wheelchair or walker.

“As much as possible, keep everything on the same level,” he added.

If you’re getting new flooring, avoid lips between rooms by having the old flooring stripped down far enough. It will cost more, but the result will look better and may spare you a tripping hazard later.

Consider moving the laundry to the first floor. Ideally, you should also have a bedroom and a bathroom on the first floor.

Albright also encourages clients, whenever possible, to have bedroom and bathroom doors swing out, rather than in so if someone falls in these fall-prone rooms, emergency help can open the door more easily. A fallen person may block a door from opening if it swings inward.

Though you may be decades away from needing grab bars in the bathroom, installing the blocking behind the sheetrock ensures that later installation will be much easier.

Albright said that at a recent renovation job, workers placed blocking behind the walls and photographed it with tape measures in the picture before installing drywall. That way, workers can later find the blocking with ease since stud finders aren’t as reliable as they may seem, according to Albright.

Dee Schwarts, director of aging services at Jewish Family Service of Rochester, said that even people who don’t need a wheelchair ramp at this point should think about the future possibility.

“You probably won’t want to add a ramp until you need it, but keep the areas open so you could build a ramp if you need it,” she said. “For every foot in ground space, you can go up an inch.”

Constructing a pergola too close to the back door may make it difficult to add a ramp later. But as with the other renovations, planning can help you age in place with greater ease.

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