You have an empty nest and have been planning for retirement. You’ve put money into your retirement account, created an enviable stock portfolio, paid off your home, or maybe even your vacation home. Now is the time to prepare your home for retirement.
Many people renovate or re-design their homes just prior to retirement while they have plenty of disposable income.
Why worry about your home’s compatibility with aging when you should be spending your golden years doing things you enjoy? An empty nest should be a chic, beautiful space where you can live comfortably for years to come.
One: First Floor Living
Stairs can be problematic for safety and energy conservation. As you age past retirement, you may experience health issues that can make using stairs difficult. Joint problems, cardiopulmonary issues, balance issues, and loss of muscle mass are just a few health issues that can arise as you age. Because of this, single story homes will certainly be more adaptable.
But, what if your don’t have a single story home and you don’t want to move? To prepare your home for retirement, create as much living space as you can on the first floor of your home. Is there a space that can become a bedroom? Do you have a bath with a shower? Can you cook on the first level? Is your laundry on the first level? These are all things to consider when weighing out your home’s adaptability.
Two: Resilient Flooring
Can you think of anything worse than your home making you feel tired all the time? Seriously, think about the last time you walked around a mall for half a day. How did your legs feel? Did it make you tired?
Using non-resilient floorings, such as concrete, terrazzo, and tile throughout your home you will likely feel like you’ve taken a permanent vacation to Costco.
For less impact you will want to use resilient flooring in the common areas of your home and reserve tile flooring for bathrooms and/or your kitchen. Wood, cork, linoleum, vinyl, and carpet are all examples of resilient flooring when you prepare your home for retirement.
Cork & Wood Flooring
Wood and cork are expensive choices and my top style picks. There are nearly-endless varieties and styles of wood. I recommend using a solid wood or engineered wood floor with a thick wear layer so the flooring can be refinished. A 2-3mm wear layer allows you to sand and refinish the floors between one and three times and should last you anywhere from 30-50 years! Engineered wood with a 1mm wear layer, which is what you will typically find at your local Big Box store, will not last very long and can only have a new top coat applied. It can’t be sanded or refinished.
Cork is a fantastic material for flooring! It is easy to clean. Cork helps with acoustics. It also remains the temperature of the room, so it is never cool to the touch, like tile. Most importantly, it is very easy on the feet and legs. However, there isn’t a huge variety of cork floor styles. It also has a very organic look, which may not work in every home style.
Linoleum & Vinyl Flooring
A lot of people don’t know the difference between linoleum and vinyl, but they could not be more different. Linoleum is an outdated flooring material. Linoleum was used in bathroom and kitchen flooring until the 1920s when vinyl was invented. Vinyl then flooded the market and people began to use the terms interchangeably. This is where the confusion comes in.
Linoleum is a 100% natural and sustainable product. Although it is a manmade product, its components – linseed oil, cork, wood chips, and pine resin – are all naturally occurring. Typically, linoleum comes in large sheets of solid colors, but can be embossed to have texture. You may see patterns created from pieces of linoleum, but the sheets themselves won’t have a pattern on them. Linoleum has a lot of the same characteristics as cork with the added advantage of reducing dust and static electricity.
Vinyl is a 100% synthetic material. Like linoleum, vinyl is typically sold in sheets. We now have vinyl planks that are inexpensive and easy to install. Vinyl can be embossed with texture and printed with a pattern. A popular style of vinyl is Luxury Vinyl Plank (LVP) and it looks like wood. Vinyl can be printed to look like stone, tiles, and many other patterns.
Both types of flooring a relatively low cost and long lasting. They are both very easy on the feet and legs and are very easy to clean. Linoleum is slightly more expensive, but it can last twice as long. Typically linoleum flooring can be expected to last 20-40 years, while vinyl may last only 10-20. The biggest difference is the environmental impact. The process for making vinyl results in more toxic waste, which is more detrimental to the environment.
Carpet is the most resilient of the flooring group, but is by far the most difficult to keep clean. With more stain resistance technology available, the longevity of carpet is better than in the past. However, you still have to deal with dust and dirt sinking into the fibers of the carpet. Vacuuming is a necessary task anywhere there is carpet. If you have issues with your pulmonary system or with allergies, carpet can be problematic for breathing. Carpet will last 5-15 years on average with the best carpet on the market lasting up to 25.
Three: Shower Seats & Grab Bars
If you follow my blog, you’re going to think I sound like a broken record. Your bathroom is the most dangerous room in your home. Not to be morbid, but more fall-related injuries happen in the bathroom than all of the other rooms combined. And a fall in the bathroom is far more likely to result in serious injury requiring hospitalization. As you prepare your home for retirement, focusing on these areas of your home are crucial.
Shower seats, real shower seats, are the first part of a bathroom that is set up for aging in place. So what do I mean by a “real shower seat?” I mean that you need a seat that is at minimum of 15″ wide by 15″ deep. That means a little corner shelf is not a seat!
You can create a corner seat, but you must still have a 15″x15″ square on which you can sit! However, you also need structure! So a shelf that has no support in the seat itself or beneath the seat will not be enough!
Despite their negative connotation, planning for grab bars as you prepare your home for retirement is an essential step. You don’t have to install grab bars right away, but they should be included in your structural plans. A typical shower enclosure can last 25-50 years, so you won’t want to remodel the bathroom when you are ready to install grab bars. However, you cannot simply drill them into the existing tile wall. You need structure to properly mount grab bars.
Exactly how do you prep for grab bars? It’s actually simple and inexpensive. As the bathroom is renovated, plywood blocking is added to the studs around the walls of your shower from about 28″ to about 42″ in height. You will want to make note of this measurement if you plan on installing them at a future date.
However, you should give grab bars a second look. There are a lot of attractive styles out there that look very chic.
Four: Wider Doorways
If your house was built after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, it is very likely that the front entry of your home is at least 36″. However, if your home was built prior to then, you may have at least one entry that is narrower. The current International Residential Code (IRC) states that the “primary means of egress,” i.e. your front door, has a clear width of no less than 32″.
This means you will need a 36″ door at minimum because all hinged doors protrude into the opening by at least 3-4″. If the door frame itself is 36″, then the clear space will only be 32″.
Currently, there are no standards for interior doors in the IRC, but if you are planning a major remodeling project you may want to include some interior doors to your “to do” list. As you prepare your home for retirement, the doors I recommend addressing are:
- The master/primary bedroom door
- The master/primary bathroom door
- Any doorways that lead to the kitchen and dining areas
Because you need a 36″ hinged door to accommodate a 32″ clear opening, the location of a particular door, the location of electrical equipment, or the trim around the door might pose a problem. However, there are a few options for creating a 32″ opening.
- Utilize a pocket style door instead of a hinged door. You will be able to use a 32″ door because the door slides into a pocket in the wall, leaving a 32″ clear width.
- Use a wider door with narrower case molding, or simply trim the case molding and have it abut the wall.
- Move any electrical receptacles and switches that might be in the way of the new width.
Why is the width of your door so important? If you ever need to use any assistive device to improve mobility, you will need wider doors. Even if that need is temporary, as is the case post-operatively or after an injury, you will be glad you made the changes.
Five: Hand-Friendly Hardware
As you prepare your home for retirement, all of the hardware in your home should be easy to use with a closed hand. What does that mean? It means that you have to make a pincer grasp and use grip strength to open a cabinet door or to turn on a faucet, then the faucet may become too difficult to use as you grow older.
Ideal faucet hardware is the lever style, but they need not look like the faucets in a hospital ward. There are some very attractive lever style faucets for your kitchen and bathroom. Images of examples to follow.
Six: Kitchen Designed for Efficiency
The space plan for your kitchen should be designed to reduce the amount of steps you need to take to accomplish tasks. There are a couple of things that will create a more efficient kitchen: a work triangle, work zones, and careful consideration of an island.
There is a lot of debate about the usefulness of the work triangle; many designers feel it is passé. However, nothing creates a more efficient work space than keeping all of your major appliances inside the work triangle. And, that’s not just my opinion, there is plenty of research on kitchen design supporting the work triangle concept.
What does that look like? Your refrigerator, range, and sink should be in a triangular configuration with no less than 4 feet, and no more than 9 feet, between each (see image below). Further, you want to create work zones so that the other appliances are just outside of the triangle or, better yet, inside the triangle.
This one is very logical. Think of the kitchen in terms of three events: food preparation, cooking, and clean-up. Ideally food prep should occur near the refrigerator, pantry, and range/cooktop, where food is stored and cooked. Therefore, you would want your refrigerator, and pantry close in proximity to each other. As you prepare your home for retirement, another consideration for food preparation is create a place to sit while you prepare the food. This will allow you to be off your feet for a significant portion of the cooking process. A place to sit during food prep is particularly smart if you have tile or any other hard surface flooring.
For cooking you will want to group your cooking appliances together. Oven, range/cooktop, and microwave should be close to each other and near the prep area to reduce steps between the two areas. You should also plan ample counter space on each side of the range/cooktop. The microwave should be in a lower position so that you don’t have to reach over head to cook. Better placement for microwaves is just above the oven, in an oven cabinet, or a microwave drawer.
Your sink, dishwasher, and garbage should be placed in close proximity to each other. If you are right handed, place the dishwasher on the right side of your sink and the garbage on the left, and vice versa if you are left handed. If you have chronic back issues, you may want to consider dishwasher drawers or a dishwasher that is slightly elevated. This will help reduce the amount of bending you need to load and unload the dishwasher.
Kitchen islands can be a great addition to your kitchen as you prepare your home for retirement. However, if not planned carefully they can create a barrier. There are two occasions when an island becomes a barrier: the dinky island and the double island. The dinky island is seen in a lot of mid-1990’s to early 2000’s homes and remodels. This island is usually about 24″ deep and 36″ (or less) wide. Often the dinky island doesn’t allow enough open space in the kitchen and it sits between two of the appliances in the triangle. This positioning means there is no direct path between the major appliance and will cause you to take more steps.
The second type of barrier island is the double island. I have never fully understood the purpose of a double island. You will likely spend your time in the kitchen performing figure-eights around the two islands.
Seven: Slip Resistant Bathroom Flooring
The best flooring for bathrooms is tile. Tile is durable and it will last for many years. However, tile can be very slippery when wet if the wrong tiles are chosen for the bathroom floor. For maximum slip resistance and minimum grout lines, I recommend using a large format tile with a Dynamic Co-efficient of Friction >0.42. This is the standard used in commercial design for hotels and in health-care facilities.
You should also consider a level entry shower with a trench drain. The “curbless” shower can accommodate large format tile because the shower only slopes in one direction, but you will need to find a contractor and tile professional who is willing to do the work.
The back-up option for a slip resistant floor is to use smaller tiles with more grout line. The grout lines add traction to the surface. However, more grout can lead to more cleaning and more risk for mildew and stains.
Eight: Seating Height
Did you know that just a couple of inches difference in your seat height can make the transition from sitting to standing much easier? Have you ever been sitting and found yourself scooting forward and using your upper body to help get you to your feet? That’s probably because the seat of the chair or sofa was less than 17″ high. Recommended seat height is >18″ with a 19″ seat height being most ideal.
There are two components to ensuring appropriate seat height: the actual height of the seat and the quality of the cushions. This is particularly true with sofas. While you may purchase a sofa with a seat height of 19″, if the cushions are made of inferior materials, your seat height will not be maintained over time. If you want your seat to stay put for many years, you will need to invest in a high quality sofa. You can read more about sofa quality in my post “Is Your Seat Sagging? Seating for Aging” and “How Much Should I Spend? Sofas.”
Nine: Low Maintenance
The easier your home is to clean and maintain, the more you will enjoy your golden years. This starts with the exterior of your home. The most ideal material is brick because it does not need to be painted. Vinyl or composite siding is also a good choice. Reduce the amount of wood on the exterior of your home and use materials that won’t degrade from moisture.
There are other finishes you might want to consider that are low maintenance. Engineered quartz is one of the lowest maintenance counter surfaces on the market. Compared to granite and marble, it does not require regular polishing and resists stains. You may want to consider washable and scrubbable paints for easy to clean walls and moldings. Performance fabrics can also help reduce the wear and tear on your furniture and keep your upholstered pieces looking great for many years.
Ten: Smart Home Devices
Smart home devices, like the Amazon Echo, are a great way to improve your activities of daily living. You can control nearly everything in your home with a smart device. Lights, faucets, appliances, and locks can all be voice controlled. You can set reminders for tasks and the device can provide feedback to you. Forget to check the locks before you got in bed? Just ask your smart device. When do you need to change the air filter? Your smart device can tell you. Everything from your security system to your thermostat can be controlled by voice through a smart device.
Just for a giggle, here is Kennan Thompson doing some if his finest work on SNL
In all seriousness, smart home technology is becoming easier to use and new appliances and household functions are connecting to smart technology, like Alexa.
There are so many things to consider when you prepare your home for retirement. It can seem overwhelming and at the end of the day you still want your home to look stylish. If your desire is create a chic, timelessly beautiful home that will support you throughout your retirement, then you will want to start by downloading my “Designing a Retirement Ready Home” checklist! This list will help you make remodeling and design decisions effortlessly!