Renovate for Golden Years

by Stacie Duce

Contractors in Montana offered the following suggestions for transitioning a home to match the needs or wants of senior living:

Wendy Bauder of B&B Cabinetry Design Company in Hamilton has worked with many seniors to redesign kitchens and bathrooms to meet new needs and preferences.

“We recently designed a kitchen for a customer – a sweet woman who was five foot-nothing and wanted a place in her kitchen to roll out her dough at the right height, so we built an island in her kitchen
with no toe kick which made the whole thing four-and-a-half inches shorter. It was perfect for her,” she said.

Bauder said if a family has senior living and limited mobility in mind, then she recommends roll-outs and pull-out cabinets and drawers so that the essential kitchen items can be accessed down low in
an efficient manner.

“As far as cabinet height, it’s silly to require you to get on a ladder to get anything,” she said. “I love deep, pull-out drawers where you can see everything and reach everything you use daily.”

On the other hand, when it comes to bathroom vanities, Bauder said her company has been raising the cabinets for seniors so they don’t have to bend down as far.

“Normal vanity height is 33 inches, but we often build them ‘base’ height, which is 36-inches tall. Those extra inches make a big difference for some people,” she said.

“Eventually, wheelchairs might come into play, so those thinking about renovations need to seriously think about doorways,” Bauder said.

If the space allows, turning one door into French doors or even taking the door off altogether and
enlarging the opening might be the best way to prepare for convenient mobility. Other contractors
recommend having every interior room door the same standard three-foot width as the exterior doors.

Many recommend changing round doorknobs to levers, which are easier to open for seniors. A low threshold on door seals also reduces the potential for trips and falls.

Contractors recommend seniors live in a single-story dwelling with no stairs or minimal stairs. Paul Beck of Beck Construction recently remodeled a home for a couple in their 80s where the 1980s staircases made 90-degree turns. The triangular steps on the curves had become a hazard. He changed the staircase to descend straight with wide steps, new handrails and night lights along the stairs.
“It made all the difference for their safety,” he said.

“I recently had an 89-year-old tell me that I needed to stop installing wide handrails because they were hard for him to grip,” he said. “They may look cool, but it’s much easier for someone to wrap their whole hand around a one-and-a-quarter inch round rail.”

Beck recently built a home with no stairs or steps – including at the door to the garage. “We sloped the concrete up to meet the door so that they could walk in and out without a step.”

Beck said installing automatic garage door openers might be commonplace now for most homeowners, but they are essential for seniors. He said seniors might need to evaluate door systems on older homes
and consider replacements of new, lighter doors with smoother tracks.

He said another fun choice in a garage for pet owners is to have a waist-high pet shower where seniors can wash their dogs with significantly less risk that’s associated with wet surfaces and bending down to handle a pet.

“As you get older, not everyone can step over the edge of a tub very well and might lose their balance,” said Erik Abrahamsen, who owns Erik’s Plumbing and Heating in Darby. He said if seniors aren’t investing in an extensive bathroom renovation, they should at least think about installing grab bars.

Abrahamsen also suggested the simple improvement of replacing regular toilets with a comfort height, which are two inches taller.

Abrahamsen and his son have also been installing more walk-in tubs than in the past. And they are
seeing people chose to build showers without a lip for unencumbered walking or rolling into the shower.
He said customizing a bathroom is a great idea because “everybody has different tastes and preferences and ideas of what will work for them.”

“Everybody likes to have things warm,” Abrahamsen said. “But seniors need to consider the hardship of chopping wood when you get older for a wood burning stove. If people are thinking about renovations, they might consider replacing a wood stove with a gas stove so that they don’t have to worry about wood.”

When choosing appliances and where to install them, Beck suggested putting microwaves below the countertop on an island for easy access. He said homeowners should choose a freezer on the bottom
of their refrigerator and even raise the dishwasher higher for easier loading and unloading. He said
choosing wall ovens over ranges work well for seniors, and having front-loading washers and dryers
on pedestals are a perfect height.

For seniors who are ready to install a ramp for rolling access to their home, Beck recommends choosing between aluminum, concrete and composite wood materials for durability and strength of structure.

He suggested residential ramps comply with the same recommendations for slope required by ADA for commercial ramps if possible. If a homeowner is pouring concrete, Beck also recommended heated sidewalks and driveways to keep them free from ice.

Ian Northcott of Northcott Construction has built many commercial facilities for hospitals and elderly
care facilities. He said for spouses who are caregivers of those beginning to suffer with dementia or
Alzheimer’s disease, organizational tricks can make all the difference in day-to-day living.

Many care facilities use pictures instead of names on room doors, for example, to help those who might
lose their way. At home, the same thing might help by labeling drawers or bins with pictures rather than words.

“People first lose the ability to remember names or words, and so addressing that early might help
avoid many frustrations,” Northcott said. “The goal for most seniors is to stay in their home as long as possible, and little changes can really help make that happen.

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