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Your home may fit your current lifestyle perfectly. You're relatively young, your eyesight is good and you have no problem retrieving items from the top shelf. In 10, 25 or 40 years, however, the same home may pose challenges that you never anticipated. The safer and more comfortable your home is now for people of all ages and stages in life, the fewer obstacles it will present down the road.

Here are some of the most common alterations -- many of which require no structural changes -- recommended by remodelers trained in the art and science of and Aging In Place and Universal Design (For a more detailed listing of features, refer to the sources listed at the end of this article.)

Exterior and Entrances

  • At least one step-free entrance is at ground level.
  • Walkways, at least 36 inches wide, are level with little or no slope.
  • Integrate a wooden or concrete ramp into a deck or landscaping design.
  • Keyless door locks and door openers are operated via remote control or keypad.
  • Lever-style door handles instead of round doorknobs.
  • Ample lighting both inside and outside the main entrance.
  • A roof, canopy or awning protects the main entrance from inclement weather.
  • The home's exterior and trim are maintenance-free.

General Floor Plan

  • The main floor is at ground level.
  • The kitchen, laundry area, and at least one bathroom and potential bedroom are on the main floor.
  • An open floor plan with fewer walls between rooms and no long, narrow hallways.


  • Plenty of clear counter space next to appliances and cupboards.
  • Open, uncluttered floor space for easy maneuverability.
  • Anti-scald faucet has a single level instead of two knobs or two handles.
  • Counters and other work surfaces are at different heights.
  • Counters have rounded corners instead of sharp edges.
  • Raised platform (with storage space) under dishwasher avoids excessive bending.
  • Appliance controls are easy to read and easy to reach.
  • Pull-out shelves and lazy susans provide easy access to food and storage items.
  • The sink, stove and other work areas are well lit.
  • Place microwave in base cabinet instead of above range for safety in dealing with piping hot food.

Laundry Area

  • Laundry area is on main floor, close to bedrooms and bathroom.
  • Front-loading washer and dryer are on raised platforms or stacked.
  • Appliance controls are easy to read and easy to reach.
  • Work area is well lit.
  • Folding table is suitably wide and easily accessible.
  • Storage areas are at various heights.


  • At least 36" of open space on each side of bed allows for easy maneuvering.
  • Light switches are reachable from the bedside and the door.
  • Extra electrical outlets (for medical equipment, etc.) are near the bed.

Closets and Storage

  • Use double bars, one low and one high, so items are reachable from a seated or standing position.
  • Adjustable-height, open shelving so there are no drawers to deal with.
  • Doors (not bi-fold) and door handles are easy to operate.
  • Area is well lit with an easily accessible light switch.

Doorways and Hallways

  • All doors are 36" wide to allow wheelchairs to maneuver throughout the home.
  • Hallways are 36" to 42" wide.
  • Lever-style door handles instead of round doorknobs.
  • Doors are sliding-style instead of the standard swing-style whenever possible.


  • Sturdy handrails are on both sides of all stairways, both inside and outside.
  • Stair treads are 10" to 11" deep, wide enough for the entire foot.
  • The stair rise is no more than 7" from one step to the next.
  • No carpeting

General Points to Consider

  • Lighting. As people age, they require more and better lighting in key locations. For example, add lighting underneath kitchen cabinets to ensure that the counters below are well lit. Throughout the home, a good choice is recessed lighting because there is no visible fixture to clash with existing aesthetics and the halogen bulbs they use provide a much truer, whiter light.
  • Electrical switches. Contrast the color of these switches to make them more visible. For example, use dark-color switches on white walls. Instead of toggle switches, use rocker switches, which are oversized.
  • Colors. To minimize vision problems, use contrasting colors throughout the home. For example, ensure that the color of the carpet or flooring near a stair is different from the color of the stair itself so that an elderly person can easily tell where the stair begins and ends.
  • Cabinets. Consider leaving doors off cabinets in the kitchen and elsewhere. This is very helpful for visually impaired people and for family members who have difficulty handling things.
  • Laying the groundwork. Remodeling a bathroom? It makes a lot of sense to reinforce the shower wall while you've got the chance, even if you're years away from needing grab bars. Adding 1/2"-thick plywood to the wall before applying the drywall and tile will save you the expense of specialty anchors years from now when the time comes for extra support. Similarly, installing plumbing on the main floor today will make it much easier to relocate the laundry area when climbing stairs becomes an intimidating obstacle

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