An eye on the fu­ture

Think about ac­ces­si­bil­ity when ren­o­vat­ing your home

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - HOMES - By Pa­trick Langston

AG­ING in place: The pop­u­lar phrase makes grow­ing old in your own home, sur­rounded by the things you love, sound pos­i­tively idyl­lic.

But the re­al­ity can be quite dif­fer­ent when your arthritic knees cry for mercy ev­ery time you climb the stairs and the pot drawer un­der the oven is sud­denly just be­yond your reach.

We’re not pre­pared for the tsunami of changes we’re go­ing to face in our hous­ing needs as we grow older, says Robert Howlett, owner of Sage So­lu­tions for In­de­pen­dent Liv­ing Inc. (www.sages­o­lu­, which spe­cial­izes in prod­ucts and ser­vices to im­prove res­i­den­tial safety and in­de­pen­dence.

Ag­ing in place is usu­ally less ex­pen­sive than in­sti­tu­tional care, Howlett says, with $25,000 to $30,000 the max­i­mum that most peo­ple are will­ing to spend on ren­o­va­tions to stay at home.

The prob­lem is, most of us don’t think about mak­ing our homes more ac­ces­si­ble un­til an ac­ci­dent or sud­den ill­ness, many of them as­so­ci­ated with old age, forces our hand.

That was the case with Ming-Che Chen, one of Howlett’s clients. Chen had barely re­tired when a vacation ac­ci­dent in Hawaii three years ago left him a para­plegic. His son, Ja­son, found and mod­i­fied a home close to his own for his fa­ther, mother and sis­ter.

“A lot of the things we’ve done for my fa­ther would be suf­fi­cient to let most se­niors stay in their homes,” says Ja­son. They in­clude re­vamp­ing the first floor so his fa­ther can live there com­fort­ably. The din­ing room was con­verted into a bed­room. A main-floor linen closet and pow­der room were com­bined into a bath­room with an ac­ces­si­ble shower. Car­pet­ing hin­dered wheel­chair move­ment, so it was re­placed with com­mer­cial-grade vinyl.

Other up­grades in­cluded an el­e­va­tor from the garage to the main floor, mak­ing it eas­ier for the elder Chen to en­ter and exit the home.

Howlett calls bath­rooms — with fix­tures too close to­gether and dif­fi­cultto-ac­cess show­ers — pub­lic en­emy No. 1 for ag­ing clients. The rooms of­ten need to be gut­ted, with ren­o­va­tion costs usu­ally run­ning $10,000 and up.

Howlett is en­thu­si­as­tic about the Best Bath Sys­tems’ line of bar­ri­er­free acrylic show­ers. Start­ing at about $2,500 plus in­stal­la­tion, they fea­ture a door and thresh­old that can be re­moved to al­low wheel­chair ac­cess. They also have a wood core, so grab bars can be lo­cated any­where.

Kitchens, with their hard-to-reach cab­i­netry and stan­dard­ized lay­outs, are an­other chal­lenge as we age. The Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion of Re­tired Per­sons (AARP) says ovens with side-hinged doors and multi-level work ar­eas can make life eas­ier.

De­signer Dyanne Don­ahue, of Per­sim­mon In­te­ri­ors (per­sim­mon­in­te­ri­, has helped clients ren­o­vate for ag­ing in place. She sug­gests rel­a­tively in­ex­pen­sive re-dos such as re­plac­ing cav­ernous lower kitchen cab­i­nets with draw­ers for plates and glasses. Drawer in­serts from Riche­lieu (riche­, avail­able at Riche­lieu Hard­ware on Belfast Road, help keep items or­ga­nized, she says. A coun­ter­top ex­ten­sion that folds down when not in use makes food prepa­ra­tion eas­ier for some­one in a wheel­chair.

Other sim­ple changes can make a home more elder-friendly, says Don­ahue. Lever-style light dim­mers avail­able at Home De­pot are a bless­ing for those with arthri­tis.

Tiled floors should be non-slip and the grout flush with the tiles so walk­ing is more com­fort­able and trip­ping less likely.

Echo­ing Howlett, she stresses the im­por­tance of be­ing proac­tive about ag­ing.

If you’re do­ing a kitchen ren­o­va­tion any­way, ask your­self how it could be de­signed so it’s ac­ces­si­ble if you lose some of your mo­bil­ity.

— Postmedia News

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