An age-in-place house plan (a home in which you live independently for the rest of your life), in order to be successful, requires a design that accommodates the inevitable physical changes which occur when the human body ages. Many residential dwellings can present challenges for users as they get older. Minor obstacles for the younger person, such as numerous stairs, narrow hallways, tight spaces or poor lighting, can become major problems for aging adults.
Our homes need to provide better support for those physical and sensory changes that older adults encounter as they age, they need to be more barrier free. Fortunately, the trend today is toward a more universal design, featuring standardized environments and products that are easily and safely accessible by all, regardless of ability, physical conditions or age.
Whether you are planning a home for an aging parent or you are a member of the baby boomer generation looking ahead, start by considering various design features for your aging-in-place house plan. Before dealing with the specific details such as appliances and cabinetry you will first need to address the structural design of the house plan itself.
STRUCTURAL HOUSE PLAN FEATURES
- All on one level or, at least, the main living areas such as living room, kitchen, bedroom, bath, laundry and garage. For one of our clients building an aging-in-place 2-story home on a sloped property with additional lower level guest bedrooms and a media room, we specified structural provisions in the plan for a future elevator to be located in a closet. This would always allow them to enjoy the use of those lower level rooms with their family and friends without worrying about climbing stairs.
- Open floor plan layout for easy maneuverability. Also, lots of natural light.
- Accessible decks or porches with a floor level difference of no more than ½".
- Low maintenance exterior siding such as brick, stone, stucco or vinyl. Even if you normally pay someone else to take care of those things, why not save the money for other necessities.
- At least one well lit, no step-entry with 36" wide door, preferably covered for protection, lever handles and flush or beveled threshold (max.) ½" high.
- Minimum 36" entry walkway, level or low sloped.
Garage or Carport:
- Wider than average and 5' minimum space between van and car to allow for lifts.
- 9' high overhead garage door with opener for raised roof vans.
- Sloped concrete slab for ramp with a 5' landing area.
Interior Doors, Hallways, Windows:
- 3' Doors (yielding 32" clear passage) operable with lever handles.
- Minimum 36" wide well lit hallways. We generally like to design our homes with wider and shorter hallways sometimes set at 45 degree angles to adjacent areas. This not only facilitates accessibility but is also aesthetically pleasing. In addition, hallways are a great place to install solar light tubes for the convenience of not always having to turn on a light.
- Lots of windows for natural light, preferably tall with lowered sills and easy operating hardware. Casement windows are a superior choice over double hung since they are easier to operate and provide better ventilation.
Kitchen and Bath:
- Accessible, open kitchen layout with counter heights and work stations that accommodate wheelchair use and maneuverability with ease.
- At least one wheelchair maneuverable bath on the main level providing 60" turning radius or adequate T-turn space of 36"x36" or 30"x48" clear space.
- Wall mounted (or open under) bath sinks for knee room.
- Minimum 36" no threshold showers with fold down seats, tubs with doors or adjacent space for seat transfer.
- Wall bracing for grab bars to support minimum of 250 pounds at toilet, tub and shower areas.
Pre-planning and proper structural design of the house plan are important first steps in building your future barrier-free retirement home for aging in place. Following these guidelines will help to ensure a safe and comfortable home to enjoy for the rest of your life.