Six home modifications to help you age in place

How to age in place

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Your home may be exactly what you need right now, but how about in 10 years, or 20?

More consumers are thinking that far ahead. Almost two-thirds of baby boomers say they do not plan to move in retirement, according to a 2014 Demand Institute survey—and, of those, 62 percent have lived in their current home for more than a decade.

Not surprisingly, so-called aging-in-place renovations that make homes friendlier for older adults have boomed in popularity. A recent survey of remodeling site Houzz users found that 20 percent of staying-in-place seniors remodeled a kitchen last year and, of those, 60 percent made upgrades with aging in mind. Among the quarter of seniors who upgraded a bathroom, 69 percent made an aging or accessibility upgrade.

Read MoreThe true cost of staying home for retirement

The good news? Design that's friendly as you age isn't necessarily going to be painful to your wallet—or your younger self's design aesthetic.

By's Kelli B. Grant
Posted 3 Aug. 2015

Reducing trip and slip hazards

Handicapped disabled access bathroom bathtub with grab bars.
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Project popularity: Among Houzz users who took on an aging-in-place remodeling project last year, 20 percent installed slip-resistant flooring in the bathroom, 11 percent in the kitchen and 6 percent in other areas of the home. Twenty-nine percent removed trip hazards from their residence and 26 percent installed grab bars.

What you should know: Reducing the odds of slipping comes down to smart choice of flooring material. "You don't put in those shiny, smooth surfaces," said certified aging-in-place specialist Barbara Murphy, a design consultant with Neil Kelly in Lake Oswego, Oregon. When picking tiles, look for those that have a higher coefficient of friction value, which means they provide greater traction. (A rating of 0.6 or higher meets Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines.) Flooring with ridges or low-pile carpeting can also be smart footing-friendly picks. Prices will vary by the materials chosen and square footage.

MetLife's Aging in Place workbook estimates two grab bars and installation will cost $250. But there can be some cost considerations. Bars should be graded to bear at least 250 pounds, said certified aging-in-place specialist Robert Criner, chairman of the remodeling arm of the National Association of Home Builders. Otherwise, they may come down with you rather than halt a fall. For the same reason, installation may also require more extensive work than simply bolting the bar in place, to ensure adequate structural support.

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Room accessibility

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Project popularity: The Houzz survey found that 16 percent widened a kitchen door, 11 percent widened a bathroom door, 6 percent widened a door or hallway somewhere else in the house, and 2 percent either installed an elevator or lift or prepared a space to do so in the future.

What you should know: Widening a doorway might seem like an easy project, but that's not always the case. Fixes like using offset hinges or removing molding from the bottom few feet of the doorway can buy you an extra 2 inches or so, for roughly $100, said Criner, who is also the owner of Criner Remodeling in Newport News, Virginia. But actually removing part of the wall can get pricy. "You have to think about what's going on inside of that wall," said certified aging-in-place specialist Katy Dodd, vice president of business development for Lifewise Renovations in Prairie Village, Kansas. Shifting electrical wiring, redoing parts of the flooring and purchasing a wider door can push the cost up in the range of $1,200 to $5,000, she said.

Adding an elevator is a far pricier project, with the elevators themselves ranging into the tens of thousands of dollars. MetLife estimates the cost of a stair lift runs from $3,000 to $12,000. Total project costs are tough to estimate, said Criner. It will depend not just on the elevator, but also on the configuration of the home. Still, he said, "It's less expensive to put in an elevator than it is to add a master bedroom and bath on the first floor." And you'll still have full use of the house. Per Remodeling Magazine's 2015 Cost vs. Value report, the national average for a midrange master suite addition is $111,245; an upscale one can cost $236,363.

Kitchen accessibility

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Project popularity: Houzz found that 28 percent or respondents changed their kitchen layout and 6 percent changed the location of their kitchen.

What you should know: The rule of thumb in kitchens used to be a 36-inch gap between kitchen counters and islands, said Criner. Now it's more common to see 42 to 48 inches. The aging-in-place angle is creating enough space to accommodate a wheelchair, but the immediate payoff is a space where multiple cooks can easily maneuver around each other, he said. That kind of adjustment is usually done as part of a bigger kitchen remodel; per Remodeling Magazine's 2015 Cost vs. Value report, the national average for a midrange major kitchen remodel is $56,768; a minor kitchen remodel is $19,226. Going upscale? A major kitchen remodel averages $113,097.

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Kitchen functionality

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Project popularity: Thirteen percent added seated work areas, 13 percent added easy-to-reach storage and 2 percent lowered counter heights. Others updated their appliances, with 28 percent adding easy-to-operate faucets and 24 percent installing easy-to-open appliances.

What you should know: "The important thing in kitchens is to keep it flexible," said Murphy. Varying kitchen countertop heights can allow for seated or wheelchair accessible prep stations as you age; in the meantime, they work well for shorter adults and kids. Think about the accessibility of appliances and cabinets, too, Dodd said. Drawer dishwashers (roughly $600 and up, plus installation) can be a sleeker choice than simply raising the dishwasher to avoid bending over, for example, while pull-out cabinet drawers and organizers (hardware runs under $100 at most major retailers) can make it easier to access kitchenware without digging through deep cabinets.

Bathroom accessibility

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Project popularity: Twenty-six percent added an easy-access shower, 19 percent changed their bathroom layout and 7 percent changed the location of their bathroom.

What you should know: Bathroom projects are some of the most often done, said Murphy, with the most popular project being large "curbless" showers that can accommodate a wheelchair or simply eliminate the need to step over anything to enter. It's an improvement that pays off for younger couples, too—the larger space can look luxe and spa-like.

Walk-in tubs are becoming a less common request, said Criner. "You have to open the door, sit down … and wait for the water to fill up," he said. Then wait for it to drain before exiting. That can trigger an extra cost: widening the pipes for faster filling and draining, he said.

The cost of updating a shower or bath varies widely as part of larger remodeling projects. Per Remodeling Magazine's 2015 Cost vs. Value report, the national average for a midrange bathroom remodel is $16,724; adding a bathroom is $39,578. For an upscale remodel, those averages jump to $54,115 and $76,429, respectively.

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Bathroom functionality

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Project popularity: Thirty-eight percent raised the height of their toilet and 24 percent added seating in their existing shower or tub.

What you should know: Comfort height toilets can make it easier for someone who is elderly or disabled to sit down and get back up. "Those are an easy swap," said Criner. It's no more expensive than putting a regular toilet in." (That can run $100 to $150 for a basic model, plus labor.) But don't assume higher is better, Dodd said. A shorter adult may actually have a tougher time maneuvering the taller fixture.

Another, pricier option: a smart toilet, which cleans and dries the user. That can be attractive for people who have mobility issues, said Dodd. Prices start at roughly $350 for a seat to retrofit an existing toilet. But installation can present other challenges, too, she said: The electric units can require a nearby plug or revised bathroom wiring.