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Personal and Business Banking

Ensuring That Your Home is Accessible Long-Term

StreetWise Consumer Education Program

  • Summary
  • Article

Long-Term Accessibility Article Overview

  • Accessible housing overview
  • Features you should consider when assessing your home for aging-in place

Staying put in a comfortable home is a priority goal for many individuals. Insuring that your home is accessible and supportive as you grow older can help you achieve that goal.

Many new homes are being designed to be comfortable, pleasant, and accessible to any person — young, old, with and without disabilities. Existing homes can also be made accessible — some with only minor modifications — others may take more extensive changes.

As you move into your retirement years, you may plan on staying in your current home or you may decide to move. In either case, it's important to ensure that your home continues to meet your needs well into the future and that you can remain in your home as long as possible. This means creating a home that hopefully helps you gracefully "age in place."

Accessible Housing Overview

What is accessible housing? For many people accessible housing means that the home is suitable for someone in a wheelchair. A broad definition is a home where a person can do what they need to do and desire to do as independently as possible. This definition covers everyone, not just those who use a walker or wheelchair.

Universal design takes the concept of accessibility even further. The goal of universal design is to create homes, workplaces, other environments, and products that are easy to use and attractive for persons of all ages and abilities without the need for adaptation or specialized design. The principals of universal design may be applied to both new construction and renovations.

If you've been in any recently built homes or toured any new homes, you've probably seen universal design features such as lever-style door handles, specific task lighting, slightly lower light switches, slightly higher electrical outlets, and programmable thermostats.

Features You Should Consider When Assessing Your Home for Aging-in Place

When assessing your home for aging-in-place, here are some features you should consider.

  • Living space all on one level, or at least a bedroom and full bathroom on the entry floor along with the kitchen and living room.

    The full bathroom should be large enough for a walker and/or wheelchair.

  • At least one no-step entrance.

    Entry thresholds should have no more than a one-half inch rise. A flush threshold is preferable.

  • Extra space for maneuvering within the home such as wider doorways and hallways.

    An open floor plan minimizes doorways and hallways and maximizes sight lines.

  • For a multi-story home, handrails on both sides of the stairs.

    Also, does a multi-story home have an elevator or a location for the addition of an elevator?

  • Large bathrooms with safety features such as grab bars.

    At least one bathroom with an accessible tub or shower such as a curbless shower, transfer shower or tub with integral seat. Plumbing fixtures and faucets should have lever handles, and anti-scald controls.

  • Improved lighting with multiple and adjustable controls such as dimmers, rocker or touch switches.

    Specific task lighting in kitchens, bathrooms, laundry areas, and other work spaces.

  • Electrical outlets that are at least 18 inches above the floor allows easy reach from a sitting position.

    Additional outlets at bed and desk locations for equipment.

  • Programmable thermostats with large, easy to read numbers and positioned in an accessible location.
  • Kitchens with all storage locations easy to reach.

    This can be accomplished with pull-out shelves and racks. Multi-level or adjustable counters to allowing cooking while standing or sitting. Faucets with lever handles and pull-out spray.

  • Closets with adjustable rods and shelves and lighting.
  • Flooring that is non-glare, slip-resistant, and offers low resistance to walking and rolling.
  • Easy parking and garage access.
  • Deck, patio, and balcony are at same level as the house floor.
  • Low maintenance exterior.
  • Low maintenance landscape.

There are many other features that can make your home comfortable for aging-in-place. The National Investment Center for Seniors' Housing and Care lists many resources and the Design for Health and Well-Being (pdf) from The Center for Universal Design College of Design of North Carolina State University describe these and other features.