One aspect of remodeling for aging in place that does not get enough consideration is a home’s exterior. As you age, maintaining the outside our homes can increasingly become a burden. Planning ahead for exterior maintenance that can help you achieve a lower level of upkeep for the outside of your home. Also, a few aging in place remodeling changes to the outside of your house can help make it safer and easier to navigate the outside, as well as getting in to or out of your home.
As we grow older, getting in and out of our homes can become more difficult. Making the proper preparations now will help alleviate many common problems, such as not being able to climb stairs or allowing access by a wheelchair or walker. It will also help prevent accidents associated caused by improper access, such as slippery walking surfaces or tripping. Making these types of changes to the ways you enter your home can make your life a little easier, as well.
Doorways should be 36” wide. This will allow people to enter your home, whether walking, using a cane or walker, or using a wheelchair. (Typically, 32” is the minimum width that a wheelchair can get through.) If you can’t change the size of the opening, another approach is the use of offset door hinges. Using these hinges can increase the clearance of a narrower door.
Other home entrance ideas to consider:
- Provide cover at the main entrance, such as an overhang or canopy.
- If you are remodeling, consider providing space for a wheelchair ramp at the main entrance in case you need it in the future.
- Install an automatic light at the main entrance.
- Ensure flooring outside and inside the entrance is slip resistant.
- Install a lever door handle on the door. You may also want to consider a key-less lock system.
Low/No Lip (Step) Entries
Older people or those with limited range of motion may have a hard time lifting their legs up and over a traditional threshold. So, modifying the threshold (step up) at the main doorway so it is 1/2″ or less is very important. There are several this can be done, such as replacing the existing sill or raising your porch. An experienced (and licensed) remodeler could offer suggestions appropriate for your home and needs.
Steps & Sidewalks
As we said previously, removing steps by adding a no or low-step entry will reduce the risk of falling and make the transition easier from outside to inside. Depending on the elevation of the ground at this entrance you may need to look at alternative doors for entry or exit in order to avoid the step. Also, any steps should have a texture surface applied to them to prevent slipping. If you have multiple steps, consider installing a ramp for easier access. Another good way to prevent falls if you have multiple steps into your home is installing a handrail on both sides of the steps.
Ensuring that your sidewalk is wide enough, slip resistant and free of tripping hazards will help keep occupants and visitors safe. The sidewalk should be a minimum of 36″ wide and should not be be overly steep. If the sidewalk is prone to be slippery or is uneven in places, you should consider having a textured surface applied to it. Also, cracked and/or uneven sidewalks can be major tripping hazards. Have a licensed contractor look at issues like these to enhance your ability to safely enter your home.
A few other things to consider:
- Keep shrubs, bushes and trees cut back on both sides of sidewalks and steps
- Install path lighting
Adequate lighting helps illuminate walkways, assists with identifying obstacles and reduces the risk of falling. Make sure there is a light by the entrance door; preferably one that comes on automatically. Also, have lighting installed along pathways and have security lighting on every corner of the house (or other areas of concern). Call a local electrical contractor and have them consult with you on how to improve exterior lighting and improve safety.
Entrance Shelves or Seats
By adding a shelf or seat by the door you can provide a place to set packages while you find keys and open the door. This will help prevent falls at the main entrance, as many have the natural tendency to unlock and push the door open in two short moves. Doing so with packages in hand might cause a fall on entrances with a step.
There are two areas to be aware of when preparing the outside of your home for aging in place, since keeping up with repairs and maintenance can reduce problems that happen to a home over time. First, low maintenance exterior construction (vinyl, brick) on the outside of you home will ensure minimal upkeep is needed. Also, if the roof is in need of repair, it is important to have a qualified contractor look at it. Water damage from a leaking roof or damaged exterior materials can create serious issues for your home and your health. Second, having low maintenance landscaping is important. Not only does this reduce the amount of work required for the homeowner, it will also reduce the expense should you decide to turn your maintenance over to a company. Consider removing landscaping and yard accents that increase maintenance. A licensed contract can help you decide ways to reduce the maintenance required for the outside of your home.
Many people do not wish to have ramps installed into their home because they don’t like the way they look. The truth is, many can be unattractive, but they meet a very important need by providing safety for an elderly person. That being said, ramps can be done tastefully and compliment the style of you home, as well as make it easier for everyone to enter your home. Ramps should slope gently, provide plenty of walking and turning room and have handrails on each side. There are many things to consider with ramp installation, but the most important is to have a licensed contractor design and build it to suit your particular situation.
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