Baby boomers, keep the future in mind when remodeling home

New AARP research found that just like past generations, eight of 10 baby boomers, the first of whom began turning 65 on Jan. 1, are happy right where they are and don't want to move elsewhere. Yet another AARP study a few years back found that the classic suburban homes where boomers tend to live are not conducive to aging in place.

Fortunately, boomers are right at the life stage when owners tend to remodel their homes. And with a little foresight, the rehab they undertake can incorporate important universal design features that will accommodate their needs now and later in life. There are plenty of small, relatively inexpensive changes you can make now to make your place easier to live in, not just for you but for everyone, regardless of age, size or ability.

With that in mind, let's take a quick walk around the typical house and see what can be done:

Entries. Every house should have at least one no-step pathway leading in and out. Often, you can build a ramp at the side door that is less obtrusive and less expensive than one at the front.

A 36-inch-wide door is ideal, but that often requires a major remodel. So if that is out of the question, at least consider switching to a zero threshold, adding brighter lights inside and out, making the walk slip-resistant and installing a lever-style handle.

While you're at it, build a shelf near the entry where you can place packages while opening and closing the door, switch to a lighted doorbell, consider easy open or keyless locks, light up your house numbers and paint the number on your curb for the sake of emergency responders.

Stairs. If possible, you'll also want to eliminate open, see-through stair risers and add deeper treads that accommodate your entire foot to prevent tripping as well.

Make sure that you have handrails on both sides of the steps, both inside and out. Also consider widening the stairway to a full 4 feet to accommodate a future chairlift.

Another trick: Make the front edge of the steps a contrasting color to provide visual orientation. You can buy inexpensive adhesive strips, use two different kinds of wood, or finish the edge in a different stain.

Electrical. In a perfect world, light switches would be 42 inches off the floor and electrical outlets would be 18 inches from the floor. Switch to easy-touch, rocker-style switches.

Living areas. Consider extra outlets to accommodate future technology or medical equipment. And buy at least one comfortable chair with a seat at least 18 inches off the ground.

Also, take another look at that dining room you hardly ever use with an eye toward converting it into a first-floor bedroom if the need ever arises.

Kitchen. If you are considering a kitchen remodel, do so with universal design in mind. Among other things, you'll want multiheight, rounded-edge countertops so you can work standing or sitting, color-contrasted front edges to help prevent spills, space under the sink or cooktop if you have to work while seated, and easy-access, under-the-counter storage such as a pullout pantry or adjustable shelving.

If you are buying new appliances, consider a drawer-style dishwasher and refrigerator to reduce bending, a range with front-mounted controls that are highly visible and front-loading washer and dryer. Also, put the garbage-disposal switch where it is easily accessible and go with an anti-scald faucet with a lever handle.

Less costly improvements that will make the kitchen easier to use include bright, non-glare task lighting over the sink, stove and work area and D-shaped or pull-style cabinet handles.

Bathrooms. A redo is not cheap. But if one is on your radar screen, you might want to include a no-threshold walk-in or roll-in shower (4 feet wide is preferred), a hand-held adjustable showerhead with easily operable controls, maneuvering space that accommodates a 60-inch turning radius, and a toilet no closer than 18 inches from any side wall or cabinet.

Shower seats, grab bars and adjustable toilet seats, lower for children and higher for older people, are less taxing on your pocketbook. Designer toilet seats now come with built-in night lights, and some designer grab bars can hold up to 300 pounds without blocking behind the walls.

Also, leave knee space under the sink for seated users, and consider full-length or tilted mirrors, rounded-edge countertops, pull-type drawer handles and reduced-slip tile or nonskid tile flooring.

Lew Sichelman has been covering real estate for more than 30 years. He is a regular contributor to numerous shelter magazines and housing and housing-finance-industry publications.