In the year 2001, 3.5 million baby boomers joined the ranks of Americans over the age of 55. Furthermore, AARP (formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons) tells us that fully 82% of people over age 50 want to spend their golden years in their own homes. Presumably that includes many houses that have been around for half a century or longer. As more and more people ask themselves how their existing houses can provide the safe, convenient surroundings older folks need, two new catch phrases have entered the remodeler’s vocabulary: aging in place and universal design. The National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) is advising remodelers that they can’t afford to ignore the aging-in-place market that is, the one made up of old people in old houses. It’s the innovative use of universal design—the design of environments to satisfy the needs of many types of users—that makes staying in their old houses a viable option for aging owners.
No matter what your age, it’s never too soon to start thinking about how your house will work for you during the years when you’re most likely to need its help. Experts agree that the best time to consider changes to your living space is before—not after—you’re also being forced to think about hip replacements or live-in caregivers. In fact, many real estate agents advise that there’s nothing about a thoughtfully designed accessible house that’s likely to make it worth less when resale time rolls around. After all, even young people meet with the occasional temporarily or permanently disabling disaster. Even young people have friends or family members with disabilities whom they’d like to entertain comfortably and with dignity in their own homes. (Lugging visitors like sacks of potatoes from one floor to another may be well-intentioned, but it is definitely neither comfortable nor dignified for the lug-ees.)
So whatever your age, before you restore, rehab, or remodel an old house—preferably before you even buy—one consider these factors: