Small Houses and Aging Boomers

idie2liveNovember 27, 2012

Hi all. Something has been on my mind lately that I thought I would post about.

As we get older and have health issues, it becomes more important that our homes are acessible. Recently, I had my hip replaced and when I came home from rehab, I found out that my walker coud not get into my hall bathroom door! Luckily, when I added a half bath last winter I put in a 36" wide door. (Thank goodness).

I had already removed my bathtub and replaced it with a walk in shower,which is working out good for me.

Like most of you, I am working on my small house, room by room. But now I can see the importance of small changes that can make a lot of difference as I get older.

I have a 5 year plan to expand my hall bath (using some closet space in my spare bedroom) to enlarge the doorway and arrange it to be more acssible (I plan to be here until.................) lol.


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Always a good idea to think ahead. When we were looking to buy a vacation home in Florida, we were shown some second floor units. The stairs were outside. I asked the realtor what would have if we can't get up these stairs? He said "Then you don't belong here!" Come on! If we are buying this with retirement in mind, how many times would we want to move at this stage in the game?
I think that when you get to be in your fiftites and sixties, you should sart to think about the "what ifs".
I have a coworker who recently downsized to a two story townhouse. When I mentioned the flight of stairs she said. "Well, we are only in our fifties!"

    Bookmark   November 27, 2012 at 4:18PM
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You are so right. My mom couldn't get into her bathroom after her knee surgeries and also couldn't get into her bed which had one of those tall mattresses. Luckily, she had another bathoom also that she could get into, and a lower guest bed.

I've been thinking of replacing our toilet with a taller one because it will be my knees that go next.

    Bookmark   November 27, 2012 at 4:21PM
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Annie Deighnaugh

We built our house with some accessibility in mind...we have a place to put an elevator should we need one, we have a ramp on one side of the exterior for no stairs access. Our doors have latches instead of knobs (just wonderful as when your arms are full of groceries, you can still open the door with an elbow), seat in the shower with a handheld. Some of this was because we saw our aging parents facing difficulties, and some of it was because infirmity knows no age limit....when I busted my ankle 15 years ago, I was thankful that we lived in a ranch, but even the 2 steps from the garage to the house was an incredible challenge.

    Bookmark   November 27, 2012 at 9:47PM
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I'm using Universal Design on the house I'm currently building in SC. All 36" doors, wide hallways, lower switches and higher outlets, and even a sitting area at the kitchen counter. While we're both healthy (now), there is always the potential for illness or injury. My SIL was confined to the main floor of their gorgeous 3 story home after a knee replacement.

The only weak link will be steps at the front door and into the garage. Due to our sloping property, it was unavoidable. In both case, there is enough room to build an ADA-compliant ramp. The basement is accessed by stairs, but since we have a walk-out, you could drive a person around back to get in. Not ideal, but workable. I plan to maintain a humble gravel driveway to the back of the house, mainly for moving heavy objects in and out of the basement, but it would also serve for access.

It would be interesting for a healthy person to try to navigate an average home in a wheelchair to see what the challenges are. You would soon find that wall switches are rather high (Why are they so much higher than a doorknob, for example?), there are a lot of tight spots that you either can't get through, or can't turn around, and that upper kitchen cabinets are essentially useless. Bathrooms are notoriously challenging, usually being too tight to turn around, and things like shower curbs are obstacles. They now have designs for curbless showers, but they don't meet code in some areas! If you redo a bathroom, make sure there is sturdy blocking in the walls for grab bars, even if you don't install them now.

Universal Design is even more challenging in a small home, especially an older one. The very typical home we live in now would be a challenge, even though it is a ranch. Thanks for reminding us!

    Bookmark   November 28, 2012 at 6:11AM
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After having two hips and a knee replaced already, with more surgeries to come, this is exactly why I am building a smaller house with 36" doors, wider halls, lever knobs, walk-in shower, tall stools, no steps anywhere, etc. These young people who are building three stories, with bedrooms all upstairs will have a rude awaking when they get older or have some type of accident that prohibits them using stairs, etc.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2012 at 8:36PM
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Boy this hits home for me too. When the psoriasis got so bad on my feet I could barely walk and the arthritis in my hips and knees so painful from the psoriasis, I was seriously considering a chair either wheel or one of those scooter chairs. I did look into requirements. Our doors are just barely wide enough inside to get through and furniture would have had to be eliminated for easier clearance. We would have had to put a small ramp on the front porch.The other three doors have two or three step stairs. Would be hard to do ramps on the stairs on the sides of the house because of snow fall.

Fortunately I am healing from this flair and will not need to go as far as a chair. I did use my home office chair for awhile in the really bad times. DH drove me to work. I could wheel all over the office.

We really considered a shop house and it would have required two stories. This is exactly why we ended that consideration. My health problem hit me so fast and hard it was shocking to be perfectly healthy feeling great active one day and crippled almost the next. This has been going on for over a year and a half. I do not think this is wise words just for the aging boomers, although I am one myself. Anyone could be hit hard and need accessibility in a hurry.

Good to see you posting. Glad your hip surgery went well idie2live.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2012 at 11:30PM
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I'm glad your surgery went well, and I'm glad you popped in to remind us about these issues. When we bought our house in 2007, one of the goals was to find something where we could age in place fairly well. Our house is one storey, with no narrow hallways. When we redid the galley kitchen, we put in mostly deep drawers and minimal uppers. The interior doors are 30" rather than 36", but we could change that on the two larger bedrooms. The bath(s) are a bigger challenge, and we haven't arrived at a solution there just yet.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2012 at 12:15AM
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Annie Deighnaugh

Many moon ago, in grad school, I took a course on diversity....was such a great course. Prof had us read an article written by a disabled Vietnam was so enlightening. Rather than refer to himself as disabled, he called the rest of us "temporarily able bodied". It is true that infirmity may just be around the corner for any of us.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2012 at 9:19AM
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I told my son to take down the kitchen table so I would have room to maneuver around. It turns out that I don't miss it at all, so far. I think I'll just keep it down and use a folding table when I need one.

I think it was Jay who mentioned a 'curbless' shower. I have a friend who has a bathroom that is completely tiled from floor to ceiling. It is essentially a 'wet room'. So if water spills out of the walk-in shower it does not hurt anything. Now, that would be nice to have (sigh..... I can dream).
I see we are all thinking about the same things. Ten years ago I never gave a thought to what would happen as I got older. But age has really opened my eyes.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2012 at 8:11PM
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As others have said it matters not what age you are....A friend had an accident at home (age 44 or so) and ended up paralyzed. Fortunately all of his friends and coworkers(he's a carpenter) rallied together and put in ramps and outfitted the basement as his living quarters. Well with a lot of rehab paid for out of pocket since "insurance" only covers 26 weeks he's able to stand with help. His wife has MS so it's difficult all around.
When I do get a house in the next century I insist on a shower room. My SIL installed one and I love to take showers there, not like my confined bathroom ! I do love my 18in deep cast iron tub though and intend on enjoying it for a long long time :)

    Bookmark   November 29, 2012 at 9:38PM
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hey idie! good to see ya on here. great that your new bathroom has a larger doorway. Hope you are healing quickly from your surgery.

when my sister and BIL built about 5 yrs ago now they planned ahead for if/when she might need a wheel chair. As I've been doing things here she constantly reminds me to do what I can to prepare - even knowing there's a lot I can't do here (at least now).

I'm ever so grateful to have a separate shower here - no more climbing over a tub side. I've put in lever door handles, faucets when changed out will be a 1 lever handle and light fixtures are made so bulbs can be replaced without unscrewing little screws around the globe covering them.

my bathroom doorway is about 5' wide (no door on it). I thought about having a door built into it then decided to just put up a shower curtain - I retain access with that wide doorway.

A new doorway being put in from kit to tv room will have a 32" doorway. that's about the best that can be done there for now.

I can tell you from when my kneecap was broken that a grab bar next to the toilet would be a wonderful thing to have. sitting down and standing back up was incredibly painful w/o something to grab onto to help pull myself up. I think my neighbors could hear me scream. down the road a bit (when things needed now to finish moving in are done) I'll have my helper guy check in my mstr bath for the wall studs next to the toilet - and in the shower.

He did tell me the other week that he thinks he can use the metal steps at my back door as a base for a ramp. I might have him work on that next year. I think I have 3 steps at the front and back doors and that's really 3 too many at each. I'll be happy to have even 1 ramp to use.

'only in the fifties' - oh yeah. injuries and illness don't limit themselves by an age group. I started being limited in about my mid to late 40s. By 50 I was struggling with a lot of activities - low file drawers at work, sitting at the desk for a long time (even an hour) then trying to get up. It only got worse.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2012 at 10:32PM
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When I was a newlywed looking at houses to buy, a lovely real estate saleswoman sat me down and said "I know you're young and healthy and think you'll be healthy forever, but look at "accessibility" when you buy a house. People are aging and you may need an accessible house in the future". Now she had her motives- the house we liked had a full bathroom on the main floor as well as upstairs near the bedrooms. We stopped and thought about it. Yes, even if we didn't "need" a bathtub and shower there, it would be a selling point if we decided to move at some future date...

    Bookmark   December 1, 2012 at 3:09PM
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We're 46 and 49, but we're definitely considering our future needs as we plan our retirement house. I don't ever want to be forced to leave this house.

I regularly help with one elderly relative's care, and I see the challenges she faces each day. Over and over, I notice things that could be easier for her IF her house were just a little bit different. So I'm trying to avoid those things in the house I'm planning. Some specifics:

- Doorways and hallways were mentioned, but consider clear swing door hinges; these can get you a tiny bit of extra space -- cheaper than full-scale remodeling
- Laundry close to the master bedroom (if you're less than mobile, carrying a laundry basket through this doorway and around the kitchen island isn't easy)
- Storage for plenty of supplies (in case we're not able to drive ourselves regularly)
- Automatic-on lights in the pantry, laundry room and hallways (if you're dependant upon a walker, reaching up to turn on even a convenient light switch isn't easy)
- Dark countertops (because my dishes are all light in color, and a contrast is easier to see)
- A shower with a seat, a handheld shower, and grab bars (my nursing-student daughter, who's worked in a nursing home, tells me that the ability to bathe yourself is often the first big problem that grabs people's attention -- or it's the first place that people have an accident)
- Space where an adult child (or grandchild or paid caregiver) could live and have some feeling of independence
- Low maintenance exterior items such as brick

    Bookmark   December 2, 2012 at 4:57PM
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When we redo our kitchen, I'm getting rid of most narrow doorways in the interior by knocking down walls. The new entry to the master bedroom will be a 36 inch door, accessible from the back deck. There is a wide gate from the end of the driveway which could see the car drive right to the back deck, and a ramp up to the deck installed so we could enter through the back door at the kitchen. I'm leaving the current lower deck, but adding a higher piece to it that will be same height as the new kitchen floor. All these floor heights I'm dealing with now, really are awful, and that is one reason we must redo all the hardwoods.

I have trouble with my knees already, and it takes me a long time to carry boxes of books up and down, the stress on my knees is painful. Who'd of thunk an injury the night of my 16th birthday to my left knee would be bothering me 50+ years later? But it does. All these kids today who sustain sports injuries, little do they realize they'll have hell to pay down the road.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2012 at 2:28PM
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So good to have IDIE back amongst us with her sound point of view well expressed as always. Sure did miss you, lady.

And, about the lever door handles. I love them. However, I have had trouble with the Kwikset entry sets failing on me.
The set we installed in the sunporch won't unlock from the inside or the outside. That is the double deadbolt model, which has the option to set your locks all alike. Don't know if that had anything to do with it or not.

I wanted double deadbolt because all my entry doors have glass in them, and for security it did not make any sense to let someone break the glass and then flip a latch and be in the house.

Now, the back door is failing and I can no longer deadbolt from the inside. If I do, I have to go around the house, come into the back fence (which is usually latched from the inside anyway)somehow, and unlock the back door from the exterior deadbolt. That is a great inconvenience, and a hazard in case of fire. What I'd really like is the lock which accepts a code. There is a new option out, which lets you unlock your doors using your cell phone. Now THAT is great, it seems to me. Anyone know anything about these options?

    Bookmark   December 5, 2012 at 10:21AM
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Love the lever inside door handles. EXCEPT when I need to lock kitties in a room. The one kitty has learned how to open them. Had to tie a string on it and up over the door for more resistance so she can not open it.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2012 at 12:06PM
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And people wonder why I have a discreet hook and eye on some of my interior doors :)

    Bookmark   December 5, 2012 at 1:07PM
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Hi All,

I still read the posts on a regular basis. I've been checking on Marti's kitchen/dining room; Steph's move over to her new home; Jay's new house and ML's kitchen remodel.
So, I still lurk in the shadows. It's good to see so many people posting.

I have quite a few drawers in my kitchen and they have been great. When you have hip replacement, they tell you not to bend over for 12 weeks. But I can get my pots and pans out of the 2 top drawers with no problems.

Also, I have one of the 'sticks' that you use to pick things up with. I think they call it a 'Reacher'. They are really useful for all kinds of things. Do you have on Steph? I think you would find it useful.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2012 at 5:59PM
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IDIE, I'm planning more drawers than shelves. I get down and I cannot pull myself up without pain to the knees.

The "reacher" is easy to find. Not expensive either. And, for the kitchen, I use my nice red-tipped curved tongs to get a good grip on glasses on the top shelf, or even canned goods, or anything that is not too too heavy. The red is out of the same material they tip spatulas with. Could be other colors too, I suppose, but mine is red. It gives me another 12 plus inches of reach.

I'm so excited to have the local architect coming tomorrow. I guess I'll have to print out my inspiration pictures, and also show him the new features of the house that we've added in the recent past, so he can keep the new part in step. It has to be beadboard, white cabs, and I'm thinking IKEA cabinetry with LOTS of drawers. And the shelf at above-the-door height all around the room. Plus the window seat in the dining room. A garden window going to counter height with no backsplash behind the sink.

Oh well, I better start printing pictures. :) Neat. Joy to the world!

    Bookmark   December 6, 2012 at 8:57PM
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Hi Loretta, I thought I remembered you saying that you were reading, just not typing much! It is good to hear your contributions again.

I have a half bath that is situated where the halls to the foyer, kitchen and laundry all meet. It is smack in the middle of the house. It is our only extra bath, and I have considered making it a wet room with nothing in it but the toilet, a sink above the toilet tank for washing hands (your wash water becomes the flush water for the next flush), and a shower head in a tiled room. I guess a towel cart would be on wheels and would get wheeled into the hall when a shower was in progress. A shower curtain would have to be drawn over the inside of the door to make sure it did not leak out into the hall. I would move the door to the long wall, giving the option to have it be a wider door, and making a bench space for the wall that is a 90 degree angle from the wet wall. One could sit on the bench and adjust the taps. There would have to be a good heater/vent fan in the ceiling. This would have to be my accessible bathroom.

Our big bathroom has a tub in it. It also has two sinks, and the big vanity keeps us from being able to widen the door. I have thought that when we remodel it (the tile is beginning to show its age), I might do a smaller vanity in order to have room near the toilet to transfer from a wheelchair, but that pushes the vanity back by the door again, too. Making the half bath accessible by making it a big wet room might be easier.

This house was built in 1978, when multi-levels were popular. We got rid of the level change from foyer to living room and we made a ramp down into the family room from the kitchen when it was remodeled. The only two level changes now are from the foyer to the rest of the house (4 inches) and from the laundry to the rest of the house(also 4 inches). I have ramps made of aircraft aluminum for these two steps. I also have one for 2 inches and two for 6 inches that I no longer need. We have a composite wood ramp coming up to the front door of the house. It is a little steeper than code, but works well for us.

Here is a link that might be useful: Ramp from kitchen to family room.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2012 at 3:12PM
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"Do you have one Steph? I think you would find it useful."

I do have one! my sister gave it to me and I love it! She had 2 - kept 1 at each end of her house. I think that's a wise thing to do - hopefully, she's bought herself a 2nd one again. I try to keep it in the kitchen area but often do end up with it elsewhere.

" I get down and I cannot pull myself up without pain to the knees."

oh, do I sure understand this! I find it sad that I EVEN have to PULL myself up these days! Not sure I could even get back up if I didn't have something to pull myself up on/with. It's a horrible feeling.

"I use my nice red-tipped curved tongs to get a good grip on glasses on the top shelf, or even canned goods, or anything that is not too too heavy."

ha! This has been going thru my mind - wondering what can I get that will be shorter/smaller to reach into cabinets and such for a spice bottle or something. I've wondered if tongs with coated ends would work - glad to hear they do! Will pick up some to have on hand.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2012 at 5:37PM
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nancy - can you post a pic of your outdoor ramp?

I need to start gathering ideas for a ramp here.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2012 at 9:24PM
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Steph, here it is, but my front porch is only about a foot high. The ramp slopes down from the porch along the garage wall, meets up with a concrete ramp ending at the sidewalk level.

Here is a link that might be useful: Long view of porch and ramp

    Bookmark   December 8, 2012 at 1:11AM
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thx nancy! it doesn't look too steep to me. I know code has many requirements tho. not sure how close to that I'll end up - lol! my door is about 32" up from the ground.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2012 at 9:23PM
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You need to check with your local code, but most areas would have a maximum slope of 1:12. That would mean for your 32" high door you would need a length of 32 feet.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2012 at 7:28PM
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Steph, Dekeoboe is right, an inch per foot. That is why you see ramps snaking all over peoples' front yards! Mine is about 9 ft., not up to code. I didn't ask. Jim built it in the wintertime. He made a tent above the area that had to be dug out, and brought a big propane burner to thaw the ground, then dug. Mud and clay in freezing weather. He says it was worth it to him to get it done, that he paid for the propane out of his profit. The city has never asked me about it, and they were out here several times last summer with the permit and inspections for the foundation problems.

Steph, keep your eyes open on Craigslist. People buy aluminum or steel premade ramps to use for elders, then sell them when they pass on. You may even find wooden ones people are wanting to sell.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2012 at 11:47PM
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