Renovate for Independent Living

March 24th 2009
Renovate for Independent Living

For many seniors, living independently at home is a much less costly and much more welcome alternative to moving to a seniors facility however, the design of our homes, does not allow for the increasing disabilities that sometimes come with growing older. Seniors can have some difficulty carrying out daily activities because of steep stairs, hard to reach switches and cupboards, or bathroom fixtures that are too awkward.

Some of these barriers, however, can be eliminated without major home repairs or having a big impact on your budget. In general, adapting the space in a home to accommodate an aging resident should have enough space for a wheelchair or walker. This includes wide aisles and doorways, large toe kicks, and adjusted countertop heights. Here are some more specific ideas to keep in mind when remodeling for the future.


-  Install a bowl that hangs over the edge of the vanity to accommodate a wheelchair.
-  Install a single lever faucet with a retractable nozzle for easier reach.
-  Have a mirror that tilts forward, for comfortable use by a wheelchair user.
-  Install backing behind walls for grab bars, especially in the tub/shower and toilet areas. If you're remodeling the bathroom and you're tearing out tiles around the tub, then it's a logical time to put in reinforcement for grab bars.
-  Install faucets with single-handle controls or infrared sensors.
-  Buy a special toilet or retrofit an existing toilet to raise the seat 17 inches from the floor.
-  Include a large roll-in shower with a seat, separate the tub and shower or replace the tub and shower combination with just a shower.


When planning a new kitchen for independent living, careful choices of appliances:

-  Install the wall oven higher off the ground and a front-control cook top.
-  Install the microwave oven at counter level or below,. Also allow recessed space beneath the kitchen sink.
-  Look for a sink that is 3 or 4 inches deep rather than the standard 7-inch depth, and consider side-by-side refrigerator and freezer so you don't have to reach, bend, or crouch to get into either.
-  Arrange cupboards for easy access to heavy items.
-  Choose cabinets with pullout shelves, turntables or Lazy Susans in cupboards.
-  Provide lower countertops with higher toe-kick space to accommodate wheelchair users.
-  Use large handles on cabinets to make them easier to open and close for those with arthritic hands.
-  Provide seating so cooks can sit while preparing meals.
-  Make sure knee clearances have a minimum width of 30 inches, 36 inches is ideal. The clearance should also be 27 inches high and 19 inches deep.
-  Additional conveniently placed electrical outlets may need to be installed.


-  Install wider doorways and hallways. Door openings should be at least 32 inches wide, A 36-inch-wide door is even better.
-  Hallways also should be at least 36 inches wide.
-  Use pocket doors or doors with hinges that allow them to open wider. Also, create open pathways in and around the room.
-  Consider which way doors should open.
-  Install levered door handles that are easier to grasp than traditional round doorknobs.
-  Replace flip-type light switches to rocker switches.
-  Light switches, thermostats, and other controls should be no more than 48 inches from the floor.
-  Install good task lighting. Equipping any room with proper lighting is important, and particularly for the elderly who may enjoy reading, writing, sewing, or crafting.
-  Add motion detectors on exterior lighting - Well-lit entries are safer and they act as a crime deterrent.
-  Equip the entry door and other doors with easy-to-use levers instead of knobs.
-  Electronic keyless entry locksets can replace keys for entry doors.
-  Automated security services are available.
-  Provide flat thresholds that are easily navigated by someone using a wheelchair or walker.
-  Avoid hard tile or any flooring that is grooved or ridged. Area rugs can also pose a hazard to an elderly or sick loved one. Look for smooth hardwood flooring or commercial-grade carpeting.
-  Install non-slip flooring in the kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room, or treat floors with an anti-slip solution.
-  The rods in the closets were lowered and shelves installed so that objects can be raised off the ground - placing the clothes most often used in the middle of the clothes rod.
-  Purchase a front-loading washer and dryer with front controls and place it on a raised platform.
-  Casement and crank-style windows are easier to open and close than double-hung windows.


This is very important to the comfort to the area If you are remodeling a separate suite such as a basement or coach house there are some great options when it comes to heating and cooling. They can range from adding a gas or electric fireplace insert, installing Nuheat in-floor radiant heating under tile or a ductless air conditioning heat pump system.

Everyone deserves an independent lifestyle, and Shell Busey's Home Services Referral Network can help you with the services that can make Independent Living possible whether you are renovating, adapting an aging relatives existing home or creating an a secondary suite in your basement or coach house. There are companies that can install wheelchair ramps, grab bars, shower seats, customized bathtub enclosures, and more. Click on any of the blue links for information pertaining to specific items.

Several Modular/Manufactured Housing companies throughout Canada manufacture garden/granny suites.

Garden Suites

A garden/granny suite is a portable, self-contained modular home, without a basement. It is installed temporarily in the rear or side yard of a lot with an existing, permanent, single-family house. Usually, a garden suite has a kitchen, living room, one or two bedrooms, bathroom and storage space. Your municipality may have planning or zoning regulations governing these types of suites. These regulations can set restrictions, such as distance from the permanent house, parking requirements, how long a garden suite can stay on a lot and the appearance of the garden suite. For more information on Manufactured Housing visit The Manufactured Housing Association of B.C. website.

Remember, It's Just That Easy!