Retrofit Senior-Safe Home: Plenty of Do-It-Yourself Ways To Make Life Easier Part 2

December 12th 2011
Retrofit Senior-Safe Home:  Plenty of Do-It-Yourself Ways To Make Life Easier Part 2

As I noted last week, living independently for seniors is often less costly and more welcoming than moving to a facility. However, the design of our homes does not always address accessibility issues that sometimes come with growing older.

Last week, we looked at ways in which bathrooms can be modified to remove barriers to accessibility. Today, we will consider some specific things to keep in mind when remodelling the kitchen and other areas of the home for the future.


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

- Install the wall oven higher off the ground and a front-control cooktop.
- Install the microwave oven at counter level or below. Also allow recessed space beneath the kitchen sink.
- Look for a sink that is four inches deep rather than the standard seven-inch depth, and consider a sideby-side refrigerator and freezer so you do not 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.
- Use large handles on cabinets to make them easier to open and close for those with arthritic hands.
- 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 adequate task lighting. This is particularly important for the elderly who may enjoy reading, writing, sewing, or crafting.
- Add motion detectors on exterior lighting.
- 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 flooring that is grooved or ridged. Area rugs can also pose a hazard to an elderly 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 antislip solution.
- The rods in the closets should be 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. Logical time to put in reinforcement for grab bars.

This is important to the comfort of the area. If you are remodelling a separate suite such as a basement or coach house, there are some great options. They can range from adding a gas or electric fireplace insert or installing an in floor heating system. There are systems on the market for just about any type of heating retrofit application. Nuheat is a radiant electric floor-heating system that can be installed under floor coverings such as ceramic, natural stone or floating laminates. A ductless air conditioning heat pump system such as the Mitsubishi Mr Slim unit is ideal when there is no duct work.  Find a certified Shell Busey Home Service Referral provider to install ductless air conditioning by clicking here.

Several modular/manufactured housing companies throughout Canada manufacture garden or "granny" suites. This 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. In July 2009, the city of Vancouver approved "laneway housing,"; these are small houses at the rear of a lot tailored to fit into single-family areas. Approved laneway housing regulations and guidelines are available through Vancouver City Hall. For more information on manufactured housing, check out the Manufactured Housing Association of B.C. website.