I’m a member of the baby boom generation. Like most people in this demographic, I’m not as nimble as I once was. Even so, I get around well “for my age”, although I do have the help of a new left hip. I exercise regularly and don’t need the assistance of a cane, walker, or wheelchair. I’m proud to say that I can still climb stairs as fast as most 30 year olds. But this won’t always be so, and it’s important that I recognize that, especially when my wife and I build our next home.
In my experience as a modular home builder, however, many people underestimate the inevitable effects of aging when they design their home. It’s not because they fail to think about it. Nor because we fail to bring it up when discussing their selections. In fact, our T-Ranch model home displays several Universal Design features that should be considered by anyone who wants their home to be user friendly as they age. But most people have a budget and when forced to make a choice between a feature that will benefit them in the distant future or an amenity they really want now . . . . Well you know how that goes.
The most vivid example for me occurred not long after we built our T-Ranch model home. Two sisters in their 70’s decided to build a custom one-story that contained many of the Universal Design options in our model. However, they didn’t choose to eliminate the stairs to their front or back door. They said they were in good health and able to get around on their own. I pointed out that it was easier to create a level entrance without ramps if we did this while building their home. This is always true, but it’s particularly true on a property that’s very sloped, which was true of their lot. The stumbling block was the extra fill required to build a “bridge” to one of her exterior doors.
There were two reasons they decided against this. One was because the fill would cost a few thousand dollars, which they could only afford by giving up the hardwood floor in the dining room and living room. In addition, they didn’t like how the property would look with the extra fill.
Sadly, one of the sisters had a serious stroke two years after they moved into their home. Although she survived, she could no longer move about without a wheelchair. Since there was no level entrance, the sisters had a ramp built to their back door. It was quite sizeable – and by their own admission unattractive – because the door was five feet above the finished grade. But it was the only practical choice at that point.
When I tell this story, most people are surprised the sisters made the choice they did. But I’ve found that many people make these kinds of choices because of how strongly they want their dream home to include all of their desired amenities.
Ultimately it’s your choice what you build. But give serious thought to building a home that meets your family’s needs now and into the future. Design it so it allows you to age in place without forcing you to make expensive renovations, move, or radically alter your lifestyle when your abilities start to slip. It’s certainly something my wife and I will do.