Downsizing Essentials

Because Downsizing Shouldn't be Hard

Design Considerations for Independent Living


In response to the huge wave of baby boomers starting to retire, all sorts of products and services are popping up catering to the 50-and-over crowd. However, none of them hits as close to home as the growing trend of Age-in-Place Specialists.

Organizations across the US and Canada are introducing certification programs for professionals specializing in Senior housing.  In the United States, the Certified Aging in Place Specialist training (CAPS) program was developed by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Remodelers, NAHB Research Center, 50+ Housing Council and the AARP.  Age Safe Canada is the sister organization that is expanding across North America and also picking up traction in the increasingly important Senior Sector.

Aging-in-Place, also known as Independent Living principles are changes to custom-fit your home design taking your current and future circumstances into consideration. These design principles focus on flexible, elegant, aesthetically enriching, barrier-free environments; not clinical or institutional feeling changes. “Nobody wants to live in a home that feels like a hospital, these are changes that can actually increase the value of your home,” according to Michael Bradbury, a Realtor and owner of Burlington based brokerage.

What is aging-in-place exactly? If you are like the majority of Canadians you want to continue living at home in a familiar environment throughout your maturing years. Aging-in-place means living in your home safely, independently and comfortably, regardless of age or ability level. It addresses the need to remodel existing homes and design new homes, so that people can age in place and not have to move to assisted-living facilities as they age. Less than 5% of existing homes would me independent living standards in Canada, a movement in residential construction has sprung up to meet this new consumer demand.

Nearly 6.6 million Canadian are age 65 years plus and make up nearly 20% of the country’s population, are quickly catching onto this trend. The economics of aging-in-place modifications are a no-brainer. Moving to a typical assisted-living facility can cost up to $80,000 annually. The cost to widen the bathroom door, put in safety bars, and add a roll-in shower would typically cost about $8,000 to $12,000, but doing so is a one-time expense, not a yearly drain on your finances.

In addition to the economics, consider the psychological impact of being uprooted from your community, familiar rituals, independence and privacy. The affordability of aging-in-place remodeling is enhanced by the availability of special grants. For example, in Ontario, the March of Dimes, Home and Vehicle Modification program can assist eligible seniors for up to $15,000 for home modifications during their lifetime. This can cover the cost of an entire bathroom remodel or a stair lift.

Too early to think this applies to you? Consider how many folks struggle with bouts of arthritis at an early age. If you fell and broke a leg, how easy would it be to get up and downstairs in your house? Perhaps you have aging parent or relative who is facing these challenges who may need to move in with you.

Construction and design professionals, like Nick Bowles from Look Out Safety Consulting, are taking advantage of the Age Safe Advisor training program across the nation. This designation has been taught since 2017 through Age Safe America and recently offered to Canadian professionals in the Senior Service industry in 2019. The Senior Home Safety Specialist course empowers professionals with actionable ways to better help educate clients, older adults and their family members on the serious issues of home safety, fall prevention, financial exploitation and personal safety.

Look for the Age Safe Canada credentials as a reliable way to identify professionals to modify your home or build a new one that is designed for a lifespan. Senior Home Safety graduates receive training about the technical/construction aspects and learn about the unique aspects of working with older Canadians. They must also take formal business training, maintain their credential through continuing education and even must subscribe to a Code of Conduct and have a Background Screening.

What kind of changes are we talking about?

Nick Bowles from Look Out Safety Consulting has compiled a list of common modifications that he has encountered while helping Seniors on the job.  “The overall goal is to make the home safer, with less maintenance and more barrier-free.”  Typical changes include the following:

Getting safely and securely into and out of the house. For example,
  • Better outdoor lighting to get you from your car to the door.
  • Attractive ramps or a zero-step entrance for the home.
  • A package shelf by front door.
  • Handrails at existing steps and porches.
  • A front door with sidelight for security.
  • Fewer or no stairs.
Changes in the kitchen for easier meal preparation and eating. For example,
  • Lever-handle faucets with pull-out spray.
  • Raised dishwasher to avoid back strain (a good idea for front-loading washers and dryers, too).
  • Rolling island that can be placed back under the counter.
  • Revolving corner shelves and pull-out shelves.
  • Lower, side-opening oven.
  • Pull-out cutting board.
  • Adjustable height sink.
  • Side-by side refrigerator with slide-out shelves and a water/ice dispenser.
  • Cooktop with controls on front.
  • Larger, friendlier cabinet and drawer pulls.
Changes in the bathrooms - the number one place for accidents in your home. For example,
  • Attractive grab bars in the shower.
  • Lever handles on faucets.
  • Slide-bar-type hand-held shower, for sitting or standing.
  • Shampoo nooks inset in the wall.
  • Curbless showers so that there is nothing to step over. These can be rolled into if a wheelchair becomes necessary later.
  • Tub and shower controls moved closer to entry point.
  • Anti-scald, temperature and pressure balanced tub shower valves for safer bathing.
  • Widened entry doors to at least 32.”
  • 32”-36” pocket doors.
  • Higher toilets with non-slam seats and lids.
Moving around within the house. For example,
  • Improved lighting with recessed fixtures in common areas and hallways.
  • Lever handles on doors and windows.
  • Lower light switches and thermostats; raised outlets.
  • Planning for a future elevator by stacking closets.
  • Adding blocking in walls for future chair lift at stairs.
  • Wider doors that accommodate wheelchairs and walkers.

These are just a few examples. Virtually all rooms of your house can be improved, even closets and garages.


Nick Bowles

Nick has worked in the Safety and Construction industry for over 25 years. Handy with a hammer, quick with a joke, makes Nick popular with the 55+ crowd who entrust their homes in his skilled hands.