Your home is more than four walls and a roof. Filled with the people and things you love, it tells the story of your life. No wonder many studies have found that most people age 50+ say they want to stay in their current residence for as long as possible.
If that is your goal too, now is the time to plan ahead. Have you taken a good look around to see if your home will accommodate the changes your body will likely go through as it ages? While many of us remain healthy and active in our later years, we may still experience changes in vision, strength, flexibility, balance and reach. That often means the house the once “fit” us so perfectly no longer does. It might be time for a remodel.
While we often think about remodeling as a way to update or freshen up the look of our homes, it’s a perfect opportunity to integrate universal design (UD) ideas to create an environment that’s easy for everyone to use—regardless of age, size or ability. UD emphasizes convenience, simplicity, flexibility and adaptability, and includes appealing and stylish features that are widely available today.
One universal design idea that can be applied to just about any remodel project relates to lighting. Why is lighting important? Almost all of us experiences some change in vision by the time we reach 50. We notice print is too small to read and the room is never bright enough. While bothersome, most of us easily manage. More difficult to deal with is the uncorrectable “low vision” caused by eye diseases that are more common in later life such as glaucoma, macular degeneration and diabetes. People with low vision have trouble reading, may be unable to distinguish certain colors and often can’t see low furniture or a slightly raised surface like a door threshold.
The following 10 ideas can make any home a little brighter and easier and safer to navigate. Be sure to consider them in your remodeling plans. You’ll be amazed at the positive impact even simple changes can make.
- Increase the amount of natural light throughout the house. Choose window treatments that diffuse sunlight, not deflect it.
- Supplement natural light with lighting from multiple sources. These may include track lighting, recessed lighting or pendants that hang from the ceiling.
- Add glare-free task lighting over the sink, stove, countertops and island work areas in the kitchen, and over the sink, tub and shower in the bathroom.
- Install additional lighting where safety hazards exist, such in stairways where trips and falls can occur.
- Choose light colored wall coverings, work surfaces and counters to increase the reflectivity of available light.
- Control glare by selecting matte finish paint, wallpaper, counter tops, and other surface materials.
- Choose colors that will remain visible and can be differentiated from one another, for example, use colors from the red orange family against blue, green or other cool colors.
- To help objects stand out from their backgrounds and to help distinguish between surface levels, furnishings, and potential safety hazards, use the “contrast principle” where the object you want people to see contrasts with its background. For example, light colored wall coverings will contrast with darker floors to bring attention to a vertical vs. horizontal surface.
- To help signal a change in elevation between adjacent rooms, use flooring that is in strong contrasting colors. If the floors are the same level, use the same or similar intensities of floor colors.
- Choose a counter top color that contrasts with the color of the floor beneath, to enable the counter’s edge to be easily seen.
The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence® creates innovative business solutions for the mature market. Staffed by gerontologists, the center is uniquely positioned to apply knowledge of aging to develop one-of-a-kind products and services for The Hartford’s customers, and specialized training for The Hartford’s employees. The center conducts original research in partnership with academic institutions and produces public education programs on safety, mobility and independence. The Hartford has had this in-house expertise since 1984, guiding The Hartford to unparalleled success in understanding and serving the mature market.