Exploring House Plans for Seniors

by on May 20, 2012Shannon O'Brien

Talking about seniors is a challenge. It’s not like talking about teenagers, or toddlers, who all pretty much like the same things. Seniors today include baby boomers with a broad range of ages, interests and living situations.

Younger boomers sometimes bristle at being called seniors, especially if you call them that while they’re on a road trip on their Harleys or rock climbing on the Costa Brava.

house plans for seniorsThe term “seniors” also refers to the elderly; older folks who are slowing down, naturally or due to illness, and finding it a bit difficult to get around. Not yet ready for assisted living, many elderly folks want to remain in their homes, or at least sell the one they’re in and purchase one with a friendlier layout.

Whether you are that senior or the child of one and are trying to find help determining suitable house renovation plans for seniors, read on.

Single Level Homes

A single-story home is the most obvious requirement for a senior living on his or her own. Even younger seniors find that traveling up a flight of stairs sometimes hurts the knees. For older folks, not only may stairs be difficult or impossible to navigate, there is the real danger of slipping and falling.

Wide Hallways and Doorways

Most hallways in homes are 36 inches in width, which is far too narrow for a senior in a wheelchair. In an existing home, knocking out a wall to widen a hallway may be a major project. If you are purchasing a home, ensure that hallways are at least 42 inches wide – 48 inches is ideal, according to the experts with the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.


Use a ramp to compensate for changes in level that a frail senior may have trouble navigating. Curved ramps aren’t recommended, according to the experts at Drummond House Plans, as steering a walker, wheelchair or scooter may be challenging on a curved surface.


Over 230,000 people are injured in the bathroom each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Two-thirds of these accidents occur in the shower. Making your bathrooms senior-friendly is as easy as applying non-skid strips or a rubber mat on the shower floor and grab bars inside the tub. There are, however, other things you can do for extra security, according to the National Aging in Place Council (NARI):

  • Remodel the shower so the senior can roll into it in a wheelchair.
  • Lower the bathroom sink.
  • Install an elevated toilet.


Traditional kitchens are the most challenging rooms for a wheelchair bound senior to navigate. Even if you currently don’t use a wheelchair, if you plan to age in place, you may want to consider the possibility that a wheelchair may be in your future.

The specialists at NARI have several suggestions on how to make the kitchen user-friendly for seniors:

  • Install cabinet hardware that is easy to grip.
  • Provide at least one 34-inch tall countertop with no obstructions beneath it. This allows seniors to sit while performing kitchen chores.
  • Elevate the dishwasher one foot off the ground.


Install a walk-in closet with a doorway that is at least 36 inches wide. To make them easier to reach, lower shelves and clothing bars. Move the light switch inside the closet to within 36 to 40 inches from the floor.

For those middle-of-the-night trips to the bathroom, light the pathway from the bedroom to the bathroom. This can be accomplished with a nightlight or with motion sensor lighting. Large home improvement stores carry nightlights with a kick plate that the senior can turn on with the touch of a toe.


Good lighting is essential for safety in the senior’s home. There’s a delicate balance, however, between adequate lighting and creating glare.

The CDC recommends florescent bulbs while NARI says that LED bulbs are longer lasting than traditional or florescent bulbs. To avoid glare, NARI suggests installing easy-access dimmer switches, pendant lights and under-cabinet lighting.

If you plan on renovating your current home rather than purchasing another, be sure to use a contractor who holds the Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) designation.

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