More people than ever want to stay living in their own home well after they retire.
There is general agreement that people’s welfare is usually best served when, if at all possible, we provide them with care in their home when they need it, rather than requiring them to move into a retirement village or residential facility.
The recent Royal Commission into Aged Care recommended that the Government provide more ‘Home Care’ packages to reduce the waiting list for high level care at home.
This comes on top of a sizeable increase in the take-up of these packages after the 2017 “Increasing Choice in Home Care” reforms.
The terrible impact of COVID-19 on some residential care facilities has only reaffirmed this.
However, in some important respects, your home doesn’t compare well to facilities that are built specifically with accessibility and poor mobility in mind.
So, if you are approaching retirement or you recently retired, you should be thinking about how you can future-proof your home to ensure that it adapts to your changing needs.
Here are some of the key home renovations to consider that will enable you to stay in your home for longer.
The Main Approaches
The Australian Government’s Your Home website has a great range of detailed advice on preparing your home for changing needs and uses in the future.
It outlines three key approaches:
- The ‘Liveable House’ is designed to anticipate the changing needs of homeowners without the need for specialisation, based on the principles of ‘universal design’.
- The ‘Adaptable House’ continues with the principles of a liveable home but includes features that allow it to be easily adapted to become, if necessary, an accessible house.
- The ‘Accessible House’ is designed specifically for people who have mobility issues. As well as following the Australian Standard AS 1428.1-2001, it can also include bespoke features to take care of a specific occupant’s or visitor’s needs.
If your needs are more immediate and you have limited mobility, you will almost certainly require an accessible home straight away.
Most other people should be taking a proactive approach to ensure that any renovations they make allow their home to be both ‘liveable’ and ‘adaptable’, leading to significant savings if adaptations are required in the future.
This is best illustrated by explaining some of the general ideas that can be incorporated into any renovation, as well as features that are specific to different rooms:
These are the key principles that apply to almost every part of your home, inside and out, and include:
- Minimising the use of stairs to reduce the need for ramps or lifts in the future.
- Avoiding slippery surfaces or ones that hinder the use of a wheelchair, be that shiny tiles or a gravel pathway leading to the front door. Ideally all surfaces should be non-slip.
- Wider doors, pathways and corridors.
- Ensuring good lighting especially in areas that might include an unavoidable ‘hazard’.
- Using handles and switches that are easy to use by people with reduced arm strength or arthritis.
- Light switches may also need to be lower, plug points and other sockets (TV antenna, internet) higher.
- Using contrasting colours so that people with reduced vision can easily recognise edges or changes to surfaces.
- Various areas of clear space the size of a turning circle for wheelchair manoeuvrability.
- Cabinets can be designed to be easily replaced or adapted rather than reconstructed.
- Create part of the work surface at a lower height for someone who might use it from a chair or wheelchair, or a worktop that can be easily pulled out – both would ideally have leg room below.
- Consider the height and layout of areas where there will be hot food, cookware, or appliances. For example, you might want the cooktop to be near to the sink, or a microwave on a lower level worktop.
- In general, if a bathroom is designed with a wheelchair in mind, it should have the space and access that will help in almost all other situations.
- Whilst some people might not want to have ‘grab rails’ until they need to use them, other necessities such as soap dishes, shampoo holders and towel rails can be installed with fixture points that can be adapted for the installation of grab rails in the future.
- You can also fix 12mm structural plywood to any stud wall framing behind a finished wall to avoid the need to remove sections of the wall or tiles to insert support points later on.
- Shower areas should be wide enough for a chair and also for a carer, and access shouldn’t be impeded by a ‘lip’ designed to prevent water from spilling into other areas of the bathroom. This can be avoided by designing the correct floor angles and drainage.
- You may also consider a ‘walk-in’ bath.
- As with other areas already mentioned, the height of things like the vanity and toilet need to be considered, but if you are unsure, install them as removable fixtures.
- If you own a two-storey home, the main thing to address is your stairs.
- Aside from the potentially expensive option of replacing them with a lift, it is also worth looking at whether it is possible to separate the upstairs from the ground floor and create individual entrances.
- If there is enough room downstairs for you to live comfortably, you can then rent the first floor to supplement your retirement income.
Think about the sorts of activities you are likely to continue with or adopt after retirement. Some ideas include:
- Ensuring you have a spare bedroom for visiting relatives or grandchildren.
- Creating a ‘hobby room’ with space to carry out a chosen pastime.
- A home office if you are looking to transition from full-time to part-time work.
Timing Your Renovations
It isn’t a good idea to leave renovations aimed at making your home more liveable and accessible to the last moment. By that time your needs may be pressing, and you likely won’t have as much resilience to withstand the inevitable disruption.
Some of the ideas we’ve outlined can be incorporated into a renovation well before you need to make use of them and making your home more adaptable widens the potential group of buyers should you ever wish to sell your home.
If you are starting to think about renovating your home to future-proof it for your post-retirement years, we’d love to hear from you and help you understand your options.
For 40 years, Addbuild has led the field in designing and building major renovations, extensions and additions, helping thousands of Sydney homeowners create their ‘forever’ home.