If you’re planning to do remodeling for an aging relative or friend, their budget for changes may be too limited to take on huge projects. But there are important changes you can add to your home or theirs to improve safety and make life easier.
Most of these ideas are either do-it-yourself projects or improvements a handyman can do. There are lots of other more expensive changes out there, however, that could be very worthwhile as well.
• Switch to slip-proof flooring and other surfaces: Redoing an entire floor may be costly and difficult, but falls on slippery flooring are one of the biggest worries for older Americans. Quick changes can be made in the bathroom or kitchen with non-slip rugs that cost only $10 to $15. You can also install bath mats with rubber suction cups; try cans of non-slip spray in bath and shower. Or mop on one of the Slip Doctors products that will etch the surface.
• Ramps for doorways: Even taking a very small step up to enter the doorway of a home can be an obstacle for someone with a wheelchair or a walker. Building a permanent ramp could cost a lot, but a portable ramp for one or two steps on the threshold can be purchased for about a few hundred dollars at most. You want a ramp with a high traction surface and one that can handle hundreds of pounds. Some can be purchased with handrails.
• Colored tape on steps: If there are stairs in the house, put colored tape at the edge of each step, so that residents going up or down will know exactly where they are and where to put their feet. Smaller rolls of non-slip grip tape will cost about $10 to $20 per roll, whereas larger rolls (20 yards) can be bought for about $50 online and in hardware stores.
• Better lighting: Switch incandescent can lights to LEDs to provide more light throughout the house. You can also replace the old can light housing with an all-in-one LED fixture from a hardware store that has a cleaner look for $20 to $30 (uninstalled) per LED can. You can also install LED lights with motion sensors at very low cost to light up the room when someone walks in. You can also easily install LED lighting under cabinets to make it easier to view countertops. Side lighting is better than overhead lights that can cause shadows. Rocker-style light switches are also easier to use.
• Widening doors: In many homes, some doorways can be 28, 30 or 32 inches wide, not enough clearance for someone with a wheelchair or walker. It can be expensive to have someone take off the old frame and rebuild it, but if you install offset hinges or remove part of the molding from the frame, you might be able to get the 34-inch clearance that’s needed without major reconstruction. Offset hinges cost about $20 to $30 per hinge, online and in hardware stores. If you were to widen and replace a door it could easily be $2,500 per door with a new door, framing, new trim, hardware, drywall repair, and painting.
• Time to declutter: Decluttering is a great way to make cleaning of your home an easier job. Go through old clothing, toys, games, and knickknacks to see what you can give away to charity and also get a tax deduction.
• Slide-out shelves in cabinets: You don’t have to completely renovate the kitchen to do this. There are kits sold online that allow you to install slide-out shelves in your existing cabinets. These shelves allow someone to find pots and pans or other items without bending over.
• Raise the height of a toilet: Installing a new, taller toilet is complicated and calls for the expertise of a plumber, but taller toilets are definitely easier to use as people grow older. Comfort-height toilets are 17 to 19 inches from floor to seat and can cost from $100 to $250 or more depending on what kind of toilet you like the best. You can, however, buy safety frames with railings flanking both sides of the toilet or seat risers that fit on top of an existing toilet.
• Smart faucets: Buy faucets that simply have to be touched to turn them on and off. There is some maintenance involved once they’re installed because they’re controlled by batteries that need periodic replacement. Depending on which smart kitchen faucet you choose, they could cost around $250 to $750 in hardware stores (uninstalled).
• Or choose faucets with levers instead of knobs: You can also choose faucets with levers considering that levers are easier to turn on and off. Faucets with levers cost around $90 to $200 at a hardware store. In fact, levers make better handles for doors than knobs throughout a house as well.
• Install grab bars in bathrooms but also in other places: It’s difficult to install grab bars on just any wall. It has to be a wall backed with reinforcement behind the dry wall. Otherwise someone who grabs on could pull the bar out of the wall. Even if it doesn’t happen right away, repeated use could loosen the screws and damage the unreinforced wall. However, you can usually install a grab bar if you screw the bars into the studs behind the wall. You’ll need a stud finder to locate where they are. Grab bars cost around $20 to $100 per bar from the hardware stores (uninstalled).
• Replace out-of-date smoke and carbon monoxide detectors as well: If you install newer alarms and detectors, there will be fewer false alarms. It would be nice if you would also change the batteries each year; try to do it on the same day every year so it will make it easier to remember. You can purchase a convenient combo unit from a hardware store for about $40 to $60.
Hopefully, a few of these ideas will inspire you and help solve problems for an older friend or relative.
For more do-it-yourself tips, go to rosieonthehouse.com. An Arizona home building and remodeling industry expert for more than 30 years, Rosie Romero is the host of the syndicated Saturday morning Rosie on the House radio program, heard locally from 8 to 11 a.m. on KNST-AM (790) in Tucson and from 9 to 11 a.m. on KGVY-AM (1080) and -FM (100.7) in Green Valley. Call 888-767-4348.