Home » Features

Remodeling for the future

Submitted by on March 1, 2017 – 7:10 amNo Comment

This Pearland kitchen remodel by William Cole of Divine Renovation involved opening the entire kitchen for universal access and adding recessed lighting, engineered hardwood floors and new stainless Thermador appliances from Ferguson. Counters are an ultra-compact surface from Olympus Marble & Granite.

This Pearland kitchen remodel by William Cole of Divine Renovation involved opening the entire kitchen for universal access and adding recessed lighting, engineered hardwood floors and new stainless Thermador appliances from Ferguson. Counters are an ultra-compact surface from Olympus Marble & Granite. photo – Kenneth Kosub, Lime Light Films

Many of these design upgrades add to market value

by Mara Soloway

As Americans, we love our independence – we want to live in our homes as long as we can despite changes to our physical health. Baby boomers are a driving force for remodeling efforts made under the names aging-in-place and universal design. Whether you or your parents are among the approximately 75 million boomers in the U.S. driving these efforts, it makes sense to look at them as future-proofing a home.

In their manual Residential Design for Aging in Place, authors Drue Lawlor, FASID and Michael A. Thomas, FASID, CAPS say that future-proofing means “integrating features that will improve the client’s present life as well as ensure that the value of home is maintained and even improved to serve the client in the future.” Major considerations include better energy efficiency, better sound control, and better building health and safety – all useful concepts in any home.


Design improvements around the home’s interior

Several concepts work for more than one living space. “Some of the ways we incorporate designing for the future are subtle, such as using levers versus knobs on entry and interior doors. As we age it is easier to push a lever up or down versus grabbing a door handle,” said Leslie King, CGR, CAPS, CGP, GMB of Greymark Construction. “We also tend to try to increase door openings into master suites and also downstairs bathrooms.” Doors can be put on swing-away hinges instead of widening them.

“We look at putting a shower downstairs in powder rooms if all bedrooms are upstairs.  We also look at curbless shower entries so there is no step to step over when going into a shower,” King said. Other standard bathroom future-proofing ideas are grab bars, higher toilet seats, counters that a wheelchair can fit under and adjustable-angle mirrors.

King suggests designing lower cabinets with drawers versus doors “so you can pull it all the way out and do not have to get down on your hands and knees to see what is in the back of the lower cabinets.” Larry Abbott, CAPS of Abbott Contracting, agreed. “You can even have a drawer-type microwave that you put as low as you want, even in the lower cabinet, which is a lot safer than reaching over the stove.” Handles and drawer pulls on cabinets make them easier to open than knobs; D-shape pulls are the easiest to get your hand in.

“With a 42-inch-tall countertop height, you don’t have to bend over and everything is at midsection level. That also means you can raise the dishwasher. A 30-inch countertop is good for those in a wheelchair,” said Abbott, adding that the heights can be mixed if desired.

One-touch faucets are useful for anyone with their hands full. A farm sink sticks out about six inches and can be built to make it easier for a wheelchair to roll under part way. The newest thing is a motorized sink that raises and lowers, with flexible drain and waterlines.

Side-by-side refrigerators are the best because the door doesn’t swing open so wide. One with a handle about two feet long lets people grab it low or high.

Abbott is a fan of LED lights because they give off little heat and have low operating costs compared to other types. To let in more sunlight, he recommends Solatubes, which are similar to a skylight. “They let in a lot of natural light during the day; they’re engineered to collect light even if the sun is low in the sky. Once you pay a professional to put them in they cost nothing.”

For better acoustics, use carpet or soft laminate on floors, acoustic ceiling tiles, and fabric wallpaper or special drywall textures. Abbott advises listening to the sounds of running appliances in the showroom. “Appliances have differences in how quiet they are. Most people with hearing problems are not going to be able to hear when they’re operating.” In the city, the size and type of window you put on the street side also affects noise level; Abbott recommends using smaller or high-quality ones that block out the sound.

One of the largest retrofitting jobs for aging in place is installing an elevator in a two-story home. “Technology is making it easier, but it’s best that when you remodel or build to think about where it’s going to be and set up the framing in the very beginning,” Abbott advises. He estimates the cost of installing an elevator is in the tens of thousands of dollars.


Simple Solutions Around the Home’s Exterior

Dan Bawden, CAPS of Legal Eagle Contractors emphasizes the importance of outdoor lighting. “The pathway from the driveway to the house is often poorly lit. Toro lights on a timer or photocells placed along the walkway and in garden beds keep people from tripping,” he said. The solution to poor lighting at the back and front doors is a light directly above the door, which makes it much easier to see the lock mechanism.

Bawden recommends making sure house numbers are well-lit, freshly painted and not obscured by bushes in case emergency services needs to find the home.

For the transition outdoors to indoors, Bawden uses a removable ramp that can be made out of a pressure treated wood or aluminum with nonslip tread. A more permanent ramp can be made in a discreet manner for better resale value. It’s useful to have at least one flat threshold. To deter weather and insects once a threshold is removed, Bawden recommends installing a device from Pemko on the bottom of the door.

Outdoor patios can be made easier to use with ramps with lots of room to maneuver and a lower grill.

“These ideas make it easier for everyone in the family and visitors to enjoy, and are nice if someone in a wheelchair comes to visit,” Bawden said. “If you’re going to make some upgrades, handicap upgrades can be invisible and don’t detract from market value. Great design ideas are good for everyone.”

Having universal design features and products in a home prevents accidents, increases comfort and safety, and enhances residents’ independence.
Essential universal design features include:

  • At least one no-step entry to the house either through the front, back or garage door.
  • Entryway doors that are at least 32 inches wide and interior doors at least 30 inches wide to allow for ample room to pass through.
  • Light controls, electrical outlets and thermostats that are easily reachable for a person in a wheelchair.
  • A 3-foot-wide corridor, free of hazards and steps that connects all rooms on the main floor.
  • A bedroom, kitchen, entertainment area and a full bathroom, with plenty of space for maneuverability, on the main floor.
  • Reinforced bathroom walls for the option of adding grab bars.
  • Lever-style door handles and faucets that don’t require grasping or twisting to operate.
  • Raised front loading clothes washer, dryer and dishwasher.
  • Side-by-side refrigerator.
  • Easy access kitchen storage  (e.g., pull-out shelves, adjustable height cupboards, lazy susans).
  • Low- or no-threshold stall shower with built-in bench or seat.
  • Non-slip floors, bathtubs and showers.
  • Raised, comfort-level toilets.
  • Multi-level kitchen countertops with open space underneath so one can work while seated.
  • Windows that require minimal effort to open and close.
  • Covered entryway or porch for protection from rain and snow.
  • Rocker-style light switches.
  • Task lighting directed to a specific surface or area that provides illumination for specific tasks.
  • Easy to grasp cabinet knobs or pulls.

By Dan Bawden, JD, CGR, GMB, CAPS, CGP, Legal Eagle Construction


(Left) This open concept kitchen by Abbott Contracting was remodeled to create a more functional work area and an open, inviting gathering space. The transformation was accomplished with updates and upgrades, which included new appliances from Ferguson, new fixtures from Lighting Inc. and new paint from Sherwin- Williams. The translucent green glass tiles at the backsplash display a variety of color shades depending on time of day or intensity of lighting.


(Left) A retro-style cherry red range is the co-star of this kitchen makeover by Remodelers of Houston. Sharing the spotlight is the all-white finish and marble countertops and backsplash. Though storage is limited, racks for hanging utensils and pots and pans frees up undercounter cabinets for other kitchen essentials.


This compact, inviting outdoor space built by Dan Bawden of Legal Eagle Contractors, Co. creates a “Colorado style” shady oasis to this Houston home. The flagstone theme is echoed on the columns, patio floor and even the adjoining pond and stream, for a unified look. Legal Eagle added lighting and skylights to the ceiling which also brightens the kitchen.

This bathroom shower remodel by Remodelers of Houston followed the standards for accessible design. The shower entry is curb less and wide to accommodate wheelchairs. The shower has a shower bench seat, a low mounted shower head, grab bars and a flat rough stone slip-resistant floor. The result is safe, functional and beautiful.

Remodeling for the Future

Comments are closed.