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Long Term Care: When to Plan and How to Pay
Benefits of Hiring an Accessibility Specialist
Current Trends in Senior Housing
Universal Design & Aging in Place
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For Boomers & Their Aging Parents

Homes for a Lifetime

Benefits of Hiring an Accessibility Specialist

If you or a loved one are reaching the point in life where either a move or upgrades to a current home is necessary, working with an accessibility specialist can be like finding a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  

Maybe you or someone you know would like to be more independent but are having difficulty maneuvering the barriers found in most homes. Narrow doorways, stairs and steps, standard bathtubs, slippery floors are all common barriers to safety that most people struggle with as they get older.  An accessibility specialist can help with these issue. These professionals deal with all of the aspects of home remodels in order to allow those who are aging but don’t want to move away from their home, or those with disabilities but who want to maintain their independent living conditions succeed in their desires.  Although there are a large number of independent and assisted living facilities available in most areas, an overwhelming number of people would prefer to spend the golden years of their lives in the home where their children may have grown up, or where they’ve created decades of good memories and connections.  
If you do need some help, who should you call?  What type of training should an accessibility specialist have?   There are only a few programs that offer specialty training in designing and remodeling home environments so as to help those who choose, remain in their homes safely and comfortably. There is more to this than meets the eye and these specialists have learned to look not just at a specific environment but also the people who will be living there. This is precisely what differentiates an accessibility specialist from a contractor - their ability to link specific ailments with specific solutions and to project long term changes as one ages that might affect ones safety and independence within a home environment.  Keep in mind that even simple things like grab bars should be installed based on an individual's physical condition.  

The National Association of Home Builders offers a short course known as the Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS), designed to train contractors in the technical and business management side of renovations as well as the customer service skills which are needed for these types of transaction. 

The University of Southern California Leonard Davis School of Gerontology offers an online course in Home Modifications, dedicated to promoting aging in place and independent living for persons of all ages and abilities. This five week program covers home assessments and safety checklists, construction techniques, funding resources, and also includes required coursework in the ethics of dealing with a vulnerable population.  After successful completion, the Program grants an Executive Certificate in Home Modification (ECHM).

What can you expect once you’ve located a trained accessibility specialist?  The Specialist will meet with you in your home to help define your needs, and then complete a full written assessment that includes suggestions for improving safety and comfort.  Recommended changes will vary widely from home to home, based not only on home layout but also on each individuals physical requirements as well as budget realities. Afterwards, you will be shown some plans and/or be given written suggestions to suit both your short term and long term needs. Depending on the size and complexity of your project, you may be offered a floor plan which will help you to visualize the concept in the way that it will appear once complete.  The suggestions can include every aspect of your home living, both inside and out.  For example, a ramp leading up to your home will help with stairs if they become hard to navigate or if you have to use a wheelchair.  Seats in your shower along with an accessible and removable shower head, lowered shelves to hold grooming supplies and a handle to help you in and out of the tub or shower unit can all be changes that will help accommodate your right to privacy and good hygiene. You might also need to think about expanding doorways, adjusting the height of your countertops, or making storage more accessible.  Arrangements can be made to reconfigure or bring in specialty equipment for ease of use.  It’s possible that your floors may need to be changed (from a deep pile carpet which can catch wheelchairs or even cause a tripping hazard) to low pile carpets or laminate for better traffic movement.  Better lighting can help you see in the dark, and motion sensor lights can alleviate the need for reaching for light switches.  There are so many different things to think about that someone trained in the process will help to ensure nothing is overlooked and can make suggestions that haven’t even entered your mind.  Renovations can be a large expense and quite the production; you want to get it done right the first time.  Your accessibility specialist will also give you an estimated budget for the renovations you’d like done so that you can determine which are affordable and which ones might need tweaking.

Since most accessibility specialists have dealt with numerous renovations, they can often lead you to competent and efficient businesses and contractors able to handle the suggested modifications.  From electricians to carpenters to plumbing suppliers, an experienced accessibility specialist has set up a good relationship with a variety of tradespeople and can let you know which ones will be right for your particular job and one that will do the work based on your budget.

Article by Jon Reyes, a guest writer from Vidalux. Jon is a specialist writer and has extensive knowledge in everything related to steam showers, saunas and hydrotherapy benefits.

Current Trends in Senior Housing

     Times are changing at an ever increasing pace, and with it, offerings in senior housing are attempting 
to keep pace.  These days, seniors are delaying their move from independent to dependent living 
by as many years as possible using a variety of means, and gaining more control over decisions regarding where they live and what facilities are at their disposal.  

     With 2016 came an influx of new assisted living complexes, meaning that the competition can be fierce and providers must cater to a growing set of needs.  Most of the time people move into an assisted living community due to needing some help with medial care that they can no longer maintain alone, even with the help of nearby family and friends.  Over the next 20 years, our population aged 85 and above will increase by 74%.  Knowing what types of medical conditions are most prevalent in their nearby communities in order to accommodate them in the best way possible will give providers a decided edge against the competition.

     One way in which an assisted living provider can take advantage of both an increasing use of technology by seniors (52% of seniors are online) and cater to their desire to remain in their own homes is to offer assistance outside the walls of the assisted living residence.  This may mean offering home visits to help support medical needs or even reminding someone remotely via a tablet to take their medications or eat at mealtimes.A surprisingly high percentage of seniors (over 70%) regularly use some type of online social media, so communication via these tablets or phones is also a great way for staff to keep in touch with their charges. A rise in the use of electronic health records could help support a growing number of seniors, both living in and outside of the residence, without overwhelming staff.  This an easy way to track the health care and condition of a patient and provides a reliable database for those who can relay this information to concerned family members in order to help make the best medial decisions possible.  It also provides a benchmark for those patients living outside the residence for use in considering how many years they will be able to continue to enjoy independent life in their own home.  By providing elder care within their own homes, a company starts a relationship with potential future tenants sometimes years before they need any space within the residence walls.

     It says a lot when a healthy 78 year old today has a life expectancy of 15 years or more with a reasonable level of activity and nutrition, compared to that of someone living in a traditional assisted living residence, who can expect half of that number in years ahead of them.  As our health is better maintained later into life, candidates for residency will demand more and more facilities to support better fitness and diet.  As expectations increase, so too do the number of ways in which a facility can deliver to their residents.  “One stop shopping” businesses are cropping up to help provide a variety of elements that our ageing communities are looking for, including healthy catered meals, hair dressing, social activities, and fitness equipment and classes.  When a provider can outsource all of these things, it has the ability to focus on the health and needs of the residents and become far more streamlined in its care.

     Environments within a facility are changing too, as providers move to make the homes less institutionalized and more community-centric.  Some even offer independent condo living style situations with small team of care givers to manage any concerns for their designated group of 6-10 residents.  Others offer single unit homes or a townhome set up.  The variety of living accommodations has certainly changed drastically over the sterile and hospital-like state of residences from days gone by.

     With each generation adding years on to life expectancy, we will certainly see an increase in versatility and options for elder care in the decades to come.  Our seniors are raising their voices and the demand to be heard is creating an ever increasing shift in a sense of control even late into their golden years.

Article by Jon Reyes, a guest writer from Steam Shower Store. Jon is a specialist writer and has extensive knowledge in everything related to steam showers, saunas and hydrotherapy benefits.

Universal Design & Aging in Place

The concept of accessibility is closely linked with the concept of equality.  In many countries, it is enshrined in law, for example the American with Disabilities Act,  The ADA, however, only applies in certain, specific environments, essentially government-run facilities, public infrastructure and employment.  It only covers a limited number of private companies, such as those involved in providing accommodation and transportation.  The development of private homes is entirely outside the scope of this legislation and yet arguably the provision of high-quality, accessible homes is of fundamental importance in a society where lifespans have been growing longer for many years now, with the result that there is a growing segment of people who strongly wish to age in place and enjoy their independence in to great old age.
Universal Design
It’s therefore hardly surprising that the principle of universal design has come to the fore over recent years.  In simple terms, universal design is based on the philosophy that all buildings should be completely accessible to everyone, as far as is reasonably and safely possible.  In other words, the idea of homes being created to fulfill the needs of a certain group of potential customers (couples without children, families, empty nesters…) is replaced by the aim of creating homes which are suitable for anyone at any stage of life and regardless of any disability.  As well as incorporating the principles of universal design into new-build homes, or homes which are in need of extensive renovation, it’s often possible to update existing homes to make them more accessible.
Accessibility in Practice
The first principle of universal design is that it should accommodate all users and avoid singling out any particular group of people.  Features such as ramps, widened doorways and laminate flooring all enhance accessibility in a way which is appropriate to all users.  The second principle is flexibility in use, which has become very much a feature of modern home design, particularly in cities.  Although this concept is often viewed in the context of maximizing space in smaller homes, it also maximizes usability in larger spaces and includes features such as pull-out work areas in the kitchen, appropriate lighting and accessible storage.  The third principle is simple and intuitive use.  Functionality and usability takes place over advanced features.  This would include features such as walk in tubs, floor-level showers and easy-access appliances.  Again, while these features all enhance accessibility and help to make aging in place a feasible reality, they are all of benefit to all occupants of a home.  It’s also worth noting here, that accessibility can become a major issue at any time, for example during the later stages of pregnancy or if a person has an accident and needs time to recover.  Hence, creating (or adapting) homes with accessibility in mind, takes care of these situations before they arise.
Managing the aging process
As the old saying goes, growing old is mandatory, growing up is optional.  The aging process is a part of life, but it’s also fair to say that older age has a very different meaning now than it did even twenty years ago.  At age 82 Cloris Leachman competed in season 7 of Dancing with the Stars (in 2008) and lasted a full 7 weeks.  There are many reasons for this change and one of these reasons is that many people have become more actively aware of the need to manage their health throughout their lives and, in particular, as they transition into their later years of adulthood and into their senior years.  For all the advances in modern medicine, the human body itself still works in much the same way it always has, which means that as we age the body becomes more susceptible to injury and takes longer to recover from exercise or accidents.  This makes it all the more important to find gentle way of stimulating the body, with minimal risk of injury.  Water can play an important role in this.  Swimming is a safe and fun way of keeping fit into later years and can be supplemented by wellness treatments which combine the benefits of both water and heat, such as whirlpool baths and steam rooms.

Article by Jon Reyes, a guest writer from Clearwells. Jon is a specialist writer and has extensive knowledge in everything related to steam showers, saunas and hydrotherapy benefits.

10 Common Home Barriers that Challenge Aging in Place, Part 1

The longer I am involved in helping people remain in their homes as they age, the clearer the repeating issues become.  I have found that there are 10 barriers within a home that consistently challenge everyone as they get older.  These barriers wind up causing safety issues because as we age our ability to maneuver safely around them diminishes.  

In the next few blogs I am going to address all 10 issues.  This, Part 1, will tackle the top three:

1.  STEPS AND STAIRS - This refers to both exterior and interior steps. In a perfectly designed home for aging- in-place there would be no stairs or steps anywhere. In Florida many single story homes, while designed for retirees, were designed with changes in floor level. Consequently,there might be a step or two from dining to living room or steps down leading from an entrance hall to the rest of the house.  With aging comes deterioration of our vision and depth perception making these areas particularly unsafe.

The solution for both singular steps and flights of stairs are railings, stair treads that delineate stair edges, and upgraded lighting.  You'll see in the pictures below some examples of these solutions that include battery operated lighting particularly useful for stairs, and colored stair treads which work well on exterior stairs - both inexpensive solutions to major issues.  




                                         STAIR TREADS


For those who can no longer manage stairs at all, in addition to standard portable sutcase ramps there are numerous threshold ramps that are lightweight, some of which adjustable so they can adapt to 1 - 4 steps, and can be easily moved from front to side or back doorways.





2. NARROW DOORWAYS - For a doorway to be accessible and comfortable to get through while in a wheelchair or using a walker or when helped by a companion, it needs to be at least 32" wide.  Many interior doorways would fail that test!  In Florida we face a common issue of 24" bathroom doors.  Once one can no longer walk through a doorway unaided, a 24" doorway is extremely uncomfortable if not impossible to maneuver.  
The obvious fix is to enlarge the doorway by cutting the wall so as to widen the door opening then install a new door, preferably a pocket door which allows for complete access.   Keep in mind that to do so may also require shifting the vanity location which is often located adjacent to the bathroom door, so while this may be the only option available it is also a costly one.  An inexpensive option which may prove helpful is to swap the existing door hinges with swing away ones. These will allow for an additional 4" of clearance when getting through a doorway since these hinges allow the door to swing clear of the jamb and set it tight to the wall.  The pictures below show both options.








3. TOILETING- Why oh why were standard toilets designed at the height they are?  One does not have to be old to have difficulty standing up or sitting down on them.  Just ask anyone with a bad back or a knee injury how comfortable those efforts are. The CDC has released a study showing that 75% of falls in adults over the age of 85 occur in the home and of those falls 52% occur in the bathroom around toileting.  

The solution is to replace your older standard or lowboy height toilet with a comfort height one.  Comfort height toilets are 17" high compared to 14-15" height of a standard one and those 2-3" really make a difference.   Are these toilets expensive?  Not really.  Both Kohler and American Standard offer comfort height toilets starting at about $200.  Just make sure when shopping you use the term "comfort height" and not ADA.  As soon as the salespeople hear ADA they search for an unnecessarily expensive and specifically designated toilet.

If a 17" height is still not enough, a toilet riser (basically a little platform) can be built under the toilet to bring it to a more comfortable height.  You will see pictures below of varied toilet configurations.





Another options to install a wall hung toilet, a more popular choice in Europe than in the U.S. The benefits of a wall hung toilet are that one can set the height to individual preference and cleaning under it is easy.  These toilets also take up little room in a bathroom as opposed to a floor mounted toilet which usually has a much larger footprint than the toilet bowl warrants.

Note: for those who require additional help when maneuvering on and off a toilet, wall mounted grab bars can be set on either side of the toilet on the wall behind it.  These bars function like the arms of a chair and offer great security for those with either balance issues or when transferring from wheelchair or walker to toilet seat. There are a couple different styles differing widely in price.  


                                                      TOILET ON CUSTOM BUILT FLOOR RISER

Next:  Part 2, Commonly found barriers within a home #4-6  

  Susan Luxenberg
  HomeSmart LLC

Design Trends for the Boomer Generation

Baby Boomers are definitely having an impact on housing trends as they demand more sophisticated options and choices for their housing.  Some are selling off the homes in which they raised their families and moving to smaller houses near their children, or to locations with milder climates. Others are planning to stay put and redesign their homes to meet their changing lifestyles.    

Whatever the choice, stay or move, there are certain design features coming into greater demand that reflect the preferences of the Boomer population -- and builders are paying attention.    

First floor bedrooms and bathrooms.  According to the National Association of Home Builders, more than 40% of new homes have master suites downstairs, a 15% increase over the past decade.  It's the Boomers’ desire to not have to climb up and down stairs that's driving this trend.    

Larger bathrooms that include dual vanities and curb- less showers.  Even this "stay young forever" generation can't avoid the aches and pains that make a walk in shower such a joy.  These showers have now become showpieces on their own, outfitted to the hilt with beautiful tiles and stone, multiple shower heads, jet sprays, even steam.    

Flex space.  This is an extra room that can easily adjust to a person's changing lifestyle.  So the space might start out as an exercise room, turn into a home office, then later serve as a guest room or caregiver's room.

Central control centers.  Baby boomers are tech savvy and they want all the best and newest tech amenities.  Control centers for Wi-Fi, security, lighting, heating along with systems that manage all media sources are often requested.  Media rooms with surround sound are becoming more common for this group, who now have the time to enjoy it.   

Wider doorways and hallways tend to make a house look more gracious, are easier to navigate when moving large pieces of furniture, and have the added benefit of increased functionality and accessibility should anyone wind up wheelchair bound in the future.   

Bigger windows and increased lighting.  To accommodate a person's need for increased lighting as they age, builders are adding larger windows to let on more natural light.  At the same time under cabinet lights and stairway lights have also gained in popularity. 


   Susan Luxenberg 
   HomeSmart LLC

Backyard Living for Seniors

  About a year and a half ago I posted a blog about housing trends for Seniors which included accessory dwelling units (ADU’s) like the FabCab and MEDCottage (aka Granny Pods).  These self-contained units range in size from 300 to 1800 square feet, include features that support aging in place, and incorporate universal design along with electronic monitoring and medical care equipment options.  All are pretty much built in a factory, prepared for on-site assembly, trucked to your location and set on a foundation.  The advantages are obvious - these pre-built units take up no more space than an apartment, are easily assembled and disassembled, and allow for independence and privacy with family caregivers close at hand. 

   Earlier this month, the New York Times published an article, “In-the-Backyard, Grandma’s New Apartment”  by SusanSeliger about the same topic with some interesting updates.  

   The article is about a doctor in Virginia whose parents could no longer live independently and decided to move in with her rather than an assisted living facility. The layout of her home however, proved to be physically unsuitable for her aging parents and so the family ordered  a MEDCottage to be installed in the backyard. This month they will become the first U.S. customers to install this 288 sq ft pre-built, free standing unit equipped with assorted high tech devices (a hallway mat that lights up automatically as you walk on it), durable medical equipment (an integrated ceiling lift), and medical monitoring devices (technology that tracks blood pressure, glucose and heart rate and automatically shares this information with both the caregiver and the client’s physicians). 

   There are other prefab units on the market similar to the MEDCottage.  Practical Assisted Living Structures (P.A.L.S.) are 280 sq ft, portable units that can be customized to an individual client’s needs.  Some features include closet rods that can be lowered to wheelchair level, a night light system on automatic sensors, and  bathrooms equipped with no-step showers and grab bars.   

   As for pricing, the MEDCottage costs $85,000/year new but the distributors will buy it back for $38,000 after 2 years of use.  A P.A.L.S. starts at approximately $67,000 or can be leased at $1,700 per month.  

   Interested?  You’ll first need to check  your local zoning laws.  At present only about half the states allow these units for family members, although there are additional states currently considering legislation that would permit backyard ADU’s.  

Susan Luxenberg
HomeSmart LLC

Aging in Place: Attitudes about Homeownership

Along with the desire to age in place comes the question of exactly where to age.  Should you stay in your existing home or move to another?  If you stay, should you renovate to improve comfort and safety and will those renovations add value to your home?  If you move to a different location, should you purchase another home or is it more practical to rent?

No matter which option you’re leaning towards, you’ll need to factor in an evaluation of the current housing market along with emerging trends.

The Colton Housing Group recently conducted a national study among 3,005 homeowners and renters to better understand how Americans feel about today’s housing market and their aspirations for owning or renting a home in the future. The survey and six focus groups were commissioned by Hanley Wood, LLC, and its two main publications, BUILDER and REMODELING magazines.

The 70-question survey focused on attitudes towards the current housing market and problems encountered in the home buying process. Do Americans still view housing as a good investment? Is now a good or bad time to buy or remodel? How do consumers feel about obtaining a mortgage in today’s environment? Is homeownership still important?  How do consumers compare owning with renting? Do consumer expectations vary among different age groups and socio-economic segments of the population?

The result of the survey paints an uncomfortable future for the nation’s housing market in the short term — a market where credit is tight and one where there is little urgency to buy now. It clearly identifies major bottlenecks in the mortgage market that are keeping many buyers on the sidelines and preventing any significant rebound in housing activity.

Over the long term, however, the survey tells a more positive story.  Specifically, the survey findings show that the desire to own a home has not been derailed by the difficult  economic times we're experiencing and that Americans generally understand the important role housing plays in creating new jobs, generating household wealth, and sustaining a long term economic recovery.    

First, the question of rent or buy.  While the dream of owning a home is certainly alive and well, renting is on the rise because for many it’s become the only option due to tough lending requirements.  When asked what sort of housing they would look for if moving to a new location,  62% of the renters said they would have no choice but to rent again.  In sharp contrast, only 10% of home-owning households said they would rent rather than buy another home.  According to real estate website Trulia, buying was cheaper than renting in 74% of the country's 50 largest cities.  In addition to a continuing decline in home prices, low interest rates have added a lot of weight to the buy side of the scale. Add in the tax perks of home ownership and for those who can afford it, it’s still a buyer's market.

So, what are the expectations for home prices during the next year?  More than one-fourth (28%) of the homeowners expect to see some decline in prices in the year ahead, and one-third (33%) expect some increase in prices in their market area.   Expectations vary from region to region.  In the Northeast, 24% of the owners expect home prices to decline some in the year ahead, and 35% expect prices to increase. In the West and Midwest, about 30% of the owners expect prices to decline some, and another 30% expect home prices to rise.  In the South, 27% of the owners are expecting prices to decline a bit more, and 34% expect prices to rise in the year ahead.

In response to the question, “Have changes in home prices influenced your home-buying decision?” 35% of owners and 38% of renters said yes.  And while 50% of homeowners under the age of 35 reported that changes in home prices influenced their home buying decision, that percentage fell with age:  37% for owners in the 35-44 age group, 28% for 45- to 64-year olds, and 17% for owner aged 65 or older.

What seems to be sorely lacking in today’s market is not desire but a real sense of urgency to buy a home now. Two out of three homeowners and 23% of renters are comfortable with their current living arrangements. And both owners (40%) and renters (45%) cited “no urgency to buy now” as one of the principal reasons for staying out of the market.

Another trend reflected in the survey findings is the increasing number of people who are doubling-up with friends and family.  More than one-third of the owner households and about one fourth of the renter households are doubling-up – young adults with parents, elderly parents with their adult children or grandchildren, unrelated adults living together.  In order to project future housing demand, it is important to recognize the trend and understand why it’s occurring, whether it’s to cut expenses and ride out the recession, care for an aging parent, or for some other reason.

For those who question whether or not to renovate in order to remain in their current home, remodeling is becoming a more attractive option in today’s housing market.  One out of five homeowners (22%) has recently completed a remodeling job or plans to remodel in the next two years instead of buying another home.  Baby-boom generation homeowners are the most optimistic about the remodeling market,  not a surprise given that homeowners over age 50 had a strong preference for staying in their current home throughout their retirement years. Among all respondents 50 or older, more than half (54%) said that they would stay in their current home for their entire retirement.  Another 18% said they would stay in their current home first then buy another home later, and 10% said they would  move to a different home (brand new or existing) before retiring or had already bought another home after retiring. 

So all that said, what’s the bottom line?  Home ownership remains an important part of the American experience and receives broad-based support from all age, ethnic, and income groups. And even though more than half of the homeowners surveyed experienced some decline in their home’s value over the past year, they still regard homeownership as a good, long term investment.   

 Susan Luxenberg
 HomeSmart LLC 


Multi-Generational Housing: Turning One Home into Two

    In September, the Census reported that almost a third of households were “doubled up,” meaning more than one generation of adults were living under one roof.  All in all, 61.7 million adults, or 27.7 percent, were doubled-up in 2007, rising to 69.2 million, or 30.0 percent, in 2011.

   The AARP Public Policy Institute also confirmed multi-generational homes are on the rise in the United States, reporting there were roughly one-half million more households that were multi-generational in 2010 than in 2009, and that in the past two years, the number of multi generational households grew faster than in any other two-year period since 2000, coinciding largely with the recession of the past few years.

    For a variety of reasons, both cultural and economic, families today are rethinking their housing needs. Adults are living together with their grandparents, in-laws, or grown children who are not economically ready to move out.  Particularly for those who want a comfortable way to look after elderly parents, multi-generational living is an appropriate solution. Parents can comfortably live near their caregivers, while still providing independence and privacy for everyone.  

   As a result, builders are receiving more requests to build in-law suites or, as the term is starting to emerge, to “turn one house into two.”   
   An in-law addition can be built just as any other home addition, can be purchased as a modular unit that’s then attached to your home or set on your property, or can be built in a garage (attached or detached).  These suites typically are on a single level and usually comprised of a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and a small living room area.  In-law additions need to include extra amenities so as to allow for aging in place, such as wider hallways and doorways, no step entrances, extra room in front of bathroom and kitchen cabinetry, grab bars, levered handled door knobs, comfort height toilets, and curb-less showers.   
   You can find in-law home addition plans in magazines and on the Internet that can often meet your requirements.  If building new, expect to pay around $110 to $130 per square foot for construction.  And while a remodel or addition can make the cost of an in-law prohibitive for some homeowners, it can be less expensive than the money required for long-term care for aging relatives in a facility - and a potential source of income down the road.   

   Before getting too involved in the idea however, check with your municipality to find out how your local zoning and building codes affect this type of addition.  There may be zoning issues to having two separate residences on the same building lot, or special features that the addition must include, like separate utility services, as mandated by code.

Susan Luxenberg
HomeSmart LLC


Design: Bathroom Floors

   When selecting material for a bathroom floor, it’s really important that the floor stands up to water and offers a safe, non-slippery surface for wet feet.  Falls can happen anytime and anyplace to people of any age, but most falls by people aged 65 and older occur in the home during everyday activities.  Slippery bathroom floors are one of the culprits when it comes to falling at home. 

   So what are good flooring options for the bathroom? 

   Ceramic tiles are a practical choice given that they are relatively inexpensive, durable and water resistant.  Look for those that are textured and not glossy which will prevent the tile from becoming slippery.  Ceramic tiles come in many different shapes and colors which makes it easy to be creative with patterns or borders.    

All a ceramic tile floor requires for cleaning is sweeping and light mopping.  A light water and vinegar solution is a safe and cost efficient cleaner that will not damage the tile.  Avoid steel wool or other rough materials that can scratch the surface of the tile.  Ceramic tile can chip or crack if something heavy is dropped on it so make sure to keep some extra tiles for repairs if needed.



   Traditional ceramic shower tiles are starting to be replaced with the rich earthy tones of natural stone tiles, a good fit for most bathroom renovations.  Natural stone has some benefit over ceramic tile, especially for more modern designs.  Natural stone is durable, resistant to wear and stains, and comes in a wide variety of colors and finishes.  There are many types of stone available each with its own characteristics. 


Slate is a very durable stone and highly recommended for bathroom applications. It is easy to clean and with a little maintenance is almost completely impervious to stains.   Slate also has a rough texture, making even honed slate non slippery – a very important consideration for the bath. 

Quartzite is one of the hardest and most resilient stones available, whose colors range from repeating sequential patterns to multicolored unique formations, depending on the type of quartzite which is used. This stone is good in a bathroom because of its durability, its resistance to stains and water, and the fact that its texture makes it non-slippery

Limestone and Travertine are softer and more permeable then slate or granite. The patterns that emerge in these stones, while unique, are more repetitive than in multi-colors and so the range of any given color of stone is more subdued. This material is appropriate for bathroom use but it is not as good at resisting stains, nor as durable as either slate of quartzite. 

Marble is a classic stone that, in the past, has been used frequently to add elegance to a bathroom.  And while it’s known for its color and high shine surface, it’s exactly that high polish that becomes very slippery when wet.   Marble is also a delicate stone, prone to chipping and staining making it an impractical choice for the modern bathroom.   

   Natural stone can be cut and finished in any number of ways, giving you more flexibility in your designs and with the wide variety of stone available, you should take time to consider all of the options. While natural stone tile may be more expensive than ceramic tile, the beauty and durability are often worth the money. 
   Glass tiles are another choice for your bath and shower floors.  They are water resistant and long lasting with reflective properties that make the most of the light in any given space.  These are the tiles to use if you’re looking to create an intricate mosaic pattern for your bath floor.   

Unless treated, a normal glass tile is no different from polished porcelain tile in terms of skid resistance. Like any high gloss ceramic tile, glass tiles are usually slippery when wet.   If small format (1 × 1" or smaller) tiles are used on floors, the relatively frequent grout lines create texture that inhibit slippage.   For this reason, tile setters sometimes introduce un-textured glass tile mosaic inserts into fields of large ceramic tiles.  


If you are using large glass field tiles on floors, you will need to choose a tile that is specifically floor-rated. Glass tile manufacturers all produce large format glass floor tiles. They are made with a textured surface that provides a high coefficient of friction, mitigating or eliminates slipping, while still delivering the luminous qualities of glass wall tiles. 


Vinyl tiles are an inexpensive, quick solution for those looking for easy do-it-yourself bathroom projects.  Vinyl tile is moisture resistant and available in a variety of patterns and colors.  Vinyl can be purchased as individual tiles or as a sheet cut to the dimensions of your bathroom floor.

Vinyl tiles are usually 12” or 18” square and are available in all sorts of prints and styles.  There is vinyl that simulates hardwood flooring as well as that which resembles ceramic tiles. When installed properly, the effect of these tiles is identical to the original materials.  
Vinyl tiles are usually coated with a form of urethane which gives them a shiny finish and protects the tiles from wear and tear.  Look for vinyl tiles with textures so that the floor does not get too slick when wet. 

Vinyl flooring can be wet mopped without fear of damaging the surface. Because the surface is impermeable, liquid will not seep into the floor, so mold and mildew is also not a problem. Consequently, vinyl flooring is a perfect choice for areas that are prone to spills and moisture such as bathrooms. 

 Susan Luxenberg
 HomeSmart LLC

Being a Long-Distance Caregiver

   If you live an hour or more away from a person who needs care, you can think of yourself as a long-distance caregiver. This kind of care can take many forms -- from helping with finances or money management to arranging for in-home care; from providing respite care for a primary caregiver to creating a plan in case of emergencies.  Many long-distance caregivers act as information coordinators, helping aging parents understand the confusing maze of new needs, including home health aides, insurance benefits and claims, housing requirements, medications, and durable medical equipment.

   The National Institute on Aging estimates that approximately 7 million Americans are long-distance caregivers.  And while economic factors are forcing people to move away from their families and hometowns, lifespans are lengthening leaving many of the elderly without family caregivers nearby.  Shifting demographics exacerbate the problem.  Over the next four decades, the number of people 65 and older is expected to grow, while the number of people aged 20 to 64, those most responsible for care giving duties, will hold steady.  

   I recently read an article by Matt Sedensky entitled Elderly Parents: Caring for Aging Parents Long Distance in which he interviews Lynn Feinberg, a care giving expert at AARP.  Though care giving is a major stress on anyone, distance can often magnify it, Feinberg said, and presents particular difficulty when it must be balanced with an inflexible job.  “It’s a huge stress,” she said.  “It can have enormous implications not only for someone’s quality of life, but also for someone’s job.”

   Without question long distance care giving is a difficult task.  It can certainly be a burden financially.  As last surveyed, annual expenses incurred by long-distance caregivers averaged about $9,000, far more than caregivers who lived close to their loved one.  Some caregivers had to cut back on work hours, take on debt of their own, and slash their personal spending in order to help another.  Emotionally, people are left feeling as if they are split in two trying to maintain their family and work routines as they dash across country to deal with real and imagined emergencies. To say the least, it’s exhausting.

   So what do people do when faced with the situation?    Most long-distance caregivers create a patchwork of resources they rely on to manage the situation.  They make sure to keep in touch on a daily basis via phones and video calls.  Relatives or close friends living nearby are enlisted to check on the elderly family member to make sure all is ok.  Local service providers and agencies are brought into the picture when any of the benefits they offer match the individual’s needs. And for those who can afford it, professionals are hired to handle many necessary tasks like grocery shopping, driving, cooking and bill paying.  
   There is no simple solution when trying to care for someone at a distance, but being proactive and investigating local resources to plan for those inevitable emergencies will certainly help reduce stress.  Successful long distance caregivers set in place a network and establish routines that minimize the need for those rushed trips across country.  

  Susan Luxenberg
 HomeSmart LLC

Home for the Holidays

 It’s holiday time which means that you may be either visiting or being visited by your parents.  This is a perfect time to assess your parents’ safety and comfort whether in your home or theirs. 

I recently gave a presentation at a senior complex and spoke about safety concerns that could be found in almost every home.  That triggered a lively conversation about the problems these seniors encountered when visiting their kids:  no grab bars in the bathroom, slippery shower and tub floors, no place to sit down when showering, steps that were not clearly delineate, stairs without handrails, or poorly lit hallways or staircases.  Most of those I spoke with said that they were reluctant to ask their adult kids to make any permanent changes to their own homes or install any special equipment, etc.  I’ve no doubt that if their kids thought about it, they would be happy to provide their aging parents with safer, more comfortable surroundings.  And truthfully these modifications would benefit everyone in the home. 

So here’s a simple list.  None of these items are costly and all can be done quickly:

 1.    Reduce tripping hazards by removing books, shoes, laundry, and toys from stairs; ensure there are clear pathways through all rooms 
 2.    Install handrails on stairs and steps; bright colored tape can be applied at the edge of steps and stairs to delineate floor level changes.
 3.    Increase the lighting at the top and bottom of the stairs; put bright lights over all porches and walkways
 4.   Store frequently used items in easy-to-reach places so that using a step stool or chair is not necessary.
 5.    Small throw rugs are a hazard.  Either remove them completely or tape them to the floor with double stick tape.
 6.    Have night lights in the bedroom, hallways and bathrooms.
 7.    Apply non-slip strips or non-slip coatings in bathtubs and showers 
 8.    Install grab bars in showers and tubs 
 9.    Purchase an inexpensive shower bench or chair which can be taken in and out of the tub or shower as required.   

 After all, an injury from a fall is one the biggest dangers the over-65 population faces and one that often results in a loss of independence.  Implementing the safety measures mentioned above can substantially reduce the chance of injury to your parents and allow for a safer holiday season for all.

Happy Holidays!

Susan Luxenberg
HomeSmart LLC

Meaningful Ways to Age in Place

While the goal for many of us is to age gracefully in our own homes, there is far more to staying in your home than physically adapting the home itself.  We know the importance of socialization to remaining emotionally healthy as we age. We know that continuing to challenge ourselves mentally helps to forestall senility and other forms of mental illness. And we all want to remain independent, vibrant, relevant individuals for as long as we can. 

 I recently read an article entitled, Elders a (Labor) Force for Social Change, written by Marc Freedman in which he explores meaningful ways to turn retirees into what he calls “a new workforce for social change.“  I think it’s quite appropriate to the topic of successfully aging in place.  

Elders a (Labor) Force for Social Change
By Marc Freedman  

We’re a nation that will soon have more older people than young ones, and much of the popular media portrays this as a disaster story that goes something like this: Tens of millions of people, the single biggest group in society and a mighty political force, are about to dominate the scene. Overnight at age 60, they will become the elderly, pass out of the “working-age population,” become incompetent and incontinent, bankrupt the health care system, and vote for hefty increases in public spending on their retirement at the expense of everyone else.

We’ve stretched the average life span from 47 years in 1900 to nearly 80 today. But our imagination about the shape of those longer lives has lagged behind. Until not long ago, the 50s and 60s meant retirement, grandparenthood, senior discounts, and early-bird specials. Today there is a growing group of what I call “neither-nors.” Neither young nor old, neither ready to be retired nor able to afford it.

With big thinking, there is a chance to tap the talents and experience of the “baby boom” generation to solve longstanding social problems, from health care to homelessness, education to the environment. There is a chance to turn an older population into a new workforce for social change. 

Some people, like Gary Maxworthy, are leading the way. As an idealistic young man, Maxworthy wanted to heed JFK’s call to service, but he already had a family to support. Instead of joining the Peace Corps, he launched a career in the food-distribution business, where he worked for more than 30 years. 

As Maxworthy approached 60, his wife’s passing sent him into a period of soul-searching. He thought a lot about his old Peace Corps dream and the prospect of returning to it. In the end, he chose a more manageable domestic option, VISTA, part of the AmeriCorps national service program. 

VISTA placed Maxworthy at the San Francisco Food Bank, where he discovered that—like food banks throughout the state of California—it was primarily giving out canned and processed food. It was all they could reliably deliver without food spoiling. 

Maxworthy knew that California farmers were discarding tons of blemished but wholesome fruits and vegetables that were not up to supermarket standards. He launched Farm to Family, a program that in 2010 distributed more than 100 million pounds of fresh food to needy families in California. 

Without question Maxworthy would have done a lot of good as a 22-year-old Peace Corps volunteer. But would he have been able to do something comparable to developing a system to distribute 100 million pounds of food to hungry people every year? 

Never before have so many people, like Maxworthy, had so much life experience and the time and the capacity to do something significant with it. That’s the gift of longevity, the great potential payoff from all the progress we’ve made in extending lives.

But we won’t collect this experience dividend if we don’t move to recognize a new stage of life and create the kind of support people need to transition from the end of midlife to the beginning of their encore years. We need innovation

How about inventing a gap year for grown-ups, a time when they could take a break, volunteer at home or abroad, or try a new career direction? A gap year—perhaps financed by a new tax-exempt savings vehicle we could call the Individual Purpose Account— could be a source of renewal for those embarking on a new career chapter. 

What about midlife fellowships for those seeking roles that combine purpose with a paycheck? And why stop there: Let’s rethink our entire education system. Why cram so much learning into our teens and early 20s when we may want to move in a whole new direction in our 50s, 60s, and 70s?

By capitalizing on the unique assets of this vast population, we can make something extraordinary out of what so many think of as the leftover years. The right public policies could even provide new chances for social mobility. Today’s boomers are the first wave passing into this new period, which will soon be occupied by their longer-living children and grandchildren. In crafting our society to respond, we’ll open up options for younger people, who could then make life decisions with the expectation of more than one bite of the apple. 

We all have a stake in this project. It’s our chance to turn the purported paradox of longevity—good for individuals, terrible for society —into a vast payoff for all generations, today and tomorrow.   

Marc Freedman is founder and CEO of Civic Ventures (  This article is adapted and excerpted forNew Livelihoods”, the Fall 2011 issue ofYES! Magazine, from his book The Big Shift: Navigating the New Stage Beyond Midlife (PublicAffairs, 2011)

Susan Luxenberg
HomeSmart LLC

Universal Design & Home Modifications

Recent data gathered by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) indicates that consumers are becoming increasingly aware of aging-in-place options for their housing needs.  Whether remodeling or building new, consumers are planning ahead and opting to remodel or design their homes so as to make them more comfortable as they age and allow for continued independence.   There does seem to be, however, a bit of confusion over some of the terminology used in regards to designing changes for aging in place.  In recent articles I’ve seen the terms aging in place modifications and universal design used interchangeably.  There are important differences between the two. 

Aging in place modifications refer to altering an existing home so as to make it more comfortable, safe and accessible as we age.  It’s most often done reactively to accommodate some physical disability that has arisen.   Stairs, narrow doorways, low toilets, inadequate lighting, and deep sided bathtubs all become safety hazards when you are physically challenged.   Not surprisingly then, the types of modification most frequently requested include:  

Add grab bars          78% 
Install higher toilets      71% 
Change a tub or existing shower to a curb-less shower      60% 
Widen doorways         57% 
Build ramps or removing thresholds        45% 
Enhance lighting or adding task lighting       45%  

Universal Design, on the other hand, is not about adding grab bars and ramps so that we can continue to care for ourselves and remain at home once we’re disabled.  It’s much more proactive and forward thinking that that.  Many existing homes include features that at best are inconvenient:  thermostats placed at a height that can only be reached when standing, outlets set low on the walls making it necessary to bend to reach them, narrow bedroom and bath doors, microwaves that are unreachable when seated, entrances requiring steps for access, cupboard shelves that can’t be reached without step stools, toilets that become too low for aching joints.  These are features that that we never think about until we develop some physical disability – either temporary or permanent – at which point we are faced with a dilemma.   And because we are often forced to adapt our homes quickly as a result of an injury, we wind up relying on equipment as a quick fix rather than spending the time planning quality renovations that will maintain the beauty of our home environment and last a lifetime.   

Universal design refers to how you address your entire home while you’re still healthy, using products that are designed to be intuitive and functional as well as beautiful and adaptable to change, if and when the need arises.  When space is designed using the principles of universal designno one could ever guess your home was designed for aging because it’s not.  Universal design does not mean design for seniors.  It means design for everyone – young and old, physically challenged or not.  Space does not need to be adapted for anyone because it’s suited to everyone.  So for example, rather than having to install a ramp for someone needing to manage the steps to a front entrance, what if entrances were built without any steps at all?  What if walkways were sloped from the driveway to the front door so ramps were unnecessary?   Or, what if we did not install bathtubs as a standard feature in every bathroom?  What if the new standard was a well-equipped walk-in shower with built in seats? What about including touch free faucets, cabinets and lights with touch controls, refrigerators with shallow shelves, temperature read out controls for faucets so as to prevent scalding, varying height counters, wireless thermostat controls, microwaves that fit into drawers, and slip resistant flooring?   The beauty is that, while these features and products all fit into the principles of universal design and are of benefit to everyone, they also anticipate a time when climbing over a tub wall, reaching a shelf, or walking up stairs becomes too difficult.    

The difference between aging-in-place modifications and universal design is significant and can impact your home environment drastically.  Smart Boomers will grab on to the principles of universal design to create beautiful homes for their lifetimes.   

Susan Luxenberg
HomeSmart LLC

The In-Law Suite

Our social and financial pundits have been telling us that it is become increasingly more frequent to find households comprised of parents and their adult children.  Whether it’s young adults moving back home to live with their parents post college , elderly parents moving in with their adult children, or adults moving in with their elderly parents,  we’re seeing more and more instances where families are combining households.   The reasons for this housing shift are many and range from financial necessity to care giving practicality.  Whatever the reason, home environments often require modification to accommodate the disparate needs of varying aged family members.  

One growing trend is to add a private in-law suite for aging parents.   Plans with full in-law apartments might have a separate entrance from the main entrance and be entirely self-sufficient having a small, but complete kitchen and utility/laundry room.  Other plans might just include a privately located first floor bedroom and bath designed to accommodate parents, family or help, or even a free standing accessory dwelling unit (ADU).   Depending on your lot size, zoning and building codes, and your budget, the space can be designed to whatever configuration and size works best for you.  

Alternately, a more cost effective solution to creating a safe and comfortable in law suite might be to remodel your garage.  The garage conversion is one of the most economical types of home improvement in a cost per square foot basis.  It creates a living space that keeps your loved one close to you, while creating two separate living spaces for privacy and the highest level of independence possible.

If the entry from the garage to your home includes steps it’s a good idea to raise the garage floor level to meet the house floor level. Aesthetically, raising the floor to match that of the house incorporates the finished garage space into the rest of the house.  Practically, it removes any steps that a senior might have to negotiate when joining the family in the main house.  It is also a benefit to construction.  The resulting crawl space can be utilized for plumbing such as drain lines from the toilet, shower, sinks, along with electric runs, etc.  

If your access to the house is on the same level as the garage floor, you might have to break the garage concrete floor to install the plumbing for the new in-law suite. The good thing about this elevation is that you will wind up with a fully accessible entrance without the need for any ramps – present or future.

The standard dimensions for a single car garage are 12’ x 24’ or 288 sq ft.  The standard dimensions for a two car garage are 24’ x 24”, 576 sq ft.  Obviously the more square footage you have to work with, the more you’ll be able to include in your floor plan. 

So what can you include in 288-576 sq ft?  The minimum size for a bedroom that could accommodate a twin size bed  is 10’ x 10’.  A standard sized bathroom is 5’ x 8’ and while not spacious, is still usable as people get older.  A single car garage can certainly accommodate a bedroom and bathroom.  A double car garage could even accommodate a small kitchen.  Here are sample floor plans for both a single and double car garage.

You may be considering constructing an in law suite because of an immediate need, but it’s smart to keep future accessibility needs in mind as well.  Here are some minimum dimensions and clearances to use when planning for accessibility. Of course you’ll need to check everything with local building codes. 

   General Interior 
Doors: 2 ft. 8 in. clear opening
 3 ft. wide
Wheelchair turning space = 5 ft. diameter
Sink: counter on both sides = 2 ft.; knee-space below
Oven/cooktop/stove: counter on both sides = 2 ft.; pull-out shelf below oven
Refrigerator: counter on open side = 1 ft. 6 in.
Wheelchair turning space: 5 ft. diameter
Sink: 2 ft. 6 in. clear width; knee-space below
Toilet: 1 ft. 6 in. to grab bar wall; 3 ft. 6 in. clear width  


Susan Luxenberg
HomeSmart LLC

The Tiny House Revisited

Several months ago I wrote a couple of posts about new trends in housing.   I focused on Accessory Dwelling Units, The Med Cottage, and the Tiny House, all twists on small, often mobile, freestanding dwelling  units.   I continue to be intrigued with this trend.  There’s something very appealing about minimal, jewel box homes and certainly something to be said for simplifying once the kids are grown and retirement is on the horizon.  Acceptance of little dwelling units might still be in its infancy, but it's easy to see the application of a small house model to the aging Boomer market. 

When I wrote the earlier blog posts, I received a number of comments and questions about both the interior floor plans  and exterior designs of tiny homes.  I recently came across a short PBS video entitled Living Large: A look inside the tiny house movement  It's a wonderful glimpse into the tiny house, the people who live in them, and the varied architectural styles and layouts that are being built today.   I think it’s a piece worth watching.

  Susan Luxenberg
  HomeSmart LLC

Kitchen Trends

Good kitchen design makes working in the kitchen easier and more pleasant for everyone.  For those who want to age in place however, good kitchen design is an integral part of maintaining independence.  So what features should you consider when planning a kitchen that will optimize your ability to use the space comfortably as you age.


1. Allow 4’ of floor space  between base cabinets and a kitchen island for ease of
2. Place your upper cabinets 48” above the floor and lower cabinets 6” above the floor.
   This will limit the stretching and bending needed to reach dishes and pots and pans
3. Install cabinets with adjustable upper shelves.  Also available are motorized 
   cabinets that move up and down with the push of a button, or motorized shelves that 
    can be installed into your existing cabinets.
4. Lower cabinets should have slide out shelves and full extension drawers that pull out
   further than normal drawers.
5. Install easy to grip knobs or pulls
6. Provide for adjustable cabinetry and removable base cabinets




1. Select colored or patterned borders at counter edges to provide visual orientation to
   workspaces; choose counter edges that are rounded rather than squared   
2. Vary the height of your counter tops.  Consider a counter that is 28”-32” high (table
   height) for someone who wants to sit while cooking, preparing food or washing dishes.   
3. Allow for open, under counter seated work areas, minimally 30” wide 
4. Select counter top materials that are smooth enough so you can slide heavy pots and
   are heat resistant.  Install a pull out shelf under the counter adjacent to the stove 
   or microwave so there is a place to put down hot dishes or pans.
5. Design sufficient counter space for placing dishes adjacent to or opposite all appliances.




1.  Purchase a side-by-side or drawer refrigerator.  These refrigerators are easier to
    access for those who use a wheelchair since the chair can be pulled up closer to the 
   shelves.   Refrigerators with adjustable shelves also easily accommodate a number of
   physical disabilities.  Lower shelves are easier for those with difficulty lifting their
   arms and higher shelves work well for those who have trouble bending.  
2.  Choose a cook top with either front or side controls and with burners that aren’t set
   in a straight line.  This will allow you to adjust a control or turn on another burner
    without having to reach across a hot stovetop.  Check  to make sure the controls are 
    easy to read. 
3.  Mount a wall oven so you don’t have to bend.  If you select a model with a door that 
   swings to the side rather than pulls down you will avoid having to lean across a hot 
   door when taking items from the oven. 
4.  Microwave ovens should be placed either at counter height, in the wall, or in drawers.
5.  Look for the newest trends in pull out dishwashers.  These appliances are fit into 
   drawers that pull out just like all the other drawers in base cabinets.  If you prefer 
   a standard dishwasher, install it 8” off the floor to minimize bending.



 Susan Luxenberg
  HomeSmart LLC


Letting Things Go

I recently returned from a trip to visit my parents who are considering selling their home and moving closer to one of us kids.    Since they’ve lived in their house for the past 47 years, the prospect of going through closets and drawers filled with accumulated belongings (let alone a basement where we’ve all stashed our mementos) is daunting.  As I started to discuss a plan of attack with my mother, it became obvious how overwhelmed she was.  After all, my parents’ possessions have been gathered over a lifetime and hold many memories for both of them.  An oversized embroidered tablecloth evokes a memory of one of our family Thanksgiving celebrations; the silver tea service reminds my mother of the many parties she has hosted.  But even though she no longer uses these items, she is reluctant to get rid of them.  How could she possibly decide what to keep and what to throw away?  How could she be assured that once she got rid of something, she wouldn’t regret it?   The more I urged her to discard those things she no longer used or needed, the more uncomfortable she became.  I, who have now moved six times in the past 40 years, tried to reassure her that sometimes paring down one’s possessions can be freeing.  Not surprisingly, that bit of advice was less than reassuring so I did some research to find more expert advice that would help her decide what she could live without. 
The following are excerpts from an article, "Just Say No to Too Much Stuff", found on Family  It’s a list of 18 things you can get rid of today along with some great ideas on how to let the things you don’t need go.  I think you’ll find this article helpful whether you’re de-cluttering, spring cleaning or, like my parents, considering a move from that much beloved home.
Just Say No to Too Much Stuff
Stuff. For many of us it's worse than any four-letter word. That's because "stuff" can weigh you down and hold you back, says Gail Blanke, author of Throw Out Fifty Things. And, in the end, much of what we accumulate in life isn't all that important. As Marilyn Bohn, author of Go Organize!, points out, "No one ever says, 'I wish I'd kept more stuff.'"  Here's how you can share and bless others with all of your stuff—and end up with a cleaner, more peaceful home while you're at it.
1. Kitchen Utensils
Is your utensil drawer so full you can barely open and close it? You're not alone. When Robin Austin started cleaning her kitchen in preparation for a move, she found she had plenty of duplicate utensils, the result of a new marriage that combined households and six kids. Many of us also buy new utensils but forget to get rid of the old.  Here's a smart way to figure out what you're really using, from Motherboard Mom Jeanne Smith, Overland Park, Kansas: Toss everything—all the spatulas, rubber scrapers, pie servers, and so on—into a box. As you use a utensil from the box, put it back in the drawer. After a month, check what's left in the box. Keep those once-a-year items that remain in the box, like a turkey baster or candy thermometer. But donate the rest.
2. Coffee Mugs
Another item many moms find hogging valuable cupboard space: coffee mugs. "We had over 20 coffee mugs," says Kansas mom Dawn Schnake. She and her husband each chose four mugs to keep and donated the rest to a church rummage sale. "Even if you received something as a gift, it's okay to let it go," says organizer Marilyn Bohn. "You only need to keep what works for you."
3. Plastic Containers
Mary Pankiewicz, owner of Clutter-Free and Organized in east Tennessee, suspects that plastic containers have a secret life (probably hanging out with those AWOL socks and hangers). How else can you explain why so many lids and bottoms don't match up? She suggests holding a "lid party" to match up those errant tops and bottoms. Pankiewicz recently took her own advice. "I had 25 lids with no bottoms and six bottoms with no lids," she says. After swapping with friends, she recycled the rest of the mismatched items.
4. Little-Used Kitchen Stuff
When was the last time you used that Bundt pan? If it was months ago, maybe you should give it to a friend. That's what Suzy Ayres and a pal did when they performed a joint kitchen cleanup. They took everything out of their cabinets and only put back what they used regularly. "The things that we left out that didn't get used much, we had to choose. If we put one thing back in the cabinet, we had to pick one thing to donate," Ayres says. The two also traded items: "She had lots of muffin pans and I didn't."
5. Vases
Got vases from the last three Valentine's Day bouquets? Take them back to the florist, says Marla Cilley, who lives in Transylvania County, North Carolina, and runs the, an Internet site devoted to housecleaning and organization.  "It takes away your creativity and takes over your mind," Cilley says.
6. Food
• Check the expiration dates on everything in your pantry, fridge, or freezer. If it's about to expire, put it on the menu for that week, says professional organizer Bohn.
• Motherboard Mom Dawn Schnake gives her sons what they call "muffin pan snacks" to get rid of those almost-empty bags of cereal, crackers, and chips. She fills each of the 12 muffin cups with a different snack and throws in some veggies, cut-up fruit, and cheese cubes. "The boys think they've sat down to a feast," she says—and she gets her pantry cleaned out.
• If you know you're never going to use an item—and it's still good—give it to your local food pantry.
• Have an "Eat Out of the Pantry or Freezer" week, says Marla Cilley, You'll be surprised at how creative you can get with your menu planning when you're only using the ingredients on hand. She also suggests this as a way to inspire creativity and frugality: "When you throw away food, imagine you're throwing dollar bills in the trash can!"
7. Spices
They don't mold and don't appear to go bad, but spices don't last forever, not even cayenne pepper. (Cinnamon's an exception to the rule.) "Dried is one thing, tasteless is another," says organizer Blanke. Give your spices the smell and taste test and if they've gone bland and boring, dump them. To find out how old your McCormick or Schilling brand spices are, go to And when you buy new spices, mark down the date on the package with a Sharpie.
8. Receipts
Computers were supposed to usher in a paperless society, but it hasn't happened quite yet. "Most of us are still drowning in paper," says organizer Pankiewicz. She suggests an annual cleanup. Check with your accountant about how long to keep important papers like tax returns but, in general, materials that support tax returns (receipts and so on) can be tossed after seven years.
9. Magazines
Do you have a stack of magazines by your bed that you haven't read? If two months have passed and they're still sitting there, consider donating them to a retirement home, hospital, doctor's office, or school. Many take magazines for art projects (if not for reading material).   Organizer Bohn suggests tearing out articles and putting them in a folder you can grab when you know you'll be sitting and waiting (think doctor's office).  
10. Mail
It's a common bad habit: Grab the mail, flip through it for anything interesting, and then set it on "the pile" that accumulates until the day you start searching for overdue bills. "Scan and stand" is the system recommended by organizer Pankiewicz. "Standing is the trick," she says. Don't be tempted to sit down: Bring in the mail. Leave your coat on. Find a place by the wastebasket, recycling bin, or shredder, and stand and handle each piece of mail. Put bills in a basket or pretty gift bag, take magazines to where you read them, scan any newsletters and bulletins for important information, and discard the rest. "Your goal is to make the mail disappear," she says.
11. Unread Books
"Books are our friends," says organizer Blanke. "I know my husband won't ever get rid of his dog-chewed copy of Rudyard Kipling's Kim that he's read 50 times." So, keep your favorites—the ones you'll read again or you use for reference—neatly in a bookcase. In fact, if you're a book-lover with a big collection, a whole wall of books can make a dramatic statement and keep them organized. But, if you have lots of volumes that you have no intention of reading any time soon, donate them. Blanke suggests giving them to "You really are paying it forward when you donate things," she emphasizes.
12. Clothes
Here's a sad truth: You're probably not going to lose the weight to fit into those 10-year-old clothes you have in the closet. Just give it up and give them away, says Pankiewicz. This doesn't mean you're giving up on ever being healthier or thinner, it just means you aren't going to be held hostage by some old clothes that don't fit, need repair, or were on sale (but you never liked). Donate them all and we guarantee you'll feel "lighter."
13. Kids' Clothes
Michaela Freeman, a mom in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, keeps clothes for her children a year after the end of each season in case things still fit. What doesn't is passed to friends with young children. "How can you put a price on helping another person?" she asks. She's benefited as well. Friends with older kids pass clothes on to her youngsters
14. Kids' Artwork
Of course every piece of artwork your child ever did is a masterpiece. But that doesn't mean you need to keep it. If it's not something you want to put on the wall or in a portfolio to save, take a photo and toss it. You can develop a digital "art gallery" or put photos in a photo album and you'll take up a lot less space. After all, think about it: If you keep four pieces of paper per week per child, by the time they've graduated from high school, you'll have one huge collection, points out Bohn. "Take a picture and let it go!" she says.
15. Electronics
Power cords, USB cords, and other paraphernalia for electronics clog up our desks and cabinets, says Chris McKenry, owner of Get It Together LA!, a professional organizing company in Los Angeles. "It's a jungle," he says. "And there's not room for the things you need."  Sort through that "jungle" and match cords to gadgets. Old cell phones can be donated to women's shelters. Other old electronic items, like some printers and computers, should be properly recycled. "It's against the law in some cities to put electronic waste in the trash," warns McKenry. Check with your city for E-waste collection sites. Ditto for old VHS and cassette tapes. McKenry suggests transferring them to your computer for digital storage and then putting the tapes in E-waste collections.
16. Linens
"Most of us have way too many towels and sheets," says The Fly Lady. "Some people no longer even have beds that the sheets fit!" She recommends two sets of sheets per bed and keeping the extra set under the foot of the mattress or in a drawer in the bedroom to free up room in the linen closet.
17. Medicine
Check your medicine cabinet for expired prescription and over-the-counter drugs, but don't flush them or throw them in the trash. Instead, take them to your local pharmacist for proper disposal.
18. Toys
•Carol Showers Brown, mom to three in Manassas, Virginia, taught her kids to donate toys. "We lived in Bangkok and the orphanages there were so grateful for toys, even used ones." Her kids would fill a basket with toys to give away several times a year. "It worked really well because the kids picked out what toys they were ready to part with," she says.
•Remember that preschool song of "Clean up, clean up"? At Diana Dawson's Austin house the song was more likely "Wade through it," she says. That's why she set "dump-it deadlines"—if the kids' stuff wasn't picked up by a certain time on a certain date, she would gather their things and donate them. Sure enough, the first time she had to follow through with her daughter. "The most difficult were the books on the floor, and I donated those to her elementary school," Dawson says. "The school librarian told her she appreciated the donations and other kids enjoyed her books." Her children and a group of neighborhood kids also put on their own garage sale of their toys to raise money to adopt a family at the holidays.
•Mom Michelle Speak has donated many of her children's toys as they've outgrown them, but not all. "I've kept the toys I can imagine my grandchildren would play with." Put the special, keepsake toys away in a well-labeled box.
 Susan Luxenberg
  HomeSmart LLC

Community Approach to Independent Living

There are numerous housing models being developed in an effort to meet the requirements of Baby Boomers as they strive to maintain vibrant, active lifestyles.  Recognizing that growing older can bring on increased isolation and loneliness as social connections lessen, these housing efforts emphasize independence and social networking and focus on a community approach to independent living.   
Senior Cohousing Communities are adult communities developed by people with a common vision.  Senior cohousing revolves around custom-built neighborhoods organized by the seniors themselves in order to fit in with their real needs, wants, and aspirations for health, longevity, and quality of life. This is housing built by seniors, not for them. Physically the communities are a combination of small homes, courtyards and open spaces and include a common facility that serves as a social center with a dining room, kitchen, lounge and other recreational facilities.  Residents in cohousing communities meet regularly to develop policies and all decisions are made by consensus.  
Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) offer a continuum of care in one location, starting with independent living, progressing to assisted living then nursing care.  Residents move from one setting to another as their needs change.  Most CCRCs require a one-time entrance fee and then monthly payments, although there are some CCRCs where no entrance fee is required and you pay a monthly rent.  The nice thing about a CCRC is that once you buy into the community, you are provided with housing for life.  CCRCs offer a range of services – transportation, housekeeping, personal care and health care – along with many social opportunities. 
Village network is a relatively new community approach to helping seniors remain in their own homes. A community defined by a specific geographic boundary utilizes a combination of volunteers and staff to coordinate services available to its residents.   Residents aged 50 + become “members” of the network and can access these services at an affordable price provided by professionals who’ve been vetted by the group.  These services might include medical care, legal assistance, home repairs, transportation, personal shopping, as well as group social outings.  This concept is also known as a Virtual Retirement Community.  Avenidas Villagein Palo Alto, CA is an example of this type of community. Among the services Avenidas Village provides to San Francisco Bay area seniors are discounts on  transportation, free emergency preparedness reviews,  medical advocacy  and volunteer opportunities.  Participating seniors also have access to members only amenities such as a website, social and cultural activities and a directory of fellow members.
Susan Luxenberg
HomeSmart LLC

Accessibility Modifications vs. Home Value

We can talk about universal design and show picture upon picture of upscale new products designed for aging-in-place, but the fact that the question, “Won’t accessibility modifications decrease the value of my home?” continues to be asked, tells me that we’re not yet done with the conversation.
Simply put, accessibility modifications that are poorly done will definitely decrease the value of your home.  On the other hand, accessibility modifications grounded in good design will increase its value.  Like all home renovations, if a project is done well it will appeal to others.  If not, it will become a negative when you try to sell your home. The determination of a home’s value is not a science but rather an art that combines an objective comparison of size and features to other homes in the neighborhood, with a subjective evaluation of any extra amenities that might set your home apart from the others.  
So why are modifications directed at making a home safer and more comfortable for its occupants given such a bum rap?  I think that part of the problem is the perception that accessibility modifications will look institutional.  Until quite recently, most people’s exposure to walk-in showers, grab bars, and ramps came through visits to family in nursing homes or hospitals.  Certainly the majority of builders have not included these features in their model homes, nor do we see interior design magazines focusing on ways to handle accessibility modifications.  We’re left thinking that anything other than the current trend in home design is a negative.  It’s ridiculous, really, that we’re forced to modify our homes to accommodate aging rather than have our homes built with a view to the long term.  If architects and builders had given any thought to an aging population, they might not have designed and built so many step down showers, step up entrances, 28” doorways or 5’ x 8’ bathrooms – all features that are difficult to maneuver as we age and become more infirm.
We can probably all agree that updated kitchens and baths add value to a home so let’s look at some common accessibility modifications to those two rooms to assess how these modifications might affect home value.
Since most adults encounter problems maneuvering into a bathtub as they get older, the most common accessibility modification for those who want to age in place is to replace the tub with a shower, preferably one that is “curb-less”.  A curb-less shower has no step or curb separating it from the rest of the bathroom floor but rather is at the exact same level as the rest of the bathroom.  The shower floor is imperceptibly pitched to a center drain and often additional trench drains are set along the edge of the shower floor to deter any water from the shower running into the bathroom.  When consideration is given to the design of a curb-less shower, it becomes an enhancement to any bathroom and a pleasure for everyone to use.   
The kitchen is another area of the home often requiring modification for accessibility as most standard kitchens are not well designed for someone in a wheelchair or using a walker.  To allow for everyone to use a kitchen comfortably, there should be counters of varying heights, easy to reach top shelves and pull out bottom shelves, front control appliances that can be used while seated, non-slip flooring, and contrasting edged counters.  Below is a picture of a kitchen specifically designed for all ages and abilities (universal design). There is nothing in this kitchen to detract from home value.  In fact, it's just the opposite - most people see a very functional yet beautifully renovated kitchen.   
The important thing to note is that while accessibility modifications are done to accommodate those with disabilities, when well thought out and well designed the results are attractive and usable for all.   When
you think about it, if you design a home that everyone can use comfortably, no matter their abilities or disabilities, you’ve opened up the market of those who would be interested in purchasing your home.  And there’s nothing negative about that.
Susan Luxenberg
HomeSmart LLC

Universal Design - Design for All

Universal design is becoming the new buzz word in construction.  It's about creating attractive space that can be used by everyone regardless of age or ability. A home designed using the principles of universal design accommodates to everyone's needs and abilities and allows all to live in equal comfort and safety. Universal design features are easily incorporated into new home pre-construction but can also be applied when planning home renovations.  As an added bonus, these features only increase your home's value.
Universal design features would include:
1. Zero step entries where at least one entrance is step free. This makes it easier for those who have difficulty with stairs without the need for a ramped entrance to accommodate a wheelchair.  Everyone benefits from a step-less entrance.
2. Single story living where the kitchen, living room, a full bathroom and bedroom are all on one floor. 
3. Wider doorways and hallways.  Doorways that are at least 36" wide are easier to maneuver when carrying laundry baskets, moving furniture, or bringing packages in and out of rooms.
4. Lever style handles and rocker light switches.  This make opening doors, turning on faucets and switching on lights easier for everyone regardless of age and ability.
5. Reachable switches and controls.  Light switches should be mounted at 42-48" above the floor and electrical outlets 18-24" off the floor. A thermostat should be mounted no higher than 48" above the floor.
6. Windows that require minimal effort to open and close.
7. Multi-level kitchen counters that everyone can reach and that allow a cook to sit while working in the kitchen.
8. Easy access kitchen storage - adjustable height cabinets and pull out shelving.
9. Bathrooms with low or no-threshold showers, comfort height toilets, and non-slip flooring.
There are so many universal design products now made for the home that with a little research, planning and thoughtfulness you can turn your home into one that is comfortable for every member of your family.
    Susan Luxenberg
    HomeSmart LLC

Downsizing - Is It For You?

It's easy to understand why we put off the decision of whether or not to downsize.  Most of us have a strong emotional attachment not only to our home itself, but to the lifestyle it connotes.  And while it's one thing to give up extra closets, a gourmet kitchen, or additional space in the garage, it's quite another to no longer be able to host big family celebrations or have the ability to house all the kids and grandkids when occasions arise. Then there's the work of finding a new place to live followed by cleaning, packing and moving - no wonder this decision causes so much anxiety. 
As a result, many people make the mistake of waiting too long before finding a smaller, more easily managed home.  They put off a decision until an illness or financial crisis occurs at which point they are forced to make a move while under stress.  Being proactive and having the time to plan a move while you're still in good health will greatly reduce the trauma of downsizing. 
So how do you decide if the time is right for this major change in lifestyle?  Ask yourself these questions:
1. Are you living in all of the house or just a few rooms? 
2. Does your home's design and layout fit your present and future physical needs?  What would it cost to make necessary changes?
3. Is the upkeep of your home creating a financial burden?
4. Is routine home maintenance becoming too difficult for you to do?
5. Are you having problems finding service people to help you take care of your home?
6. Have most of your family and friends already moved out of the area?
There are many good reasons to move into a more streamlined home.  A smaller house means lower property taxes, insurance, utility and maintenance costs.  Your time and money will be freed up for other activities, hobbies and travel.  If you decide that downsizing is right for you, take the time to do your research and figure out exactly where you'd like to move before putting your existing home on the market.  If the thought of sorting and packing is overwhelming, hire a move manager to help you execute it all (see the National Association of Senior Move Managers).  And make sure to investigate all your options -- you might be pleasantly surprised at the variety of housing choices out there.
  Susan Luxenberg
  HomeSmart LLC

Smart Renovations for the 55+ crowd

If you're 55+ years old and plan on remodeling your home, you may want to include some universal design features that will not only make your life easier as you age but will also enhance your home's value.
In General:
1. Adapt the lower floor of your home for one level living where possible.  This includes a full bathroom
    and laundry area on the first floor.
2. Use hard flooring surfaces like wood, laminate, stone or tile.  Carpeting often becomes an obstacle to  
    those using a walker or a wheelchair.
3. Increase the doorway widths to a minimum of 36".  Wider doorways work for everyone whether 
    maneuvering strollers, carrying laundry baskets & other bulky items, or accommodating a wheelchair.
4. Use light colors when decorating.  Lighter colors are easier to see and contrasting light colors help with 
    depth perception issues.
5. Install handrails on both sides of stairs.
For the Kitchen:
1. Install cabinets with pull out lower shelves and adjustable upper shelves; use easy to grip knobs or pulls.
2. Vary the height of your counters - some counters can be as low as 30" (table height) while others can be 
    the more standard 36" height.  This allows ease of use for all ages and physical abilities.
3. Choose colored or patterned borders at counter edges.
4. Install task lighting under cabinetry
5. Purchase a side-by-side or drawer refrigerator and a cook top with front controls.  Look for the newest 
    trends in pull out dishwashers and drawer microwaves.
For the Bath:
1. Install a stall shower with no threshold or a low threshold for ease of entry; consider a built-in shower 
2. Use non-slip tile for shower and bath floors.
3. Place designer style grab bars at shower entry and along side walls.
4. Replace your standard height toilet (15") with a comfort height (17") one. Those 2" make a great
   difference for those with back problems or with any physical disability.  
5. Replace old faucets with lever handled faucets.
   Susan Luxenberg
   HomeSmart LLC

What is a NORC?

A NORC, A Naturally Occurring Retirement Community, is a demographic term used to describe a community not originally built for older adults that now has a significant proportion of residents over the age of 60.  These communities were not originally created to target the needs of Seniors living independently in their homes, but rather evolve naturally as adults age in place.
NORCs exist in single family neighborhoods, subsidized housing complexes, private condos or co-ops, and apartment buildings.  They can be grouped into two main categories: housing-based or vertical NORCs which are found in apartment buildings or complexes, and neighborhood-based or horizontal NORCS which are found in neighborhoods comprised of single or two-family homes.
3 factors contribute to the evolution of a NORC:
     1. Residents deciding to remain in their homes as they age
     2. Seniors moving to specific locales where they have access to climate, services and amenities appealing
         to their age group
     3. Younger residents moving out of an area for either job or family related reasons
So why would those of us interested in aging-in-place care about a NORC?  Because the population density of older residents creates an opportunity to develop targeted services and programs that enable adults to remain in their homes and neighborhoods as they age and their needs change.  Similar to a Home Owners Association (HOA) where dues are collected to pay for certain services, ie lawn mowing, roof replacement, exterior painting, a NORC can form an organization to offer support services designed to specifically meet the needs of its residents.
Best estimates place the number of communities in the United States that could be classified as NORCs in the thousands.  AARP estimates that more than 25% of Seniors currently live in NORCs. 
On example of a NORC is Boston's Beacon Hill Village.  It got started when its first president, Susan McWhinney-Morse, discovered that she had an aversion to the idea of taking older people out of the community where they had lived for years "in order to cluster them where they could be warmer and play golf".  She has lived in Beacon Hill since 1964 and raised four children there.  She and 11 other longtime residents created a membership organization for people aged 50 and older to help them stay in their homes as long as they wished.  Almost 500 members pay annual dues of $600/year for an individual or $850 for a household (with membership subsidized for those who can't afford it).  The yearly budget, about 40% of which is provided by donors and foundations, provides services that include grocery shopping and home maintenance.  Beacon Hill now has a staff that acts as a concierge service of sorts.  The staff connects people to caterers, dog walkers - any service requested.  The group also refers residents needing home health care services to a provider it has vetted and with which it has negotiated discounts.
Contrast the Beacon Hill NORC with the 1st NORC program which was established in 1986 at Penn South Houses and supported by UJA/Jewish Federation of NY.  This NORC in Manhattan is a 10 building, 2,800 unit, moderate income housing co-op.  The $15 a year membership dues combined with grants and city and state funding provides most of the program's annual budget.  That money pays for wellness programs, cultural services, on-site nurses, social workers and other health professionals.
The funding for NORC programs generally comes from some mix of private and public sources, combining revenue and income from residents, philanthropies, government agencies, and corporations.  The programs are the result of partnerships with local community housing and neighborhood organizations, health and social service providers, non-profits and businesses.  Scope of services offered can include referral services, emergency and preventive health care programs, meal programs, transportation assistance, educational programs, social activities, information and counseling, and home modifications.  The NORC model is designed to enhance existing services while responding to any gaps in the senior service network.
And while each NORC program may provide a unique scope of services, they are all designed for one purpose - to maximize the health and well-being of the residents so they can maintain independence and stay in their homes for as long as possible.
The idea of Seniors banding together and taking the initiative to create service programs designed for the greater good of their own neighborhoods is extremely appealing.  In fact, Seniors play a critical role in a NORC program's success for they are not only the clients but also the program developers, leaders, supporters, and ambassadors as they work to define and integrate appropriate services into their communities. Power to the People !!
Susan Luxenberg
HomeSmart LLC

Trends in Housing: Part 2 The Tiny House

As the concept of the Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) has been developing, so has that of the tiny or little house.  A well designed little house is like an oversized house except all the extra space is removed. Superfluous space is considered a burden so anything not working towards meeting specific needs or enhancing quality of life is removed.  All space is designed to be strictly functional.
Jay Shafer has been building tiny homes ranging in size from 50 to 750 square feet since 1997. These tiny houses include living and sleeping areas, kitchens and bathrooms. Jay's decision to focus on small, hand-built houses has more to do with minimalism, sustainability, efficiency and affordability than it does with creating a housing model for seniors but the principles could certainly be applied and the floor plans modified to suit an older client.  Prices for a tiny house vary with size and amenities.  A basic one room summer cabin might cost $15,000 or less.  Spending at least $30,000 will allow for a year round home complete with working bathroom and kitchen. 
On his website, Jay writes that "How each house gets used depends on the occupant's particular needs.  What one person would enjoy as a quiet studio in their backyard, another couple might choose to inhabit as a full time residence.  What some people see as the perfect weekend hideaway in the country, others will use as a beautiful free-standing addition to their existing home for accommodating an elderly parent, an adult child, guests, or as office space."
From the Tumbleweed Tiny House 2010 Catalogue
Model: Whidbey   Total Square Feet Including Optional Bedroom:  557 square feet
The Whidbey's kitchen includes a dishwasher, full size range with oven and built in microwave. The tank-less water heater is tucked away out of view and there is a washer/dryer combo in the kitchen.  If the front steps were removed to create a zero step entry and the bath expanded so as to include a walk-in shower, this little house could easily serve as a choice for aging-in-place.  Cost:Materials for the one bedroom version are approximately $43,000 and with the optional bedroom $50,000.
In 2005, after many homes in the Gulf Coast were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, architects were challenged to design some low cost emergency housing.  Marianne Cusato built the original 308 square foot Katrina Cottage which became a prototype and was later adapted to about two dozen versions designed by a variety of architectural firms
Lowe's teamed with designer Marianne Cusato to create this, first of its kind, Katrina Cottage located in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Lowe's now offers prepackaged Katrina Cottage kits including plans and all materials for construction.
Katrina Cottage - Original 308 square feet
Katrina Cottages are typically small, ranging from less than 500 square feet up to about 1,000 square feet.  While size and floor plans vary, Katrina Cottages share many features.  They are mostly prefab houses constructed from factory-made panels and can be built quickly and economically.  Several of the cottages have options that allow them to be expanded over time.  The cottages were designed with durability in mind and meet both International Building Code and most hurricane codes.
The living area of this Katrina Cottage has no interior walls. Instead square pillars and  long curtains frame a space used for sleeping.  The Murphy bed can be folded up against the wall during the day.
    Katrina Cottage - Expanded Version 517 square feet
    Designer: Geoffrey Mouen
    This Cottage is equipped with a generously sized  
    dressing area to add efficiency and comfort for the
Like Jay Shafer's tiny houses, the Katrina Cottages need "tweaking" in order to work for those who want to age-in-place.  Raised porches and stepped entrances need to be eliminated.  Bathrooms need to be enlarged to allow for ease of maneuverability and bathroom fixtures need to be carefully selected for safety and comfort.  With some minor adaptations, however,  these smaller homes are a strong addition to the Senior housing market.
 Susan Luxenberg
 HomeSmart LLC

Trends in Housing

With 78 million baby boomers beginning to retire, the stock of accessible housing with need to expand -- but to what?  More 55+ retirement communities OR mixed use walk-able neighborhoods with a variety of housing styles, sizes and amenities?  Hi-rise condos OR communities of tiny houses?  Construction of new housing declined sharply as the real estate market collapsed in 2007 but when the market starts to recover, what trends will we see in housing being marketed to seniors?
First let's define accessible housing.  The word "accessible" usually conjures up images of people in wheelchairs or with some mobility issue.  However when used to describe housing, the term generally refers to housing which is designed to be functional for the people living there.  Accessibility includes all the features in a home that allow every member of the family to perform all the functions anyone else performs.  That would include entrances without steps, bathrooms large enough for everyone to move around in, showers and tubs that are not difficult to enter, wide doorways and hallways, and counter tops and cabinets that everyone can reach.
You'll also hear the terms universal design and multi-generational housing applied to accessibility.  A house based on the concept of universal design will allow all members of the family and any visitors, young and old, to use all spaces comfortably, safely, and independently.  Universal design extends beyond structural features like wider doorways and roll-in shower stalls to include appliances, household equipment, and even product packaging.
So what are some of the new housing models we're beginning to see and how do they fit into the concept of accessible housing for seniors?  The most interesting to me are the tiny houses and the ADUs (accessory dwelling units).  You might have already read about these ADUs which are being marketed to consumers as MEDCottages (aka Granny Pods) and prefab In-law units.  The self-contained, prefab in-law unit ranges in size for 300 to 1800 square feet, includes features that support aging in place, and incorporates universal design along with electronic monitoring and medical care equipment options.  All are pretty much built in a factory, prepared for on-site assembly, trucked to your location and set on a foundation.
FabCab is a timber-frame prefab In-law cottage with universal
design features.
An advantage to using a modular unit for an add-on apartment is that it can be disassembled into a few intact sections that can be easily relocated -- not really a viable option for a stick-framed addition. 
Another entry into the ADU market is the MEDCottage, basically a mini mobile home that rents for about $2,000 a month.  You can park one in your backyard, hook it up to your water and electricity and it becomes a free standing spare room for your elderly parents.  The State of Virginia is so solidly behind this concept that the State government eased zoning restrictions so as to allow more of these units to be placed in neighborhood backyards.
The inventor of the MEDCottage, Rev. Kenneth Dupin, says that the MEDCottage was designed with a floor plan and technology that appeals to Americans' independent nature.  The goal being to extend independence for people who otherwise would be placed in a nursing home.  These ADUs are complete with a kitchen, bedroom and bathroom as well as options for advanced medical monitoring equipment.  Technology includes: safety lighting along the floors, a lift that can move an immobile person to the bathroom, and monitoring systems that let you remotely check temperature and heart rate, among other things.
MEDCottage exterior                                                                          MEDCottage interior view
So what are some of the benefits of ADUs?  "From many angles, the ADU concept is a sound one," says Susan Duncan of the National Resource Center on Supportive Housing and Home Modification at the Ethel Percy Andrus Gerontology Center at the University of Southern California.  "An ADU occupies the same space as an apartment but makes it into a private, freestanding home.  Privacy is something we all strive for.  And families are happier because the TV can be as loud as you want without disturbing the grandkids doing homework."
As for the downside, since these prefab room additions are relatively new, we don't have sufficient cost data to compare this type of construction, delivery and installation against more conventionally built home additions.  Also there is concern that with families being so busy today, the opportunity for the ADU resident to socialize will be limited unless careful planning is done to ensure adequate chances to be around other people.  "It might seem a bit odd to park your loved one in a shed in the backyard," says Dupin.  "Still, having the family nearby and maybe having grandchildren running in and out of the Cottage could potentially improve an elderly person's quality of life."
ADUs may not be for everyone but they will be a viable alternative and part of our housing choices in the future.
Susan Luxenberg
HomeSmart LLC

Not Me!

All of us who work in the field of Elder Care are aware that the biggest obstacle to successfully keeping people in their homes is denial.  If we can’t get our clients to acknowledge their own limitations, all the professional services we offer are useless.   And this refusal to accept the obvious extends far beyond the senior population.  Baby Boomers (and I can speak to this as I am a Baby Boomer myself) definitely don’t want to talk about aging.  We live in a society that treasures youth, so Boomers put more energy into staying young than preparing for their future.  Unfortunately, the attitude of “not me” is more prevalent than not.
I’m reminded of a client:  a man in his late 80’s who still managed the stairs in his 3 story townhome.  I was called in to check for safety issues particularly as related to areas that might precipitate a fall.  Aside from there being no grab bars in his shower, slippery type tile on the shower and bathroom floors, and lack of a handrail on one section of the stairs,  the old shag  carpeting on all 3 flights of stairs was coming loose and buckling in several locations.  When I suggested that the stairwell carpeting needed to be replaced so that he wouldn’t trip and fall down the stairs, he balked.  I don’t need any help,” he said.  “Look at what I can do.” He then proceeded to launch into a half dozen jumping jacks to show me how physically fit he was.  Once I explained that safety had little to do with age,  that a child could trip on loose stair carpeting, and if he fell that, in itself, could spell the end of his independence, he settled down to listen.
Here are a few facts relating to falls:        
  • One out of three adults age 65 and older falls each year. 
  • Falls are a primary catalyst for hospital admissions among Seniors, and many of the Seniors admitted to a hospital never go home.     
  • Adults over the age of 65 have a very high rate of injury due to falls.  In fact, falls are the leading cause of brain injury in this age group.    
  • Falls are responsible for over 40% of nursing home admissions.     
  • 70% of accidental deaths in people over 75 yrs of age are caused by falls.
  • Many people who fall, even if they are not injured, develop a fear of falling. This fear may cause them to limit their activities, leading to reduced mobility and loss of physical fitness, which in turn increases their actual risk of falling.  
So what can we do to protect our independence and reduce the chance of falling in our homes?  
1.    Reduce tripping hazards – remove books, shoes, laundry, and toys from stairs; make sure electrical
       cords run along the walls and not across the room
2.    Install handrails on both sides of stairs and steps.
3.    Increase the lighting and the top and bottom of the stairs; put bright lights over all porches and
4.    Frequently used items should be stored in easy-to-reach places so that using a step stool or chair is
       not necessary.
5.    Small rugs are a hazard.  Either remove them completely or tape them to the floor with double stick tape.
6.    Have nightlights in the bedroom, hallways and bathrooms.
7.    Use non-slip strips, non-slip coatings, or non-slip tile in bathtubs and showers
8.    Install grab bars in showers and tubs 
Falls can happen to anyone, but as we age the likelihood of accidental falls increases and becomes a challenge for those wishing to remain in their homes.  Evaluating your home now and implementing the safety measures mentioned above, can substantially reduce the chance of long term injury in the future.              
As the old saying goes, "An  ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."    
Susan Luxenberg
HomeSmart LLC

Planning For The Future

Whether we like to think about it or not, every one of us will have to decide where we want to live as we age and become more frail.
Each time I give a presentation or workshop I ask the question, "How many of you want to move into a nursing home when you get old?"  Not one hand is raised in answer.  The truth is that I've not met anyone who would prefer to move into a nursing facility if they had a choice.  The overwhelming response is that people want to stay in their own homes for as long as is practically possible.
And staying at home can be a financial savings.  The average cost for assisted living these days is upwards of $80,000 a year depending on what area of the country you're in.  In contrast, modifying your home so you can remain there safely and in comfort is substantially less expensive.  Some safety modifications like grab bars, good lighting, handrails, and portable ramps cost less than $1,000. Other age-in-place renovations that would rearrange your interior to accomodate more comfortable usage might cost anywhere from $3,000 on up.  Even more extensive bathroom renovations can be done for well under $20,000.  The point is that creating a home that you can live in for your lifetime is a one-time expense costing far less than 1 year in an assisted living facility.
So what are some common obstacles to remaining safe and comfortable in your home?  Stairways, steps, narrow doorways and hallways, standard bathtubs, lowboy toilets, tiny bath and powder rooms all become issues.  Every time I'm called in for a consultation, I'm asked to first look at the bathroom which can no longer be comfortably maneuvered, after which I'm shown some array of stairs that have become difficult to manage. 
The good news is that with 10,000 people turning 65 years old each day, architects, designers, builders, and manufacturers are acknowledging the needs of this powerful group and are working to offer new home designs and products that will appeal to the lifestyle of today's Baby Boomer and Senior.
The best way to deal with those infirmities in all our futures is to plan for them now.  Cynthia Leibrock, who has taught courses in architecture at Harvard University and is an age-in-place advocate, has said that one can eliminate disability by design.   It's a great message and within all our powers to accomplish.
Susan Luxenberg
HomeSmart LLC
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