Remodeling as retirement planning

Richard Hayman, 67, and his wife Carolyn are shelling out $110,000 to complete a strategic part of their retirement plan. They aren't purchasing a fixed annuity. They're making their Rockville, Md., home a place where they can age gracefully.

The Haymans' desire to stay put — aging in place is the popular term — isn't surprising. What distinguishes the Haymans is that they're proactively renovating so their house will be user-friendly and safe for their older bodies.

Experts recommend following the Haymans' lead. Whether you're 37 or 67, incorporate age-friendly features into every renovation project. For example, if you want a marble floor in the bathroom, consider going with honed, rather than polished, marble to make it less slippery, she says.

On the DIY front, the first items to go are area rugs. No matter how well secured, they are a tripping accident waiting to happen.

Replace cabinet and drawer-pulls with easy-to-grip handles rather than knobs that can be harder for arthritic hands.

To accommodate older visitors, consider raising key electrical outlets while lowering light switches at doorways to no more than 4 feet from the floor, which mitigates the need to reach high up whether someone is standing or in a wheelchair.

For $1,000 or so you can do a serious lighting upgrade. What works for your 30- or 40-year-old eyes is not going to cut it at 75. Focus on hallways, the kitchen and the bathroom.

Speaking of the bathroom, grab bars are a must, near the toilet and at the entrance to a shower/bath. If there's a seat in the shower, include another grab bar or two to help maneuver on and off of it. Unless you've got some handyman chops, you probably want a pro to do the installing to ensure the bar is secure. Replacing the usual 14.5-inch toilet with one that is 16 inches high is also popular, as is adding a curbless-entry (even with the floor) shower.

If you live in a multistory home, focus on making the stairs as safe as possible, and install railings on both sides. That makes it easier to rely on a dominant hand whether you're going up or down stairs, and in the event one hand becomes injured, you'll appreciate having support for the other.

Bring appliances and work spaces into a sweet spot where you're not reaching high or stooping low. With laundry, a front-end loader elevated 15 or so inches off the floor can make for easy access. If it's part of a renovation, a contractor can build a raised floor for both washer and dryer. Otherwise, front-loaders come with separate pedestal lifts that fit underneath.

In the kitchen, relocate the microwave from above the stove to a countertop or low cabinet, and if you're renovating think about raising the dishwasher height. Also consider adding a work area with a low-height counter so your older self can sit while prepping meals.

Remodeling as retirement planning 12/23/12 [Last modified: Sunday, December 23, 2012 3:30am]

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