If you’re planning a major bathroom renovation, there’s a good chance that you’ve at least heard mention of universal design, or seen ADA approved fixtures like toilets or bathtubs. But the concept of “age in place” bathroom design might never have come up directly. Essentially, the notion is to install accessibility features in your home now so they’re available later in life when you might need them. In the first part of this guide, I’d like to take a look at some of the factors that determine when, whether, and to what extent age in place features should be a part of your next bathroom remodel.
First and foremost, it’s worth noting that cost is a fairly minor factor in this decision. ADA approved fixtures are typically very similar in price to their less accessible counterparts – a walk-in whirlpool tub is roughly equivalent to a standard jetted tub, a bath enclosure with a low apron and grab bars costs about as much as a standard setup, and a taller toilet costs about the same as a standard height one. While some features – like pull chain fall alarms – aren’t standard bathroom fare, by and large most age in place features offer a one-to-one swap.
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That said, cost becomes an indirect factor relative to your age. After all, while you may have the resources (both financial and physical) to do a major renovation now, you may not after you retire, when you’re more likely to need an accessible bathroom. In fact, your own age and the age of your partner is likely one of the most important factors when deciding whether or not to include age in place features. If you plan to remodel your bathroom at least once more before you retire, there’s a little more leeway in when to install some age in place features. But if you’re nearing retirement – and will be living on a fixed income – it can be well worth the investment now, even if you’re in good health.
The whole notion behind age in place design is to allow you to grow old comfortably in your own home, and having accessibility features in place before you need them is an important first step. But that raises another very important point to consider: is the home you’re living in now the one you plan to stay in for the rest of your life. If so, incorporating universal design elements early is an extremely good idea, whether you do a full scale remodel now, or gradually incorporate features over time.
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If you aren’t entirely sure whether or not you plan to stay put, that’s important to consider, too. Some age in place features – like walk in tubs or plastic shower seats – likely won’t hold the same appeal for young buyers, meaning if there’s a possibility you’re going to sell, these can even be something of a drawback. That said, the basic tenants of universal design – like having easy to use faucets, slip resistant flooring, and luxury features that add functionality (like hand showers or thermostatic controls) – hold a pretty universal appeal, and are simply smart to install, regardless of your age or mobility.
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Your personal needs and preferences should, of course, be a factor as well. If you’re more a shower person than a bath person (or vice versa), it might be smart to add accessibility features to the one you’re more likely to use. If you’re concerned about winding up with a bathroom that feels like it belongs in a hospital, focus on accessible features that have a luxury look and feel, like large, open shower enclosures (that can be accessed with a wheelchair or walker, and have room for a caregiver), or wall mounted toilets hung at a slightly higher level.
Finally, if you really aren’t sure whether or not now is the time to install age in place features, strongly consider laying the groundwork for a more accessible bathroom. If you don’t want to install grab bars now, make sure your walls have adequate support in areas where you might want to install them later. Not quite ready to put no-slip stickers on your shower floor? Look for a textured tile that’s naturally more slip resistant. Smaller preemptive features like these can not only save you a large remodel down the road, but can also appeal to future buyers if you do end up moving to a different home.
What age in place features appeal most to you? Is the home you’re living in now the one you plan to be in the rest of your life? For more information about specific age in place bathroom features, check out Part 2 of this guide.