The 5 Best Home Upgrades for Retirees

mature couple dancing in kitchen
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More than three-quarters of Americans age 50 or older want to retire in their current community, preferably in their current home, according to a recent AARP survey.

Staying could require homeowners to make some changes to maintain their quality of life, but many already are planning for that, too.

“Most adults age 18 and older (63 percent) own their own homes, but about one-third expect their homes to need major modifications to accommodate aging needs,” AARP finds.

Following are some practical upgrades to consider if you’re planning on aging in place.

Add accessible door handles

levered lever door handles interior
Drongo Sidorelli / Shutterstock.com

Door knobs. They may look like a simple aesthetic choice at first glance but they also can matter a lot when you’re aging.

Traditional knobs require tight grasping and a twisting motion, presenting a challenge to people with arthritis or poor balance. This is why you rarely if ever see traditional door knobs in public buildings; they don’t meet the accessibility requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Lever door handles are easier to grip. They function more simply, opening a door with the weight of your hand. What’s more, stylish levers update the look of your home.

Cost: At Amazon, door levers start at about $12.

Improve storage and shelving

Kitchen shelf utensils white
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You shouldn’t need to strain to use or put away everyday items. Particularly in the kitchen, evaluate the height and placement of the counter, cabinets, drawers, storage racks and shelving. A few ideas:

  • Lazy Susans keep things organized, compact and easy to grab.
  • Use dowels or racks to store cookware instead of stacking them, to avoid moving heavy pots and pans.
  • Well-mounted wall hooks make things easier to reach.
  • Slide-out shelving is more accessible than cabinets that require you to crouch or reach.
  • Fix or replace sticky drawers and add accessible touch or push latches or lever handles.
  • Add a kitchen island or prep table at a comfortable height.

Cost: A minor kitchen remodel (with midrange products, including cabinet fronts and hardware, range, refrigerator, laminate counters, resilient flooring and paint) is $22,507, on average, says Remodeling magazine. Knock that price down by selecting just a few game-changing improvements.

Install a curbless shower or walk-in tub

handicapped accessible bathroom disabled senior elderly
Prasit Rodphan / Shutterstock.com

As we age, navigating home can be, literally, a balancing act. About 1 in 4 people over 65 suffer a fall each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among the risks: broken bones, hip fractures and head injuries. For a slippery-when-wet bathroom, the appeal of this renovation is obvious.

  • Walk-in tub: Generally taller than a traditional bathtub, with a watertight door and, usually, a seat, some walk-in tubs are made with wheelchairs in mind. Safety features can include nonslip flooring and handrails and anti-scald valves. A downside: These tubs can take a long time to fill or drain.
  • Curbless shower: More open than a conventional shower, this design may even need no door at all — like a gym shower. There is no lip to step (or trip) over, and the floor slopes slightly toward the drain. You may want to add safety features like grab bars and nonslip mats.

Cost: The price varies, depending on size, design, materials and local labor costs. You’ll spend extra to reinforce the floor and drain beneath a curbless shower. At Home Depot, the cost of walk-in tubs ranges from about $1,300 to more than $7,000. For comparison, the average cost for a mid-range bathroom remodel is $20,420, says Remodeling magazine’s latest annual Cost vs. Value report.

Fall-proof steps and stairs

Elder Senior Woman Stair Lift Home Mobility
Daisy Daisy / Shutterstock.com

The health risks of falling — and the preventive steps you can take — are hard to overstate. Anything you can do to reduce your risk and dependence on others is worth considering.

  • Where changes in height are minimal, one or two steps can be replaced with ramps or improved with a railing.
  • Longer staircases are more difficult. Add bright lighting, solid railings on each side of a staircase and anti-slip strips on stair edges.
  • A stair lift (shown above) may be a solution.

Cost: Here, too, the outlay ranges a good deal. Adding a stair lift can run from $2,000 (with used equipment) to over $10,000, Bill Owens, an Ohio contractor and founder of Better Living Design Institute tells Next Avenue.

Create a home office or hobby room

sewing room interior desk, sewing machine threads
Photographee.eu / Shutterstock.com

As you transition out of the workforce, you might find value in setting up a quiet, tidy place in your home to enjoy a hobby or to organize paperwork and manage financial affairs. This is especially true if you will continue consulting or working remotely after leaving a full-time job.

Or perhaps you want to find a new use for a spare bedroom or kids’ room. If you’ll be spending more time at home, it’s natural to start using more of it.

Cost: Costs vary, depending on your plans, how much work you’ll do yourself and local costs for labor and supplies. Get several detailed bids from contractors and compare them.

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Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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