Homeowners are feeling a lot more confident about the economy these days, and that means they’re spending a bit more money on their homes.
But they’re not wasting it. A new Home Design Trends Survey by the American Institute of Architects reveals that next to adding on specialty rooms like outdoor kitchens and home offices, making the home more accessible so the occupants can live there as they get older is the most popular remodeling endeavor.
It makes sense: The baby boomers are the largest generation, and we’re not getting any younger. If you’re like me, you want to live independently in your own home and by your own rules for as long as you possibly can.
Making your home more comfortable, easier to get around in and safer is a good insurance policy for that kind of future.
Here are the six top changes homeowners are making to get their houses in shape for the long haul, according to the AIA survey:
• Accommodate multiple generations. If you’re an empty nester, you and your spouse probably live in the same house where you raised your kids. They might be in college or have jobs or families of their own by now. If you’re lucky, your parents are still healthy.
But any or all of that could change. More adult children in their 20s and 30s are coming home to live with Mom and Dad for a while they get on their feet financially, recover from a job loss or go through a divorce. Elderly parents, who, like you, also would like to spend their golden years in a comfortable family home instead of in a nursing home, might not be able to live in their own house — but they would be fine if they lived in yours, with you.
Is your home big enough for any or all of those family members to move in?
Work with a remodeler who both designs and builds to reconfigure your house so it has two big master bedrooms, enough bathrooms to go around, and space for each adult resident to have some privacy from the others.
• Ramps and elevators. Anyone, at any age, can break a leg and need help with the stairs. Or someone in your house could suffer from a stroke or a disability that rules out climbing from the main living area to the upstairs bedroom.
Consider installing a lift to get that person up and down the stairs. And install a ramp leading from the driveway or curb to the front door. It could mean the difference between living at home and living in a “facility.”
• Curbless entryway. This is an easy fix: If you have to climb any steps — even one — to get into your house through the front door, have those steps removed.
You can replace them with a mini-ramp or simply have the threshold lowered so it’s level with the front porch floor. Refurbishing and enlarging your porch at the same time makes sense.
Do the same in the bathroom. If you have to step up to get into the shower, you’re eventually going to wish you didn’t. And if you still have a bathtub that you never use, replace it with a curbless shower. Even young adults find it annoying to have to climb over the tall side of a bathtub to take a shower.
• First-floor master bedroom. I’ll tell you where you can fit it: where your formal dining room is. When is the last time you set at your dining room table? If the answer is “last Christmas,” don’t feel bad about sacrificing a room you barely use.
Instead, convert it to a downstairs master bedroom, which will save you from having to climb stairs to get to a room you probably only use for sleeping anyway.
• Hurricane-resistant design. After the storms we had in summer 2013, lots of homeowners are asking for reinforcements to their roofs, doors and windows. Some are even having a windowless walk-in closet converted to a shelter.
A tip: If you’re having an addition built onto your home, talk to your contractor about using special hardware and other building materials that can withstand hurricane-force winds.
• Easy-to-use features. Replace the doorknobs on your interior doors with levers, and notice how easy it is to open and close those doors — especially when your hands are full. Instead of tiny round knobs on your kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors, opt for “pulls” that are wide enough to slip all of your fingers through.
A good designer can help you choose cabinets with pull-out shelves, pantries with shelves that raise and lower so you never need a step stool, and faucets that operate with next to no effort on your part.
The easier the moving parts of your home are to use, the longer you’ll be able to use them — even as those little aches and pains start creeping up on you.
Jeb Breithaupt is a third-generation remodeler who has been president of JEB Design/Build in Shreveport since 1983