This article appears in the November 2022 issue of Advisor’s Edge magazine — our second last print issue. If you’re a print-only subscriber, learn more about our digital transition and how to continue to receive all the best news and features on Advisor.ca.
Making a home more accessible can be money well spent for clients who wish to age in place.
Such renovations “will provide them with longer-term independence, as well as safety,” said Marni Halwas, director of fund development with Accessible Housing in Calgary.
Stephen Trumper, the back page columnist for Abilities magazine, said modifications can range from simple and inexpensive — using an office chair to get around, for example — to complex and costly, such as adding an elevator.
“There’s no one-size-fits-all,” Trumper said. “You’d be well-advised to bring in an occupational therapist who can monitor the home and give you suggestions.”
For the renos themselves, Halwas suggested using contractors and consultants with accessibility expertise. For example, her organization employs a professional with Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification who can anticipate a client’s future needs as well as current ones.
Trumper suggested thinking of accessibility as a form of “liberation”: “Anything that helps you live easier and increases your safety, you should do.”
Integrate these design changes everywhere
› Lever-style handles that are operable with a closed fist installed on doors and cupboards
› Slip-resistant flooring; industrial-grade vinyl flooring for durability if your client uses a wheelchair
› Light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats and other items placed 30 to 48 inches above the floor
› Furniture arranged so paths of travel within the home are at least 36 inches wide
› Flooring, doors, walls and trim of contrasting colours so a person with visual impairment can easily identify different surfaces
› Shutters, which are easiest to operate, instead of curtains and blinds
› No area rugs, which are a tripping hazard
› Sufficient task and ambient lighting
› A medical alert system (for a one-time or subscription fee)
Specific renos for aging clients
$ = Less than $1,000
$$ = $1,000–$4,999
$$$ = $5,000–$10,000
$$$$ = +$10,000
- Add a ramp to allow for wheelchair entry if the door is less than 30 inches above the ground ($$$)
- Add a porch lift if the door is more than 30 inches from the ground ($$$$)
- Widen exterior doorway ($$)
Tip: Measure door height from the ground to the door’s finished threshold.
- Widen interior doorway ($$)
- Install a ceiling lift to raise and lower the client from the bed ($$)
- If a ceiling lift is not feasible, purchase a portable mechanical floor lifter ($$)
Tip: The Alberta Aids to Daily Living program covers a portion of equipment such as homecare beds, transfer aids and lifters. Other provinces have similar programs.
- Add grip strips to hardwood ($)
- Add a stair lift:
- a straight stairway from one floor to another ($$$)
- a two-part stairway with a landing and a 90-degree turn ($$$$)
- Convert stacked closets on two or more floors into an elevator ($$$$)
Tip: Living on a single floor makes exiting the home in an emergency significantly faster.
- Add grab bars around the shower, bathtub or toilet ($)
- Add an elevated toilet seat ($)
- Add a shower chair ($) and replace the shower head with a hand-held unit with a hose at least 59 inches long ($)
- Replace the bathtub with a shower enclosure ($$$)
- Replace the entire bathroom with a wet room ($$$$)
Tip: To minimize the risk of scalding, Accessible Housing recommends the water heater be set no higher than 49 degrees Celsius.
- Adjust countertops to 30 inches high and 24 inches deep, the ideal dimensions for wheelchair users (cost varies widely)
- Replace the oven with a side-opening model ($$)
- Replace the fridge with a model that has double doors and/or a bottom freezer ($$)
- Install a sink with a basin no deeper than 10 inches ($)
- Add a touchless faucet adapter ($)
Tip: Putting electrical outlets and light switches at the front of counters ensures they’re reachable for wheelchair users.
Sources: AccessibleUniversity.com; City of Calgary access design standards; Rick Hansen Foundation. Estimates exclude installation and delivery.
-with files from Allan Tong