I had the privilege of working with a great team on REMODELING’s Home for Life, a virtual remodeling project featuring universal design and green remodeling principles. Although I wasn’t specifically considering aging-in-place issues in my work on the project, in retrospect, green remodeling provides many benefits for older people and those with physical disabilities, as well as the average homeowner. Retirees’ incomes are often fixed or are even declining. A high-performance home saves energy, ensuring lower utility bills, allowing people to keep more of their money. Since older people often keep their homes quite cold in the summer or hot in the winter — my elderly parents would turn our air conditioning down as far as it would go whenever they visited Atlanta in the summer — making them more energy efficient saves a significant amount of energy and money.
An added benefit of an efficient home is that it’s more comfortable, with fewer drafts or hot spots, so the occupants are less likely to get a chill or overheat — and they don’t fiddle with the thermostat as much.
A key feature of green homes is better indoor air quality. These homes have fewer indoor allergens such as dust, dirt, mold, mildew, and pollen. Though studies are still being done about the effects of these allergens, I have found that after energy-efficient updates, homeowners tell me they have fewer incidents of asthma and allergies. Older people don’t recover as fast when they do get sick, so a healthier environment will make their lives easier.
Closely tied to indoor air quality is cleanliness. With less dirt and pollen getting into your house, you have to clean less. Older people don’t see as well, so they tend not to do as good a job cleaning up as they did when they were younger (also something I noticed about my parents as they aged). A green home will need less regular dusting, which hopefully will keep grandma off that ladder to reach the top of the bookshelf with her feather duster.
Finally, green homes tend to be more durable, requiring less frequent maintenance and repair. If we can keep our older homeowners from having to fix things, we can both save them money and keep their feet planted firmly on the ground.
So review how you can make your remodels both accessible and sustainable to provide a comfortable, healthy, and affordable place for aging people to live.
More REMODELING articles about aging in place:
Before + After: Home for Life Remodel — A fresh design enhances the current space while anticipating future needs
Getting Older, Staying Put — For baby boomers, aging in place is a key concern
Lifelong Design — Universal design is just that: universal.