Designing With Harmony for Aging in Mind

A man and woman laying in bed smiling for the camera.

Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.~ Alan Lakein


Aging in Place

It’s always good to revisit the basics on essential topics like aging in place, so here we go again. When planning for remaining home by choice in your “forever home” we intuitively think the built environment is the portal to living happily ever after, and it can be, along with a systems approach to aging well. Like any journey it is wise to seek professional consultation prior to designing with harmony for aging in mind. Sit down with an architect, Certified Aging in Place Specialist, builder or designer, and co-create your thoughtful dwelling. For now, reviewing the aging in place checklist can be an inspiring entry into the rapidly evolving realm of home accessibility (aka Universal Design). Here are some ideas from, I suggest you view their website for insights. Some additional notes were threaded in the list from *me.

Elements of a Home Designed with the Future in Mind


Low-maintenance exterior (vinyl, brick)

Low-maintenance shrubs and plants

Deck, patio, or balcony surfaces are no more than a half inch below interior floor level if made of wood

Overall Floor Plan

Open Floor Plan with minimal obstruction is optional

Main living on a single story, including full bath (*called visitability)

No steps between rooms/areas on the same level

5-foot by 5-foot clear/turn space in living area, kitchen, a bedroom, and a bathroom


Minimum of 36-inches wide, wider preferred

Well lit


Accessible path of travel to the home

At least one no-step entry with a cover

Sensor light at exterior no-step entry focusing on the front-door lock

There needs to be 32-inches of clear width, which requires a 36-inch door

Non-slip flooring in foyer

Entry door sidelight or high/low peep hole viewer; sidelight should provide both privacy and safety

Doorbell in accessible location

Surface to place packages on when opening door


Flush preferable

Exterior maximum of a half inch beveled

Interior maximum of a quarter inch

Interior Doors

There needs to be 32-inches of clear width, which requires a 36-inch door

Levered door hardware


Plenty of windows for natural light

Lowered windows or taller windows with lower sill height

Low maintenance exterior and interior finishes

Easy to operate hardware

Garage or Carport

Covered carports and boarding spaces

Wider than average carports to accommodate lifts on vans

Door heights may need to be nine feet to accommodate some raised roof vans

Five-foot minimum access aisle between accessible van and car in garage

If code requires floor to be several inches below entrance to house for fume protection, can slope entire floor from front to back to eliminate need for ramp or step

Ramp to doorway, if needed

Handrail, if steps


Lever handles or pedal-controlled

Thermostatic or anti-scald controls

Pressure balanced faucets

Kitchen and Laundry

*Near Bedroom if possible

*Laundry chute if multi-level


Wall support and provision for adjustable and/or varied height counters and removable base cabinets

Upper wall cabinetry three inches lower than conventional height

Accented stripes on edge of countertops to provide visual orientation to the workspace

Counter space for dish landing adjacent to or opposite all appliances

Base cabinet with roll out trays and lazy susans

Pull-down shelving

Glass-front cabinet doors

Open shelving for easy access to frequently used items


Easy to read controls

Washing machine and dryer raised 12-15 inches above floor

Front loading laundry machines

Microwave oven at counter height or in wall

Side-by-side refrigerator/freezer

Side-swing or wall oven

Raised dishwasher with push-button controls

Electric cook top with level burners for safety in transferring between the burners, front controls, and downdraft feature to pull heat away from user; light to indicate when surface is hot


30-inch by 48-inch clear space at appliances or 60-inch diameter clear space for turns

Multi-level work areas to accommodate cooks of different heights

Open under-counter seated work areas

Placement of task lighting in appropriate work areas

Loop handles for easy grip and pull

Pull-out spray faucet; levered handles

In multi-story homes, laundry chute or laundry facilities in master bedroom


Wall support and provision for adjustable and/or varied height counters and removable base cabinets

Contrasting color edge border at countertops

At least one wheelchair maneuverable bath on main level with 60-inch turning radius or acceptable T-turn space and 36-inch by 36-inch or 30-inch by 48-inch clear space

Bracing in walls around tub, shower, shower seat, and toilet for installation of grab bars to support 250-300 pounds

If stand-up shower is used in main bath, it is curb-less and minimum of 36-inches wide

Bathtub – lower for easier access

Fold down seat in the shower

Adjustable/handheld showerheads, 6-foot hose

Tub/shower controls offset from center

Shower stall with built-in antibacterial protection

Light in shower stall

Toilet two and half inches higher than standard toilet (17-19 inches) or height-adjustable

Design of the toilet paper holder allows rolls to be changed with one hand

Wall-hung sink with knee space and panel to protect user from pipes

Slip-resistant flooring in bathroom and shower

Stairways, Lifts, and Elevators

Adequate handrails on both sides of stairway, one and a quarter inch diameter

Increased visibility of stairs through contrast strip on top and bottom stairs, color contrast between treads and risers on stairs and use of lighting

Multi-story homes may provide either pre-framed shaft (i.e., stacked closets) for future elevator, or stairway width must be minimum of four feet to allow space for lift

Residential elevator or lift


Slope no greater than one-inch rise for each 12-inches in length, adequate handrails

Five-foot landing provided at entrance

Two-inch curbs for safety


Adjustable closet rods and shelves

Lighting in closets

Easy open doors that do not obstruct access

Electrical, Lighting, Safety, and Security

Light switches by each entrance to halls and rooms

Light receptacles with at least two bulbs in vital places (exits, bathroom)

Light switches, thermostats, and other environmental controls placed in accessible locations no higher than 48 inches from floor

Electrical outlets 15-inches on center from floor; may need to be closer than 12-feet apart

Clear access space of 30-inches by 48-inches in front of switches and controls

Rocker or touch light switches

Audible and visual strobe light system to indicate when the doorbell, telephone or smoke or CO2 detectors have been activated

High-tech security/intercom system that can be monitored, with the heating, air conditioning and lighting, from any TV in the house

Easy-to-see and read thermostats

Pre-programmed thermostats

Flashing porch light or 911 switch

Direct wired to police, fire and EMS (as option)

Home wired for security

Home wired for computers


Smooth, non-glare, slip-resistant surfaces, interior and exterior

If carpeted, use low (less than a half inch high pile) density, with firm pad

Color/texture contrast to indicate change in surface levels

Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning

HVAC should be designed so filters are easily accessible

Energy-efficient units

Windows that can be opened for cross ventilation, fresh air

Energy-Efficient Features

In-line framing with two by six studs spaced 24-inches on center

Air-barrier installation and sealing of duct work with mastic

Reduced-size air conditioning units with gas furnaces

Mechanical fresh air ventilation, installation of air returns in all bedrooms and use of carbon monoxide detectors

Installation of energy efficient windows with Low-E glass

Reduced Maintenance/Convenience Features

Easy to clean surfaces

Central vacuum

Built-in pet feeding system

Built-in recycling system

Video phones

Intercom system


Separate apartment for rental income or future caregiver

Flex room that can used as a nursery or playroom when the children are young and as a home office later; if combined with a full bath, room could also be used for an aging parent/aging in place


*Note of caution, this is just one aspect of your aging in place plan, albeit a key one, but not the only one! Just as a reminder I will include my equation for longevity with has other components of a successful aging well strategy:




3-Tiered Checklist for Aging in Place

Homes Designed in Harmony with Aging

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