How To Look At A House

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What are the Aging In Place features to look for when buying a retirement home?

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Since we recently bought a new home in the The Villages, a 55+ community in North Central Florida, we thought it would be good idea to see how it measures up in accessibility features, looking forward to the years ahead as we age. We chose one of their “spec” homes with no upgrades, only the standard construction details. 

    The Villages does not advertise their homes for aging in place standards, but obviously has their senior residents’ safety in mind in many of the details of their houses. Here’s a rundown of what we found, for you to compare to a retirement home you are considering buying: 

  •  Low maintenance exterior - The home, shown above, has concrete walls with a stucco finish. Fascia and soffit are wrapped in metal, so there is no exposed wood to maintain on the outside of the residence, and dimensional shingle roof, fully guttered on all sides.
  • Lever door and faucet handles - As arthritis begins to make grasping a knob difficult, this simple detail makes life easier.
  • Wall switches are paddle type - Easy to use without grasping, and located lower, below 48 inches above floor for wheelchair access.
  • Receptacles at 18-inches above floor - Also good for wheelchair access.
  • No step at entry doors - Both the entry door and door from garage into home.
  • “Comfort Height” toilet with elongated bowl - Standard toilet seats are around 15 to 16-inches above the floor. Comfort heigh toilets, for easier access on and off, are ones with seat height of 17 inches or above. This one is at 17-1/2 inches.
  • Pulls at cabinet doors that are easy to grasp - Actually, the cabinets had no pulls in kitchen and bathrooms. We installed a type that is easy to slide two fingers behind without having to grasp them. Perhaps the builder’s intention was to let the homeowner select the type of pull they wanted. The photo shows the first one that we installed.
  • Drain layout under sink allows for future wheelchair sink access - This configuration, with the trap set high, allows for the area under the bathroom sink to be easily opened up—comparatively easily, anyway—to be able to slide a wheelchair up to the sink.
  • Slide-out drawers at bottom of base cabinets - for less bending to access back of the cabinet near the floor. Also has lazy susans at corner base cabinets.

  • Low pile height carpet and non-slip rated tile - for safely walking around home.

  • Low maintenance landscaping - Like these holly bushes with pine straw mulch under them. Drought-tolerant zoysia grass lawn and yard fully sprinklered with recycled water.

  • Seat in shower - for both comfort and safety.

  • Wheelchair accessible doorways - Almost. The ADA defines a wheelchair accessible door as having 32 inches clearance from the face of the open door to door stop at opposite side—in other words, the actual clear opening, not the width of the door, sets the standard. The entry door is 36 inches. Interior swinging doors are 32 inches, and a pocket door to master bathroom is 30 inches. The width of the open door and the stop reduce the opening by about 2 inches, except at the pocket door. So only the entry door fully meets the wheelchair standard. The other doors fall a couple of inches short, but are wider than regular homebuilding standards for interior doors, and all interior doors have about a 30 inch clear opening. 

  • Wheelchair accessible hallways - Our model has no hallways to the bedrooms. They are at walls angled off the room they face. The only interior hallway is a short one after the door into the master bath, and it meets the minimum requirement of 36-inches.

  • Grab bars - Only at the shower and tub (as shown above) and designed to look very similar to a towel bar, probably because the “young old” like us are uncomfortable with the more institutional type; but more can be added later at the toilet, sink, and doors as needed.

  • No sill at shower - This feature is available at some models, but we did not get one. Eliminates a trip hazard and makes wheelchair shower access possible.

  •  Humidistat function at thermostat - The thermostat for the HVAC system has a built-in humidistat function so that homeowners that are only seasonal or on an extended vacation can set it to turn on the air conditioning only as necessary to maintain low humidity in the home, thereby saving energy. 

     A recent report by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University listed the five most important construction features that make a home easier and safer to live in for seniors:

  •  No steps at the entrance
  •  Entire living area on a single floor
  •  Wide doorways and halls for a wheelchair
  •  Electrical switches and receptacles that are reachable from a wheelchair
  •  Lever handles on faucets and doors

      A surprising fact noted in the report is that only 1% of the single-family homes in America have all five of these basic senior-friendly features, but newer homes in retirement communities like The Villages do. Even more surprising is that all of them could be built into any new single family home and be virtually invisible—unlike other safety items for older households like grab bars in the bathroom—but make it easier for  a homeowner to continue to live in a home longer as they age.

   Overall, The Villages standard spec house scores well in safety features for seniors at the beginning of their retirement years. But most of the residents here don’t stay home long enough to appreciate these “aging in place” features; instead, spending their days shuttling between the golf courses, pools, recreation centers, dog parks, fitness trails, and club meetings, trying to stave off the inevitable senior maladies that these homes are designed to accommodate.

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  To learn more strategies for getting the best possible home inspection, here’s a few of our other blog posts:

How can I make sure I don't get screwed on my home inspection? 

How thorough is a home inspector required to be when inspecting a house?

Should I trust the Seller's Property Disclosure Statement?

Can I do my own home inspection?

How can homebuyers protect themselves against buying a house over a sinkhole? 

The seller gave me a report from a previous home inspection. Should I use it or get my own inspector? 

    To read about issues related to homes of particular type or one built in a specific decade, visit one of these blog posts:

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1940s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1950s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1960s house?

• What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1970s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1980s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1990s house?

What problems should I look for when buying a country house or rural property? 

What problems should I look for when buying a house that has been moved?

What problems should I look for when buying a house that has been vacant or abandoned?

What are the most common problems with older mobile homes?

What do I need to know about a condo inspection?

    Visit our SAFETY and HOME INSPECTION pages for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.

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