Aging is Hip in the Mountains

Editorial by Sean D. Sullivan, Chair of the National Association of Home Builders 2018 Design Committee

It is often said in our household—particularly on birthdays—that “you are only as old as you feel.” The truth of the matter is that we are all aging in place every day. Most Gen X’ers have or are currently dealing with aging parents and their living situations. So why has it taken so long for us to accept the inevitable about our own accommodations?

One sunny afternoon, I sat down with the Smiths, clients of ours who plan to retire soon, and explained our company’s mantra: if we are going to design+build a home for them, then we should do it right, with no regrets. One of the considerations that we make on every home is for our client to be able to age in place. I looked across the table and noticed that their eyebrows raised, and they responded, somewhat defensively, “Do you think we are that old?” I reassured them that I was not speaking of their current health situation but wanted to be able to deliver a home for them that: (1) allowed them to live in the home as long as they needed, without having to move for health or safety issues, and (2) would be comfortable for anyone who chose to visit, including parents, neighbors, and friends. They put their trust in me, and we continued on with the design of their soon-to-be beautiful—and barrier-free—home.

If you are like the majority of Americans over the age of 55, you want to find that perfect retirement spot and be able to continue living in that familiar environment throughout your maturing years. According to AARP, older homeowners overwhelmingly prefer to age in place, which means living in your home safely, independently and comfortably, regardless of age or ability level.

A custom closet is just one reason for homeowners to age in place, and incorporating a wider entry door and plenty of room inside the closet can make aging in place seamless.

Access to aging-in-place homes is in limited supply, and because of this, we are often forced out of our own homes and into an assisted-living facility as our health requires. Odds are high that someone in your family will need increased care sooner or later. More than two-thirds of people over age 65 will require some type of long-term care services during their lifetime, and over 45 percent of people will need a period of care in a nursing home, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The cost of that care can financially cripple a family, but there are steps you can take to potentially stay in your family home. Think about designing and building (or renovating) a home to accommodate your needs and allow for an in-home caretaker.

We enjoy where we live in the mountains, however, due to the topography, finding a barrier-free home can be very challenging here. I explain to our clients that through an extensive design process, we consider ingress/egress, wider doorways, curbless showers, specific types of handles, blocking for grab bars, an extra emphasis on lighting, and the possible use of an elevator. My clients are often surprised when I tell them that we can install an elevator for much less than building an extra bedroom on the main level. We also often include a “flex” room in the design which can be used as a home office or a future bedroom for a caregiver.

A lipless shower in the bath is an easily included aging-in-place detail.

An elevator can often be included for less than the price of adding a first-floor bedroom.

Close to one year went by before the Smiths began their move to Asheville. After their move, we received a call from them that their adult daughter had moved home with them and had recently broken her ankle. To everyone’s surprise, the daughter’s move went incredibly smoothly, as she was able to get around anywhere in the house—on crutches—with ease. So, whether it is your hip, knees, or ankle that gives out, the satisfaction of forward thinking and a job well done will pay off and save money and comfort in the end. Just ask the Smiths, who immediately became our greatest sales team.


—Sean Sullivan, president of award-winning design+build firm Living Stone Construction in Asheville, N.C., is a certified aging-in-place specialist. He is past president of the Asheville and North Carolina Home Builders Associations; his current roles include Chairman of the 2018 NAHB Design Committee and NAHB Executive Board Member. Visit Living Stone Construction online to learn more about aging in place and the firm.

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