by: Wild Bill, aka The Texas Authority

About me: I’m a Texan, born and bred. I’ve been blessed to travel all over the world, and there’s some mighty nice places I like to vacation, but I’ll always come back to Texas. I am a small business owner these days, but I’ve been an accountant, financial advisor, Controller and CFO for literally hundreds of Texas businesses and business owners. I’ve been involved in local, state, and national politics, and I’ve been a provider for my family for over 50 years here in Texas. It’s a great place to live, so lean on me and listen up.

If you are over 50 years old, you’re a senior (at least according to AARP).  You may feel like a junior now, but as time marches on your mobility issues will likely remind you that you are not getting any younger.  Which means that the custom home you build today should be significantly different from the one you would build if you were 30.

A recent survey of older adults found that 90 percent would prefer to die in their own homes rather than move to a senior housing lifestyle.  So, if you’re building a custom home in Dallas, this is your opportunity to design a home that will not need modifications as you progress through your later years.

To begin, here are six major structural features that can be incorporated into your home’s design from the get-go:

1.  Single Story Living

It only takes one knee replacement surgery to understand…The ground-level floor plan needs to accommodate cooking, eating, bathing, sleeping and visiting.  Second levels can be part of your custom home’s plan, but they should be designed primarily for overnight visits from family and friends.

2.  Open Floorplan

The main living area should include spacious, open areas for easy maneuvering and good visibility.  Imagining the placement of your furniture before you move in will help in designing enough space in your dining area, living rooms, bedroom and bathroom.  

3.  Wide Hallways and Doorways

Halls and doorways should be wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair.  Think 36 inches or more to allow for easy entrance and turning.  And, consider that not all corners have to be squared.  Moving from a common area into a hallway can be enhanced by a 45 degree corner.  

4.  Flush Thresholds

Movement from one part of the house to the other should be smooth—no step-ups or step-downs. One area to give special attention is the transfer from the exterior to the interior of the house.  Many standard floor plans have a step-up at the door opening to the interior.  This can easily be a trip point for a person with balance issues, and a challenge for those in a wheelchair. (Think about carrying groceries from the car to the kitchen).

5.  Natural Light

Your design of your windows is obviously the biggest determinant for access of natural light into your home’s interior.

Natural light produces energy savings by allowing a homeowner, in certain cases, to use less heat, less air conditioning, and eliminate (or greatly reduce) the need to use artificial light. Research has proven that natural lighting helps people be more productive, happier, healthier and calmer. 

Colors close to white, such as light-colored pastels, reflect plenty of rays. An eggshell wash or other reflective paint finish will enhance the brightness.

Also, don’t forget the largest source of darkness in a room may be the floor. Get a light colored rug, carpet or hardwood flooring to help brighten up the room.

6.  Elevators and Dumbwaiters

Although expensive, elevators and dumbwaiters can be game changers for seniors. The convenience of being able to move both people and products between floors, without the use of stairs, can open up a variety of custom home design options you might otherwise not consider.

Where previously you may have been limited to a ground-floor living design, elevators and dumbwaiters make it possible for those with mobility issues to access upper floors, and create more living and entertainment spaces vertically, rather than having to expand the floor plan horizontally and consume more of the lot.

Other Ideas and Considerations

Now, as you think further about the interior features of your home, consider these ideas to make your everyday living safe and convenient for your mature years.  Chances are that no one will notice, and you won’t either until you reach those magic “golden years” when mobility becomes an issue:

**Consider a zero-threshold shower with built-in seating.

**Reinforce the bathroom walls so you can add grab bars later when needed.

**Lower your counter heights an inch or so, particularly in the kitchen and bathrooms. 

**Install lever-handled doorknobs and faucets wherever possible.

**Lower the electrical wall switches.  An inch or two will make a difference.

**Raise the electrical outlets, and add more of them throughout the house.

**Use pull-out shelving whenever possible.  Think kitchen and bathrooms.

**When specifying artificial lighting (in closets), add more, not less.

**Install non-slip flooring.

If these ideas are incorporated in the design phase of your truly custom home, the incremental costs will be minimal but the returns later in life will be monumental.  These features may even extend your years in your own home, forestalling a move to a senior living facility.

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