This topic is located on the Home Building Timeline, beginning with the construction phase HOUSE PLANS – MOVING AROUND IN THE HOUSE, at grid location V-24.

NOTE :  This article will remain free to read until May 16, 2019. Until then, read it all you want and share it with all your friends, so they can read it for free, too.

Right now, just before the day’s 5K run or hour-plus session on a stationary bike or elliptical trainer, your nimble fingers quickly lace stylish cross-train shoes onto trim feet which practically prance to the health club or private gym. Then, it’s back to the master bath, where un-fatigued muscles lift still-rarin’-to-go feet over the shower curb into streams of heated water and steam. Or maybe your routine includes hopping into the spa-bath for a soak and bubble-swirl. Dressing for the day is quick. Every garment in the closet is in reach, whether on a low rod or a high one. Floor-level changes are no challenge at all. Bounding up onto a platform or leaping down into a pit offers no test whatsoever. Because of ‘youth’ a home like the one pictured below provides visual excitement to tease the senses without any physical trials to test the body.

Fast-forward a few decades. Arthritic joints challenge nimble fingers. Shoelaces are replaced by Velcro straps. Gowns and robes hide the exercise equipment in drapes of flannel. Feet are no longer rarin’ to go. Muscles, which begin each day already tired, struggle to lift heel over curb to go in and out of the shower. It’s been years since climbing in the spa-tub was considered a safe expedition. As for getting dressed, the clothes that still fit are confined to the lowest rod so they’re in easy reach. The rest, the favorites, the ones that no longer fit your age or body, are relegated to the upper rod, out of reach but still on display in that closeted museum of your youth.

Moving from room to room may include using a walker or steering a wheelchair, both of which make your girth-for-passage wider than it used to be. Now is NOT the time to realize that doors and halls should have been expanded a long time ago, like when the house was first built. It’s too late to consider impetuous choices sprung from naiveté, such as stairs too steep, steps from ground to porch too many, bathroom and closet doors too narrow; and whole rooms, raised or sunken for accent because it was cool and trendy.

Steep stairs and steps are a barrier to visiting another floor. Narrow halls and doors are an almost (if not entirely) unnavigable bottleneck to moving around in the house. Rooms that lift or fall have become safety hazards for slips and trips.

Imagine a family living in a house of many hazards (below). Curleena is in the wheelchair, Larry is on the raised dining-platform, and Monique is using the walker. The sisters sleep in bedrooms downstairs. Larry has the master suite upstairs. That’s Curleena’s tea and books down in the conversation pit. Larry put them there, forgetting she can’t get to them. Monique, trying to help, will get the tea and books and take them to Curleena. Sadly, Monique won’t make it. She will stumble and become one of those TV-ad people who has fallen and can’t get up. Larry, the most able of the three, is having a bad moment. Setting the table for a supper accessible only to himself because he’s thoughtless, he has mis-stepped on the edge of the platform. Tipping and flipping toward a worse moment, he has time to think one useful thought, “Why did we build all these different floor levels?”

You and I won’t get to see it because this moment is frozen in time, but, when Larry hits the floor he doesn’t stick the landing. It isn’t pretty and Olympic-like. It’s bad. Larry sustains a permanent spinal injury which will make moving around in the house only possible with the sisters’ help. The very near future involves Curleena slowly dragging-in-tow Larry’s new mobile sling; and Monique attempting a strenuous walker-braced push-and-shuffle, moving Larry just a few inches at a time, as they try to help him get from the bathroom back to his bed, which will, forevermore, be underneath the grand staircase.

The following pictures illustrate Curleena’s challenge (below actual), Monique’s impending fall (below next), and Larry’s last upright moment (both).

The most common oversight for any plan with many floor-levels is the fact that furniture, especially chairs, placed too close to an edge (below), will tumble off causing a chair-sitter flip and maybe a backbone-slip.

The best plan is to create a home which can transition with you through all ages. Several important considerations include:

  • Wide doors inside and out – Door-width should be 36” whenever possible, 32” when more width can’t be applied. Local codes will dictate this. Along with ease of movement for wheelchairs and walkers, wide openings also better accommodate moving furniture around sharp turns from a hall into a bedroom.
  • Movement through and between rooms involves halls and passages.
    • Halls should be as wide as a plan can allow. 36” is the minimum allowed wherever building codes are enforced. Increasing hall width by just a few inches can have a positive effect on movement. Five feet works best when the advantage is preferred for two people to pass each other in a hall.
    • Passageways through rooms should kept straight and uncluttered. For any area dedicated to foot traffic, barriers created by furnishings should be minimized. For example: it’s easy to scoot between a sofa placed close to a coffee table, but a person using a walker or wheelchair may have to take the long way around.
  • Storage height for all manner of possessions from canned goods to clothing is most reachable between 16” and 60” above the floor. The spryness of youth can conquer the distance to high-stored items whether the physical process involves tiptoes or step stools. However, the progression of age will bring limitations to one’s ability to reach items on high-placed shelves and clothes hangers. Look far into the future and consider the storage-related changes that will work best for you as age brings new conditions.
  • Transitions from level to level, such as up to a raised dining platform or down into a conversation pit, are no challenge to the young and strong. However, those spatial shifts, along with stepping up or down a few inches – for example from a foyer to a porch – will become a more serious obstacle with every passing year. Keep floor levels even. Minimize transitions from area to area. Avoid trendy gimmicks of design. Your ‘old self’ will thank you. Also, even a young person can experience a life altering moment if a chair placed too near an edge slips over and takes its occupant for a ride ending in a serious injury.
  • Grab-bars should be placed, not just in bathrooms, but in any strategic places where a little extra stability is needed, like stair landings, turns in halls, and near openings where steps begin or end.
  • Exterior spaces deserve the same considerations. Gently sloping ramps and shallow steps make walkways more safe and easier to navigate. Grand stairs from the ground to broad porches are beautiful to behold, until they have to be climbed by trembling, debilitated legs.

No one is declaring that your future self will definitely be a decrepit, arthritic, trembling, debilitated, weakling of a little old left-over. The declaration is that there is a future, you will be in it, and as age overtakes the quickness and dexterity of youth, physical abilities will change, and simple tasks will become challenges. All you have to do is plan for it and prepare for it. Then you can look forward to being in the place where aging and living-well are the same thing.

NOTE :  This article will remain free to read until May 16, 2019. Until then, read it all you want and share it with all your friends, so they can read it for free, too.

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