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 AGING IN PLACE IN A HISTORIC HOME – Aging in place generally comes with necessary change to your home, but this is even truer of situations involving a historic home. As with many adaptive reuse projects, one must determine the balance between maintaining historic fabric and making adaptations suitable for aging. 

Photo by Boston Public Library on Unsplash.

 

WHAT IS AGING IN PLACE? 

Aging in place refers to exactly that: aging in the place where you already live, at home. Before the advent of the modern skilled nursing facility, many people aged at home. But for those who were unable to care for themselves or did not have family, they often were relegated to the predecessors of skilled nursing facilities – almshouses, poor houses, and convalescent homes (you can read more about this history here, here, and here). Although modern facilities have improved upon these old systems significantly in recent years, the quality and price of these facilities run the gamut. As the 65 and over population steadily increases, more people are choosing to avoid low-cost poor quality sites and high-cost high quality sites in favor of staying at home. A Porch.com article notes some of the benefits of aging in place, including maintaining independence, staying near friends and community, increasing comfort, saving money, and even slowing the advancement of memory loss. We’d also like to add that if you’ve made the investment in a historical home, you may consider that investment another motivator for aging in place.

 

HOW TO AGE IN PLACE – IN AN OLD HOME

Timing. Time is of the essence – the sooner that you begin your planning for aging in place, the better. It is best to start the process while you are still physically and mentally functional (this young woman and her husband have already begun this process – along with their overall historic home renovation – by modifying the floorplan and layout on the first floor). Timing is also important for budgets, as it is best to plan things in phases as your budget allows. Finally, it’s also good to have a timeline in place for retrofits and renovations; prioritize a plan for which areas to address first based on safety needs and budget. You may want to start with the entrance, followed by the bathroom, and then the bedroom, as these areas will be used the most heavily in the long-term.

Budget. Budgeting is always an important factor in any project. Just like timing, it is important to begin as soon as able so things can be addressed over time, rather than having to pay all at once. For instance, making small changes over time can be less costly than a total renovation done all at once.

Safety. Safety is the top concern when planning updates to your home to age in place successfully. You can find general safety tips for old homes in our previous post, here

Retrofitting. The key is addressing age in place needs while also maintaining (read: DON’T DAMAGE) the historic fabric where possible. Here are links (here, here, and here) regarding general retrofits to homes, and a short post on aging in place in a historic home (here). These should supplement our material below specific to historic homes.

  • ENTRANCES
    • Any changes to make the house more accessible (ramps, etc.) should be made on a secondary façade (not the front of the house). They should be installed in the least intrusive manner to make removal easy and less damaging to the historic fabric. The goals is to balance aesthetics and accessibility.
  • BATHROOMS
    • ADA height toilets and grab bars can be installed without damaging the historic fabric.
    • Using levered faucet knobs rather than knobs make turning faucets off and on easier.
    • Any changes to the bathtub/shower configuration (especially if you have an original claw foot tub,  for example) should be made in an addition (if possible) – a first floor addition is a good idea/compromise.
  • BEDROOMS
    • You can repurpose a first floor room (if you haven’t already) into a bedroom, or put a sympathetic addition onto your first floor.
  • GENERAL
    • Door knobs can be switched to lever, and you can keep originals on-hand for future reinstall
    • Lighting is essential for safety, and many historic lighting companies have ADA lighting with brighter fixtures. Light switches can be switched to reproduction old style buttons, that are modern code compliant.
    • Smooth flooring – can usually be done without much intervention.
    • Cabinet heights can be adjusted to require less bending over.

 

For further resources and reading: 

  • ADA-compliant reproduction items can be found here, here, and here.
  • Information on retrofitting general historic structures, not just homes, can be found here

About Laura Kise

Laura Kise has worked most of her adult life in the health services field, but has never lost her love of history. Her ancestral roots run deeply in Central Pennsylvania, and some of her earliest history-loving experiences included riding restored train cars behind antique steam engines, as well as participating in Civil-War reenacting, and visiting battlefields with her parents. She has been an administrator with Keperling Preservation Services since November 2019, and is excited to explore new opportunities to promote historical education and preservation throughout Central Pennsylvania and beyond.

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