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Tips for Designing Livable Spaces with Aging Americans In-Mind


The fastest growing segment of the U.S. population is age 65 and older, which numbered 37.3 million or one in every eight Americans in 2006; and is expected to reach 71.5 million or 20 percent of the population by 2030 (Association on Aging, Jan. 2008). The boomer population’s longevity, buying power and preference to age-in-place at home are creating a growing demand for living spaces that support the aging process.

Along with the increased demand comes a need to consider designing and building to serve aging Americans. The aging population is likely to require a home environment with the potential to receive in-home care, a single-level floor plan, ramps or elevators to move between levels, and the structure to support proper assistance devices, such as grab bars, ramps and handrails on both sides of all stairways.

Several tips for designing and building a safe, sound and secure living space follow.

The following suggestions apply to the whole living environment:

  • Brightly-lit interior and exterior halls, and spaces reduce the chance of tripping. Ceiling lights, floor lamps, ground lighting, and light-activated night lights can achieve proper lighting.

  • Uncluttered hallways and living spaces enhance accessibility and safety. Electrical cords, carpeting, appliances, and furnishings should be secured, and directed out of walkways so as to not causing a stumbling hazard.

  • An accessible central desk area or space keeps medical paper work and tracking medications organized and easily accessible when home care services are utilized.

  • Anti-scalding devices installed on fixtures throughout the living space help prevent accidental burns.

  • Proper flooring is critical. Consider the installation of flooring (i.e. carpet with short, dense pile) that reduces slipping risk and allows for mobility with an assistive device.

  • Countertops and vanities with rounded edges and corners can lessen the level of injuries if a fall occurs.

  • Lever-style door handles are easier to use with arthritic joints.


  • Create a low-maintenance building exterior and landscape, which requires less physical labor and financial resources.

Entry, living areas and pathways:

  • Aim for a low or no-threshold entrance with an overhang to avoid step-up tripping accidents.

  • Minimize the change in levels on the main floor, especially single steps.

  • Consider where home owners will reside and spend most of their time today and tomorrow given the size and number of floors. Plan for getting up and down stairs if required.

Kitchen and laundry room:

  • Under-cabinet lighting illuminates countertops and prevents eyestrain.

  • Shelving and cabinetry drawers that can be pulled out, will support heavy pots, pans and kitchen equipment versus having folks strain to search for and carry such items.

  • Elevated dishwashers, washing machines and dryers lessen bending, back strain and shifts in balance.

  • A main floor laundry room reduces the need to move up and down stairs.

  • Consider 36” tall countertops to ease back strain and promote easier access.


  • Install proper assistance devices, such as grab bars, bath and shower chairs and handrails.

  • Faucets that sense motion require motion-sensing faucets are ideal for those with arthritis.

  • Consider an 18" toilet height for ease of use.


  • Locate the master bedroom and bath on the first floor to minimize stair climbing.

  • Have clients consider whether they may, at some point, need to set up guest or home care provider room.


  • Extend handrails on both sides of stairways and at top and bottom steps, one foot beyond the last step.

  • Mark the first and last steps with contrasting colors and keep the stair rise at 7 inches and tread at least 11 inches.


Taking the time to understand your client’s specific health needs -- wheelchairs, arthritis, hearing and vision loss, as well as Alzheimer’s, dementia, loss of balance and other conditions, will result in a design and build plan that respectfully reflects their desire to age-in-place.


HB Move Management provides move management services to seniors and their families throughout the Greater Seattle area.  For more information, email or call (206) 257-4314.

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