More seniors than ever before are choosing to stay in their homes as they age. According to a study by the AARP, only five percent of Americans ages 65 and older live in group quarters like nursing homes.

From narrow hallways to steep stairs, design elements in typical houses can make remaining at home difficult in our golden years. However, basic upgrades, like handrails and ramps, can go a long way toward making homes safer for seniors.  And there are other small senior-friendly changes that can even make homes more environmentally friendly, which can help lower utility bills.

“The aging process can be gradual for some, however others can move quickly from independent living to a cane to a walker,” says Joyce Polhamus, Chair of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Design for Aging Knowledge Community. “You don’t need to completely remodel your home; there are small things you can do now to make it more accessible as the aging process evolves, while also making it better for the environment.”

Automate to Conserve

One of the best ways to help ensure senior safety is to have a well-lit home. But it sometimes can be difficult to reach outlets and to remember to turn lights on and off as you move about your house. Installing sensors, so lights go on and off automatically when you enter and leave rooms, will cut back on electricity costs and ensure better visibility.

As we age, tasks that formerly seemed simple, like watering plants, can be difficult and energy-consuming. Polhamus recommends setting automatic timers on sprinkler systems to eliminate the need to do this task yourself, while also helping to conserve water.

Update Appliances

Emptying the dishwasher or putting a load of laundry in the washing machine, can put a strain on the body. Consider installing newer appliances designed to be more senior friendly.

With newer dishwasher and refrigerator models, you can open doors and drawers between hip and shoulder height, which won’t require reaching up or bending down. Additionally, replacing older appliances with newer, more energy-efficient appliances can help you reduce your carbon footprint.

Or you can place existing appliances, like front-loading washing machines, on platforms. An architect can help you redesign any room around appliances to make it safer and more senior-friendly.

Seasonal Design

The majority of heat gain and loss comes from windows. Electronic curtains can alleviate the burden of repeatedly opening and closing traditional curtains and are more airtight to better keep cold air outside.

If electronic curtains aren’t an option, Polhamus recommends ensuring windows are properly sealed and considering shrubs or bushes outside to act as a buffer against wind and cold air.

To find an architect who can help make your home greener and more comfortable for seniors, visit http://architectfinder.aia.org/.

With a few updates, you can live in peace knowing your home is designed for aging.