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Universal upgrades for a better, safer home

TODAY contributor and do-it-yourself expert Lou Manfredini shares smart home modifications to help the aging community live and work more easily.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

As people get older, there are often many modifications that need to be made to their home.  Lou Manfredini shares smart tips and helpful advice to add value to your home and make life easier for everyone:

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that by the year 2010 there will be almost 40 million peopleover the age of 65. At the beginning of the 20th century, the average life span was 47 years old; currently the average life span is 76 years old. It's amazing what can happen in just a hundred years. The aging of our society has created challenges for architects and builders to create not only homes but also commercial spaces that reflect the needs of those using and living in them. When the term “universal design” was coined, the focus was on how that aging populace would be able to live and work more easily. 

But the realization soon came to the forefront that universal design benefits us all, with better lighting, easier access through doors and walkways and an overall focus to “future plan” homes to make transitions less impactful on individuals and families. What’s interesting is that many of these items have been around for years, and by choosing to install and use these products, you will find that everyone will have an easier time in your home.

Doors and door handles: The more width in a door, the easier it is to move your way through, especially if you use a walker or wheelchair. If you are building or remodeling, you want to install at least a three-foot-wide door in your home to provide easier access through the opening — anything smaller in width will make things more difficult. 

It is also much easier to move furniture that allows your 3-year-old to run past you without knocking their head into the wall. The added cost to this slightly larger door is minimal. As far as the knobs go, you should consider lever handles, which are much easier to use for both the old and young. These too are easily switched out and cost between $15-$25 for a decent interior setup.

Lighting and devices: Brighter lighting in your home can make moving around a lot clearer.  While bright lights can make a home seem like an office, you can combat that look by installing dimmers. As for switches, swap out your standard light switches to “Decora” style or paddle switches, which require only a push to activate both on and off and are easier for children, too. These look a lot nicer as a design element in your home and are readily available at electrical supply stores, home centers and hardware stores. 

Finish flooring: Wall-to-wall carpeting is great — it can warm up a room and make things look comfy. But moving around over the top can be an issue and also, if you suffer from allergies and asthma, may not be the right choice. Consider replacing your floors with a hard surface material like tile, laminate or my favorite, real wood flooring. Wood flooring is beautiful, long-lasting, made from a renewable resource and adds better value to your home as well.

Windows: According to Underwriters Laboratory Inc., 220,000 people visited the emergency room last year due to ladder accidents. I am sure some of those were folks trying to clean their windows. While tilt-in double-hung windows have been around for years for easy cleaning, other styles of windows required the use of a ladder to get them clean. Marvin Windows and Doors invented what they call the ultimate replacement casement window. They are currently the only major manufacturer to have a casement-style window that spins around enough to allow you to clean the window on both sides from the inside of your home, which means no ladders! To learn more, visit

Faucets: If you travel at all, you have experienced automatic faucets in public restrooms that are designed to turn the water on and off only when needed and ultimately conserve water. Gerber Plumbing products created a residential automatic faucet line. These can be hardwired or battery operated to be used in powder rooms, laundry rooms or anywhere a faucet is installed. The installation is the same as a regular faucet, and the retail costs start at around $500. But all you have to do is hold your hands in front of it to start the water flowing.  If I had a nickel for every time I turned off the vanity faucet that my 7-year-old left on, I would be a millionaire. You can learn more at

Elevators: Residential elevators — a trend that is growing every year — is something that even if you don't think is necessary, you can at least plan for it. If you are building a home, talk to your architect about designing two closets that stack over each other to allow a potential elevator installation down the line. You just need a space that is four feet by four feet to allow a residential elevator to be installed. In an existing home, the same holds true: A single-person unit can be retrofitted into your home. 

While the costs can range greatly depending on the size and style, the added freedom they provide can be priceless. Residential elevators start at around $20,000 and go up from there.  Inclinator Company of America has been building lifts in the U.S. since 1923, and has a full line of both stair lifts and elevators. You can see different choices and applications at

If you have questions or comments, please visit Lou Manfredini at .