Popular Trends and Projects for Aging-in-Place Remodeling
Baby boomers currently make up more than one-fourth of the U.S. population, and every day, 10,000 of them reach retirement. Studies show the vast majority of these retirees have no plans to leave their homes any time soon.
In fact, the desire to “age in place” has created an entire industry around retrofitting homes and developing products that create safer and more senior-friendly living spaces.
As demand for these products and spaces increases, it creates a clear opportunity for home improvement retailers to meet the needs of today’s homeowners, who are looking to stay in their homes longer than ever.
Aging in Place
AARP identified that nearly 90 percent of people over the age of 65 would like to stay in their current residences as long as possible, and 80 percent believe they will always live in their current homes.
To ensure these individuals can live independently and safely in their houses requires renovations and additional safety features, which is the concept behind universal design.
“Universal design is the design of environments and products to be usable by all people,” according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). The benefit of universal design is that anyone, from an NFL linebacker to a senior citizen with limited mobility, can live in and enjoy the same home.
To understand the growing demand for aging-inplace products, Hardware Retailing reached out to several aging-in-place vendors. We also interviewed an NAHB Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS) remodeler, along with retailers across the country who are aging-in-place experts or provide programs to help their communities cater to these unique needs.
These resources provide product ideas and learning opportunities on how your store can meet these growing needs and become a destination for aging-in-place products and projects within your area.
A Recognized Need
There is a growing market for aging-in-place products that spans across a variety of categories, from technology-focused items that offer larger screens or buttons that are easier to use with limited mobility to products geared toward safety.
The bathroom is one area of the home where an abundance of aging-in-place friendly products have emerged—and with good reason.
Manufacturers are focusing more on bathroom products, as 80 percent of falls in the home occur in the bathroom and most of these can be prevented with the addition of aging-in-place features, or universal design elements.
Shower seats, grab bars, non-slip surfaces, heated floors and better lighting are all products to consider in this category and seniors are asking for them. According to the AARP, 79 percent of seniors want bathroom aides like grab bars and 80 percent want non-slip floor surfaces.
Vendors of bathroom fixtures, in-home accessibility products and other living features all acknowledged an increase in demand for products that cater to the older generation. One vendor recently added a walk-in safety tub to its product selection after recognizing a need within the industry. It has done well, but showers are still the top sellers.
To illustrate the products available, one vendor includes an interactive bathroom on its website, highlighting different products and areas of the bathroom to consider remodeling for the aging population.
In addition to the bathroom, products that can be used throughout the home, such as motion-sensor lighting or smart thermostat systems, are also growing in consumer demand.
Adding these types of products to your inventory makes a lot of sense, as the revenue increase businesses see by offering aging-in-place services is estimated at 27 percent, according to Deksia, a brand strategy, marketing and advertising agency. While there are suppliers working to develop different products, retailers and remodelers all shared a common need for a greater selection of products.
Also key to achieving success in offering aging-in-place products is the ability to promote these items in your store and the community. Simply stocking the merchandise is a good start, but to be truly successful in the category, retailers should promote their selection of senior-focused products and send the message that their store is a destination for these items.
Question & Answer: A Remodelers Perspective on Aging in Place
Hardware Retailing spoke with Robert Criner, founder and president of Criner Remodeling and a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS) from the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB).
Hardware Retailing (HR): Can you please tell us about your company?
Robert Criner (RC): I founded Criner Remodeling in 1977 and we are located in Newport News, Virginia. I’ve had more success in this field than I ever thought imaginable. I’ve assembled a team of 12 that does superb work and has allowed me to do work within the community and the industry. I was the first Certified Graduate Remodeler in the country, the first Graduate Master Remodeler in the country and have been honored with many awards over the years.
HR: Can you explain the idea behind aging in place? When did you begin hearing about aging in place?
RC: It was well over ten years ago. It originated from the thought, ‘What can we do to some of these homes as baby boomers begin to age? What can we do to make it easier for them to live in their homes?’ But once that was out there, we realized this (design) works for everybody. There is no downside to Universal Design.
HR: What do you mean by ‘Universal Design’?
RC: Universal Design means people can age in place in their homes. It’s means anyone can live there, and it can still be comfortable for their grandchildren as well. It is more functional for both a current tenant and future owner of the house. With anything I build today, I consider these things, not just for the older population.
HR: Are there any misconceptions about aging in place?
RC: The misconception is that most people think of aging in place as, ‘I need some grab bars and non-slip steps,’ but it is far more integrated with the design. It’s a more holistic view, from improving homeowners’ lighting and accessibility to placing three-pane windows in the house to decrease the amount of outside noise. For example, older people get cold easier, so putting in heated floors helps. Install a ledge by the front door, so when you come home with groceries, there is some place to set them down.
HR: What rooms in the home are most popular to adapt for aging in place?
RC: The kitchen and bathroom, hands down. Those are the rooms where you can make the biggest difference. I would probably say the bathroom is No. 1, because that’s where people have the most fall hazards. It’s the first room remodeled to get ready for aging in place.
HR: What are some of the most popular aging-in-place projects?
RC: In regards to bathrooms, a popular project is installing larger showers and doing away with tubs. Bigger showers allow for benches, ledges and grab bars. Making vanities a height that works for adults, usually 36 inches. Some owners may need a taller toilet. Also, providing better lighting and lighting in the shower.
In the kitchen, it’s important to use visual contrasts to make depth perception easier. For example, if there are steps, make sure there is a color change. Put shelves at an accessible height. Not placing microwaves high, in particular over the cooking surface. If you are 70 or 12 years old, no one needs to reach over splattering bacon to get to the microwave.
HR: Do a lot of consumers complete these projects themselves, or do they have a remodeler complete them?
RC: I think, as a general rule, some consumers are trying more of the smaller, handyman projects than the structural projects where you need a contractor. But a homeowner may get a grab bar and screw it into the drywall, which may not be able to hold the weight it needs to hold. Because of this, it is important to carry the right products and educate consumers on their correct use.
HR: Tell us a little more about the NAHB’s CAPS certification.
RC: It’s learning about different universal design projects and considerations for the clients’ needs. When you go to the class, one of the things they do during a lunch break, which is very impactful, is they give you glasses with Vaseline on them and ear plugs. They take one of your hands, put a tennis ball in it and place a sock over it. Then you just sit there and have lunch. It gives you a very small understanding of the difficulties people with these ailments face and it is an eye opener. There is a lot more to the training than just how to install a grab bar.
HR: Do you think it would be beneficial for retailers to go through this training?
RC: Absolutely. Less than half the people that take the course are remodelers. You find a great deal of occupational therapists who want to better understand their clients. That’s one thing that can differentiate your store. If you have a CAPS-certified person on your staff to make honest recommendations, it’s much easier to sell higher-end products.
HR: How can home improvement retailers get started providing services that align with the aging-in-place mission?
RC: Some of it goes back to building relationships with people who install these products. If there is a local store here sending me all their work, then I would be sending my work right back to them. There is no downside to that. If I can tell a retailer the products I need that I’m not finding elsewhere and they can start supplying them, they’ve become my favorite person.
It’s a win-win because I would love to sit down with a good person who would literally take a good chunk of my selection duties off of me. Quite frankly, remodelers, as a whole, like the smaller, local relationships.
Another thing that would make be a huge difference for independent retailers is to link up with NAHB remodelers who have already been trained, which is a huge group all over the country. If retailers could get involved with that group somehow, that would go a long way to create valuable community partnerships. There is a great database on NAHB’s website (nahb.org) where you can look up and find CAPS-certified contractors in your area.
Become a Community Resource: How Retailers Assist Customers with Aging-in-Place Concerns
As more individuals reach retirement and prepare for the future, there is a growing need to help these consumers adapt their homes.
To highlight how aging in place is being integrated into retail operations today, Hardware Retailing found several retailers who are using the resources of the NAHB and AARP to inform and sell products and projects to their customers.
Whether raising awareness in the community, providing easy DIY projects for the home, or employing home design and construction professionals to update bathrooms and kitchens to universal design standards, the retailers we spoke with provide a few examples of how the aging-in-place design, knowledge and awareness can be incorporated into your home improvement operation.
Florida is one of the most popular places for aging adults to retreat for the winter, with many finding permanent residence in the state. While these individuals are escaping cold temperatures and dangerous slips due to ice and snow, there are still risks they face at home.
In fact, the No. 1 injury and cause of fatality among the older population in Collier County is fall-related injuries, as the Collier County EMS responded to 4,300 fall emergencies in 2014.
Nearly a year and a half ago, Michael Wynn, president of Sunshine Ace Hardware, first learned about the aging-in-place certification process offered by NAHB through a local contractor who was seeking to become certified, and his interest grew.
Since the summer of 2014, Wynn and various community partners have worked together to create and establish Step Smart Naples, an awareness campaign focused on educating community residents on falls and how to prevent them. Planning for the program took place from November through January of 2015.
“We launched the program on March 6, which was the official kickoff of the campaign,” Wynn says. “The idea is to have a concentrated, 60-day campaign with community forums. We have 10 trained speakers to go out and be available in different communities, groups and clubs.”
As part of the campaign, they created the Step Smart Naples Home Audit Checklist, which lists helpful tips on how to make rooms and areas of the home safer. They also created informational videos and asked community members to spread the word with friends and family, as well as stop by Sunshine Ace Hardware for home safety products.
According to Wynn, through the Step Smart Naples program, his operation now provides tips before a fall instead of helping customers after one.
“We were helping people more often than not after a fall,” Wynn says. “With Step Smart Naples, it goes much further. We provide tools, like our Home Audit Checklist, for our customers to use that look at the easy steps they can take to reduce risks and make their homes safer.”
From DIY Projects to Pro-Focused Design, Retailers Provide Options
While Wynn and his community partners have been spreading the word about home safety through Step Smart Naples, customers have been able to identify Sunshine Ace Hardware as a knowledgeable resource of information and products for aging-in-place projects.
When customers come to one of the six Sunshine Ace Hardware locations, Wynn says they are typically looking to complete easy projects they can do in their homes for added safety.
“We show them simple and easy-to-implement products, like grab bars for the bathroom, antislip rubber mats for the shower, step stools with stability bars, anti-slip tape for rugs in the home and even lighting,” Wynn says. “A lot of accidents in the home come from not having a well-lit path.”
Wynn says his stores provide more DIY-friendly projects, while his pro customers are remodeling homes to make them universally accessible by widening doorways and lowering counters.
Jenni Knight, kitchen and bath designer at Von Tobel Lumber & Hardware in Valparaiso, Indiana, is CAPS-certified and is using her knowledge in universal design to help remodel homes that are accessible for all ages.
Knight says that in 2013, she took the NAHB certification course to help customers make their homes beautiful and livable, no matter their age.
“My knowledge as a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist allows me to help people stay in their own homes longer,” Knight says. “It’s nice knowing I have helped their homes be accessible over the course of their lives.”
Knight emphasizes that becoming certified in aging in place has opened her mind to helping all of her customers plan for the future, no matter how old they may be. She explains that planning ahead and taking steps to alleviate work down the line is important.
Although Von Tobel Lumber & Hardware can also assist customers looking to complete DIY projects, Knight says they pride themselves on being remodelers who can take projects and construction on for their customers. She says while every client has his or her own specific wants and needs, there are a few areas and projects they are completing most frequently.
“Popular aging-in-place projects are widening entryways to fit wheelchairs, modifying steps from the garage, installing windows with a crank to easily open and adding in single-lever faucets which are easier for those with arthritis,” Knight says.
Some of the most popular projects Von Tobel Lumber & Hardware completes are in the kitchen and bathroom. Knight says they’ve modified kitchens for those in wheelchairs, helping adapt to their needs by having a taller cooktop and sink area and opening the space underneath counters to accommodate a homeowner’s knees.
In bathrooms, Knight says they have been sticking to solid walls, as opposed to glass, and adding grab bars.
In addition, Knight says they have been leading customers away from carpeting to hardwood and tile floors, no matter the customer’s age, so if anyone in the home ever needed to use a wheelchair, it’s an easier transition. As the baby boomer population continues to reach retirement, Knight says aging in place will grow in need and popularity.
“Baby boomers are reaching the age where they won’t be able to stay in their homes longer [without making modifications],” Knight says. “This design helps them stay in their homes while teaching younger consumers that anything can happen, meaning universal design is useful for them as well.”
Provide Knowledge and Become an Expert
Whether your store is geared toward DIY projects or has designers on staff, learning about the aging-inplace movement and sharing that knowledge will ensure your operation becomes a resource for all ages.
For many older adults, the AARP is a highly trusted resource. According to Amy Levner, manager of livable communities with AARP, the partnership with NAHB made sense because the AARP has researched and knows consumers are often looking for professional help with aging-in-place practices.
When NAHB set out to design the CAPS program, the AARP sat at the table to help represent consumers and their needs, Levner explains.
To learn more about aging in place, Levner encourages all retailers to utilize the AARP HomeFit Guide, which was created to help people stay in their homes by making the homes more suitable for all occupants. In addition, Levner recommends contacting your local AARP state office for information about attending a HomeFit Workshop or visit aarp.org/livable for more information on how to create livable communities and homes.
To try some of the things Wynn has done, he recommends reaching out to local organizations and creating partnerships in your community to educate customers on simple steps they can take to reduce risks in their homes. Many of your stores have the products customers need to complete those small projects.
“I think it’s simple to put up signage and reach out and talk to organizations,” Wynn says. “The convenience hardware demographic includes older customers, and it will be supported if the products are available.”
To access the resources mentioned in this article, visit hardwareretailing.com/aging-in-place- resources.