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HomeSafe in Your Home

Be Safe in Your Home


Modifications to help you stay in your home more safely

Disclaimer: This page is a compilation of information from various sources with some commentary.  The author (Roger Marsh) is not an expert in home remodeling or adaptive modifications.

Getting Started.
There are many modifications that will help you to stay in your home even if you become frail or have physical limitations.  Some are quite expensive, for example installing a fully accessible bathroom on the first floor, and you may never need such a facility.  There are much simpler projects that will help you now, and perhaps make life easier as you age; the simplest might be new house numbers that Fire Rescue or the police can easily read from the street.  Click here for a nice checklist from AARP.  It has two sections--'Do it yourself' and 'Don't do it yourself.'  Click here for a general home safety check list, also from AARP. 

Outside your house.
Many Villagers live in houses set back from the sidewalk, with uneven flagstone paths or poorly lit steps.  These are dangers to yourselves and your guests. And don't forget that you're responsible for maintaining the sidewalk along the street.  Any uneven slabs, pushed up by tree roots? The EFV Service Providers lists have concrete contractors for steps and sidewalks; an iron worker
if you need a railing for your outside steps, and electricians to install or upgrade outside lights.  Do be sure to review the Service Providers main page for important cautions before contacting any service provider.  What about your porch?  Painted wood can be slippery when wet.  You could get a non-skid mat, or at least strips of non-skip tape along the edge above the steps.  And don't forget new house numbers!  They should be at least four inches high, and contrast with the background.  Reflective numbers are easy for first responders to see with a spotlight.  If your house is set back from the street you might need a sign close to the curb.  Don't paint numbers on the curb itself--they can't be read from the drivers seat, and can be hidden by parked cars.  Might first responders have to locate your house from an alley or rear walkway? Consider numbers on the back too.

Halls and stairs.
You're tired of hearing about the hazards of loose throw rugs, but you can get anti-slip pads.  Lighting is a concern as we age.  It's best to have lots of night lights, and to have switches at the door of each bedroom to turn on the hall and stair lights, but rewiring old houses can be an expensive mess.  Look into battery-power night lights with motion detectors, if you don't have an outlet in the upstairs hallway.  And pick up a couple of plug-in night lights to take with you when you travel; falls are especially likely in unfamiliar places.

Most all residential stairways only have a rail on one side.  Adding one to the other side is a good idea; you'll appreciate it if a foot or knee is giving you trouble and you need a bit of extra support on that side.  It can be quite a challenge to get a new railing that matches the old, so you might prefer a simple rail that that doesn't try to match.  It can be removed, and the holes patched, if needed to sell the house.  This is a "don't do it yourself" for many.  A good contractor will know how best to anchor the rail.

What's your basement like?  No hand rail? Steep stairs? Poor lighting? Junk piled on the top landing?  You know what needs to be done!  While you're at it, how about moving the laundry to the first or second floor (second floor is a big job; first floor depends on location and existing pipes).

Wwhen did you last replace your smoke detectors?  They should be replaced every 10 years.  Consider the new types with sealed 10-year batteries--no more climbing up to change batteries every year. You can get combined smoke/carbon monoxide detectors, but separate detectors may be better--no trying to remember if beep-beep-beep means smoke or CO..

Wet slippery floor, slick bathtub, hard surfaces, scalding water...what could go wrong? 

Let's start with the simple fixes.  Pick up some non-skid strips or the like for your tub.  There are some clear ones that leave no residue.  A rubber mat is another option but they get moldy and icky.  Check the hot water temperature - use a cooking thermometer and let the water run for quite a while.  If it's over 130 degrees, turn down the temperature on the the water heater (the dial might already have a mark to show the safe temperature).  And don't forget a night light!

Grab bars are a good idea, especially in the tub area.  Because anchoring them properly is a challenge, it's a good idea to use a contractor who's familiar with houses of your vintage; you most likely do not want to try drilling holes in those irreplaceable tiles yourself.  How many grab bars, and where?  Definitely a vertical one on the wall to grab as you step in and out of the tub.  You might want two in the tub on the side wall, one at a good height to hold while standing, and a lower one to help you get up  a sitting position in the tub.  Some recommend that the lower one be slanted but others disagree.  This web site has a good discussion and lots of other information:

In the past, "style" and "grab bar" did not go together.  They were utilitarian tubes reminding you of hospitals.  Now there is quite a range.  A textured surface or a rubber gripping area is practical but hard to clean and unattractive.  You could try putting a non-skid bathtub strip on the wall side or underside of a sleek chrome bar.  There's also a bar that has finger-width dimples on the back for a good grip.  Click here to see an example.  Do have a discussion with your contractor before ordering the grab bars.  Traditionally, it's been necessary to have a solid backing--blocks of wood or some such--in the wall, but there are anchors that are sturdy enough to hold grab bars in a range of walls;  your contractor might want to check out the Toggler Snaptoggle Moen and American Standard have grab bars that can be anchored at one or both (Moen only) in hollow walls, but they require rather large holes in the wall.

What about your tub/shower faucets?  Do you get scalded if someone flushes the toilet or the washing machine starts filling? Consider getting a new faucet with a single lever to set temperature and another one to control how fast the water comes out.  Talk to you plumber; this can be a simple or a complex job depending on what you have now and how accessible the plumbing is.  Nowadays, most controls are pressure-balanced--the hot and cold pressures stay equalized.  They have settings (hidden under the trim) that keep you from turning the water too hot, but these don't take into account seasonal variations in cold-water temperature.  Consider a faucet that lets you set the actual temperature.  If this isn't practical, there are anti-scald devices that fit between the pipe and the shower head, but these are a nuisance--an instant of hot water shuts the device, then you have to wait for it to cool off.

How's your toilet?  Many are too low for easy on-and-off as you get a little stiff in the joints.  You can get raised seats, but they just look ugly.  It might not be too big a job to get a new toilet installed, with a higher seat--they're called "comfort height" or ADA height.  If there's a man in the house, he might appreciate the extra room in front of an elongated bowl, but everyone can use the extra length to advantage; you can reach down between your legs to the seat to give yourself a little push up when standing. 

In Japan you can't find a toilet without a Washlet--a seat that washes and perhaps dries your bottom; there's a separate spray for your front.  These are very useful if you have difficulty wiping yourself (or just like a clean bottom!).   These are quite expensive, though, hundreds of dollars.  For only $30 to $60, you can get a non-electric attachment.  Go to and search for bidet. 

How about a whole new bathroom on the first floor?  This is a very big expense, but will serve you well if you can no longer climb stairs.