By Margarette Burnette
For many seniors, living well means living comfortably at home. As people age, however, physical challenges can make it hard to get around the house. One solution is to remodel the space to accommodate these challenges.
A major home remodel can cost thousands of dollars. But it's often less costly than senior living alternatives. A basic unit in an assisted living facility, for example, runs about $43,000 a year, according to the latest Cost of Care survey from Genworth Financial.
Whether you renovate for yourself or a loved one, remodeling a home for aging in place can be a smart move. Here are top renovation suggestions for seniors, along with average costs:
If doorways are narrower than 32 inches, you may need to expand them to accommodate a wheelchair or other mobility device. A contractor would typically need to replace the existing frame and add insulation, drywall and paint. The job might also entail moving and rewiring light switches.
The cost to widen a doorway varies, especially if there's electrical work required. Expect to pay from $400 to $600 each.
Install lever-style doorknobs
Levers are usually easier to grip than round doorknobs, and they don't require a twisting motion. That can be especially helpful for people who have arthritis or other conditions that limit motion. You can find lever-style knobs at home improvement stores starting around $20 each. Changing doorknobs can be a do-it-yourself task, or you might hire a handyman.
Put grab bars in bathrooms
These heavy bars can help prevent falls because of slippery tubs, shower stalls and floors. You can generally find grab bars at home improvement stores for $20 to $30 each. The cost to have them professionally installed runs about $100 each, materials included.
Replace flooring with slip-resistant material
Vinyl and linoleum can provide more traction than slick, hard stone floors, and the somewhat softer material can be more forgiving when someone falls. Bamboo and cork are also popular, though more expensive, floor choices.
Expect to pay about $3 to $4 per square foot to buy and install vinyl or linoleum floors. Cork averages about $5, and bamboo costs between $5 and $7 per square foot.
If you don't have a budget to replace a floor right away, make sure you at least replace or repair any damaged areas. Uneven tiles and other defects pose trip-and-fall hazards for people of all ages.
Add a wheelchair ramp
Even if no one in the home has an immediate need for a wheelchair, a ramp can eliminate the need to climb stairs to enter the home. The average cost to build a wheelchair ramp is about $1,500.
Adjust kitchen countertops
Regular countertops stand about 34 inches off the floor; installing cabinets and countertops at a more accessible 30 inches can make it easier for someone using a wheelchair or scooter to prepare food. The cost varies depending on kitchen size, but to remodel about 30 linear feet of space, budget at least $5,000.
Install a chair lift or elevator
If a home has multiple levels, an elevator or chair lift that attaches to stairs can help seniors move between floors. The average cost of a motorized chair lift is between $3,000 and $4,000, while an elevator installation often tops $20,000, according to HomeAdvisor.com.
The National Association of Home Builders has a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist designation for contractors who help homeowners remodel to accommodate elderly loved ones. You can contact a CAPS professional to get advice on modifications, plan a renovation and find qualified contractors.
Paying for aging-in-place home renovations
Most expenses for home renovations will need to be paid out of pocket. Medicare or private insurance may cover the cost of medical equipment that's installed in a home, but they generally don't pay for home remodel projects.
Some seniors may qualify for a limited number of home improvement grants, based on their income and where they live. The Department of Health and Human Services' ElderCare.gov website has more details.
Another option is to tap home equity with a mortgage refinance or home equity line of credit.
Many seniors prefer to live in familiar surroundings as they grow older. Completing a home renovation -- with an eye toward elder care needs -- can help seniors maintain independence while enjoying the comforts of home.
Margarette Burnette is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @margarette.