Prepping: Tweaking a Home for Aging

Although Elaine and I are planning to sell our “state park-like” setting in the woods and move back to the Big City – wherever that is – we have also considered staying out here in the woods and wait for [whatever] here.  Along the way, we have been adding lots of small “tweaks” to the home to make it more enjoyable as the years roll by…

Here are a few things we’ve found really enjoyable and most don’t cost that much money…

Lever Door Knobs:  This is one I picked up from my sister.  She, in turn, had found out about it from friends with carpal tunnel.  Thing is, regardless of your wrists,, lever door knobs everywhere are really nice.

Take, for example, when UPS drops off a package at the house and I need to carry it over to the shop.  With the lever knob, just a slightly higher lift and then set a corner of the box on the door and press forward.  Try doing that with a knob!

Alexa devices everywhere:  Yeah, lots of worries about AI and loss of privacy, but if you think there’s much privacy left in the world to preserve, you are seriously deluded, my friend.  To be sure, there are trade-offs.

If you’re willing to have Alexa scanning your speech all the time for the “wake word” what you can put are an amazing number of features.  Some of the most-used here?

  • Every room on the property can make phone calls to summon police or emergency medical.
  • Also, the same (tied in to your cell number) technology means we can call people we want to talk to by simply saying “Alexa, call so-and-so…”
  • Then there is the intercom function.  Say Elaine has an odd pop-up on her computer and I’m in the office in the other building.  “Alexa, drop in on Office” and my unit comes to life.  We chat, the problem solved and neither one of us had to go anywhere.
  • The Intercom function also allows you to use a Kindle and be a thousand miles away and eavesdrop on any device in your own home.  Most enlightening!
  • Then there are light controls.  We can turn off either building, all buildings, and so forth.
  • In addition you can turn on specific pieces of equipment.  “Alexa turn on studio” fires up all the equipment in the home studio equipment rack along with all the amplifiers, equalizers and so forth.  The lighting is called “Paramount” in honor of Adam Beilenson and Mike Kern’s Paramount Recording Group in Los Angeles who were helpful to me when I was in the recording engineer school business in Burbank & Anaheim (back in the day).  There is just a certain “vibe” to a studio that is hard to put into words…  In my office, I can turn on to “warm up” tube type radios (to settle down their drift) by saying “Alexa, turn on ham radios…”

If you are seriously paranoid, or plotting to overthrow the duly elected government, then Alexa  may not be for you.  We don’t know if that includes half the democrats, or not.

Ease of Groceries:  This is another one of those easy to solve, but few people put the mental effort into it up front.  The problem is stairs and age.  Right now, we park the car under the screen porch which means every bit of stuff from the store comes up 14-stairs and through two doors.

We are penciling out a couple of ways to reduce the effort here.  One option would be to set up the recording studio door (3 steps) which would reduce effort.  But, then we’d be tracking through the house…

Another option would be to come up the 7-steps up onto the front deck.  Either way, we’d move the car back under the screen porch.  Unless… we put in a new garage and turn the current car-park into a passively cooled summer ”
cool room” and back-fill with dirt around a couple of new concrete walls…  (See how this leads to a lot of decisions?)

The other idea (Elaine’s) was to set up a big dumb-waiter (besides moi) to carry things up.  We flipped around YouTube and are still enthralled with the idea of a garage door opener, stood up vertically in a new addition to the building, which could handle a hundred and fifty pounds of groceries in one run up.

We’re still thinking about that one.

Chair…in the Bathroom?  Yeah…one of the nicest features of the master bath here is we have room for a comfortable chair.  Not a lounger, but something like a kitchen chair.

When we were young (under 70) things like the flexible hose shower head and a chair to sit in to dry between your toes didn’t natter a whit.  But now?  There’s a lot to be said for an actual sitting chair in a bathroom and most designs we have seen in “homes designed by others” don’t think this kind of thing through worth a damn.

Same thing with those “designer” rain-emulating shower heads.  Sure, they look all pretty and such.  But, with the flexible shower head, you can dial up “fire hose” pressure and blast dirt out of all kinds of places quickly and with almost no work.

Been out working in the yard?  Fire hose under the fingernails.  Next?  With that designer-looking crap, there are times I’d be  10-minutes getting the nails clean even with a nail brush.

Walk-in Shower:  This is another one we “got right” when we did the house over.  The master bath shower is about 3-1/2 by 4-1/2 – so lots of room.  There’s also a shower in the gym/guest room (a bit smaller, but not a tiny one) and that makes all kinds of sense when aging.

With anti-skid mats and such, the risk of falls is reduced and the statistics on people dying of falls as they get older is surprising. One of the problems in looking for a new place to live is that that many new homes default to tubs in each bathroom (listing, family appeal and all) but showers suit us better.  We’ve always wondered about “floating around in wastewater” and how do you get ALL the soap off and so forth…

Deck and Shoe Testing:  Hadn’t mentioned it before but a few weeks back in the rain, I was coming out of the house, headed for the office with a full head of steam on, and I turned too quickly and out went my feet from under me.

Turned out it was the combination of Sketchers tennis shoes, which are damn comfortable and a thin layer of water on the deck that made things almost icy-like to walk on.  Same problem on wet tile at the bank…like ice-skating.

So, I will likely pick up a pair of TopSiders or other non-skid while wet boat shoes.  Not as comfortable for walking, but a damn-sight safer on slippery decks afloat, and turns out, ashore.

Solar LED Motion-Lights Everywhere:  They only cost about $10-bucks each, so every stairway has at least one (and as many as five) motion-sensing solar powered lights.

Downside:  The cats playing outside at night turn them on (as do the coons and possums) but better to see what you’re doing when you go out.

These are just a few things to noodle on while you go about your life.  Most people don’t have the “Let’s find a problem to solve” outlook that we do.  But, that’s because we focus on living a non-distracted life.

Some day, try to turn off all your inputs (phone, tablet, TVs…) and just go about life maybe reading a book.  Make notes on anything in your life that could use “optimizing.”

Then, once you have a list, set about solving each and every one of them.  Individually, it’s not a big deal, but over the long-haul you’ll be taking better care of yourself.  Not only will you become more “efficient” but also safety risks and conveniences will be increase and that all boils down to the thing that really kills people:

Stress levels.

Write when you chill out,

author avatar
George Ure
Amazon Author Page: UrbanSurvival Bio:

20 thoughts on “Prepping: Tweaking a Home for Aging”

  1. Have a suggestion for slippery decks. Years ago we put in an in-ground swimming pool. Not large, but just right for two old (excuse me, late middle age) people. After nearly killing myself on the slippery concrete around the pool; I discovered “shark hide”. It is a bottle of bead-like particles that your add to clear sealer. Makes the concrete almost slip proof. Works even when the deck is covered with a layer of water. It will also work if added to colored wood deck stain, etc.; yet doesn’t seem to contribute to dirt or debris build-up.

  2. On the “dumb-waiter” idea. Besides a garage door opener how about modifying one of those stairlift jobs? They are driven up a track also.


  3. George, you have some good points. Lever handles are a defendant plus if your door needs a handle. Some doors can be pushed open and have a screen door hook on the inside if needed. No knob.
    I have built in a sitting bench in all of my new construction or remodels for shaving of legs and so on. Solid concrete with tile top and facing. Works great.
    Stairs, as you age, should be eliminated as much as possible especially for those with hip and knee problems. Ramps?
    Topsiders – still have mine from years ago. Did have then resoled one time. Great shoe.
    Keep plugging away at it and soon it will be to comfortable to leave, unless absolutely necessary. Cheers.

  4. Good comments.
    Slips, trips and falls cause a lot of injuries and early deaths. We should always be cognizant of trip ‘wires’ and slippery surfaces, which includes dog toys.
    Pneumonia is another biggie. I am not a fan of vaccinations but as one gets older pneumonia becomes a serious issue. Getting a ‘pneumonia shot’ could be life-saving.
    P.S. Our two Labs would just LOVE lever door ‘knobs’!

  5. Tubs have their place, though probably not in every bathroom. A deep tub(not the dumb American one that is only 5′ long and 12″ of water) allows you to soak in Epsom salts and get enough magnesium. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not absorbed well from the gut, even in organic forms. Most people in the world are deficient in Mg++, and that’s just sad.

    Regarding the dumb waiter, why not make a full on elevator for two people, a wheelchair and other crap. You can use garage tracks and a simple electric hoist, or you can make one that carries you up and down stairs. A little imagination and it all comes together. You can even counterbalance it, though it hardly matters. Put a spring under it and if the cable breaks, you get a carnival ride. Of course, there are safeties that you can design, but for one story it hardly matters if you have a spring.

    If you use just the garage door opener thing, the jackscrew type(Genie) will fail in place rather than dropping. That’s probably best in that app. Used ones are cheap on CL.

    There has to be a secure(as in local server) version of the Alexa functionality. Even a subset would allow decoupling from Amazon or Google(Ring). Remote viewing and listening to your home is worth some effort.

    I’d be thinking of making the house comfortable and fun for both fully functional and disabled humans. You never know who you might want moving in(or selling to).

    • “Regarding the dumb waiter”.

      I have a friend who has a camp on Lake Catherine near New Orleans.
      It is raised on pilings 20 feet off the ground as it often floods. He installed a winch operated elevator that he bought as a kit. It is bolted to the outside of the camp structure. It’s not rated for use by people but we have taken a ride on it. The platform of the car is 3’x3′. It has a very sturdy aluminum frame and was easy to install. Limit switches are used to control up and down movement. I highly recommend this method of easing your work load!

      • Yes Sir,



        My friend says his lift is 17 feet from ground level to where the bottom of the car is level with his veranda and the car is 4ft by 4ft in its exterior dimension.

        It is a semi-custom kit as the company makes it to fit your situation. The two main columns are 5-1/4′ wide heavy aluminum beams. It can be installed by two people in one day either by yourself or the company. My friend said he paid about $5K for the unit.

        It’s a Texas company located in Mabank.

        Hope this helps you solve a problem!

    • George, for good ideas by other people, go to and search on “DIY home elevator” without quotes. There’s a ton of good ideas there with video examples. Dumbwaiters too. Some are not DIY, but many are, and you can always adapt. Limit switches are easy to come by, including old garage door openers. They’re a really good idea, but not absolutely necessary(I have one heavy overhead door that I’ve not installed any on yet. Must do soon!).

  6. I recommend elevated toilet seat. I always choose the handicap stall when out and about so I got an elevated seat for my apartment toilet. It makes using it so much easier and safer.

  7. George

    ” we have also considered staying out here in the woods”.

    I hope you two do so! What I write next I really do mean.

    Put in a helicopter landing pad.

    It doesn’t have to be a concrete pad just a big space with a big white H on the ground and landing lights.

    This is for when you might need emergency air ambulance service.

    If you two move back to the city you will come to regret your loss of freedom that you have in the country. It seems you are concerned with emergency health issues and want to be closer to hospitals.
    It might even be possible to be a subscriber to this type of service.

    I’m just throwing this out to you as a possible solution so that you don’t have to move from your wonderful abode.

    “Walk-in Shower: This is another one we “got right” when we did the house over.”

    She who must be obeyed developed problems with her left knee. She could not raise her leg high enough to get into the bath tub.

    Solution: put on engineer’s hat, study problem, take Sawsall and make precise cuts into fiberglass bathtub to create a space for a step.
    Use material cut from tub to create a finished look to this space after implacing a wood form to add strength. This mod has been in place for three years and has saved her a lot of pain.

    To me the Sawsall is the closest thing to a Light Saber on this planet!

    I hope you two stay in the woods, you have put so much effort into your property. Just a little more work would make it the place to be!

    p.s. Where you gonna hang a big Beverage antenna in the city??

  8. A long wheel chair ramp and a cart to put stuff on and push up the ramp is an option.
    Handicap access rails in the master bath can be helpful, and can be retrofitted.
    You don’t have to be on wheels to benefit from access upgrades, and they won’t detract from the value in a sale.
    Over-personalizing the decor usually doesn’t help with a sale. It is usually best to clean out everything that makes the house yours to storage before you show the place. Crawling around wiping the trim boards down with distilled water isn’t overboard when you want to move the place. I’m sure your realtor readers have a lot of advice for you.

  9. My husband’s aunt is 91. She lives in the city, but chooses to walk up 18 flights of stairs instead of taking the elevator. Staying in shape, supplements, and eating right (I know from your writings you work at) are so important. Don’t make it to easy on yourselves, cause the lifestyle you have with the fresh air and less stress, growing your own food etc. will increase your chances of even making it into your 90’s. Also I think a heart attack might be a fast way to go cause often times the Dr’s make life miserable when they keep you here beyond your natural time to go………nix the helicopter pad, and the nasty med’s.

  10. George, Regarding Elaine’s idea of a dumbwaiter. I like the challenge of design and sometimes it is more interesting to forego the easy way of hiring out and writing the check.
    I am certain that a 150lb. capacity dumbwaiter could be made using the drives from a multi- speed bicycle using the cone style hubs and derailleurs to provide the appropriate gear ratio to produce the leverage for easily lifting the grocery load up through the ceiling/floor above.
    If you like to build one-off custom made items and don’t care who gets credit for the idea, this is one that could be produced cheaply, save a lot of manual labor over time and give your ego a few strokes of satisfaction for being so creative.

  11. George
    Rather than carry all Groceries up at once:
    In the basement garage have a old fridge, freezer, a small counter, with a sink.
    Take everything out of car and distribute here, then when needed go take stuff upstairs for the days meals.
    Next, having been in the hospital myself for a couple of stays in the past 6 months, I have gotten used to a chair In The Shower. You can get small waterproof seats that fit in a tub or shower stall. That with the hand shower let you reach everything, and at a leisurely pace. Chair can come out of the shower or tub when done for sitting while drying or inspecting things like the bottoms of feet. Only problem is most of them look like medical equipment instead of stylish furniture, but if you don’t mind the utilitarian look they function great. Most are adjustable for height etc. as well.

  12. Lever door knobs ARE great HOWEVER, where we live with the forest and wildlife, we have to make sure that the exterior doors always are locked. Had a couple instances where the local raccoons figured out how to press down on the lever and presto – open the door to indoor treasures, and had some bear cubs do the same thing.

  13. Every home should have a wheel chair accessible bathroom, a bidet, and hand rails.. most people have no idea just how much they take for granted till it happens.. the Mount Everest of the three inch shower stall lip..
    Or God forbid opening a can of soup peeling a potato etc.
    The disgrace of doing your congressional paper work and you can’t hold the paper..

  14. ISTM one could buy a car lift and simply build an “elevator box” to mount on the lift. Make the mount removable, then that 1% of the time you need to have your car or truck up in the air for service or repair, you have the tool. The remainder of the time, it’s just an elevator with a 9000lb capacity… ‘Wouldn’t even have to be a Rotary or Bend-Pak — The (mostly imported) Atlas lifts which Greg Smith sells would be sufficient, and start at <$1600 delivered. Amazon sells Atlas too, but Greg Smith has a Texas warehouse and a "scratch & dent" area… ;-)

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