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Designing Homes for Aging in Place: An Interview with Scott Smith of RWS Construction

By Scott Smith

Tell us a little bit about your company and the services you offer.

We have been in business since 2001, offering full remodeling services from small repairs to whole-house remodels and additions. We can assist with the design of your project or work with your designer/architect. As a licensed general contractor, we are able to assist with any residential or light commercial project up to the limit of our licensing. As a local company, we are involved in the community and live where we work.

Can you briefly explain what aging in place is?

Aging-in-place is being able to stay in your existing home as you get older. Making the modifications necessary to accommodate mobility issues allows for this to happen, creating a safe, comfortable environment without having to move to a new place.

When should a homeowner start think about this type of design for their house?

Any time someone is considering a remodel or addition is the best time to incorporate design features that enhance accessibility. This incorporates design features that can look beautiful and enhance functionality without the "panic mode" that comes with a traumatic life event. Ideally, new homes would be constructed in this way, but the reality is that most people don't want to think about it.

What are some of the most frequently used features for people with health and/or age limitations?

We are finding that folks want curbless showers, wider doors with handles rather than knobs, varying heights for kitchen cabinetry, pull-down shelving in upper cabinets, side-opening ovens, lowered light switches and raised outlets, larger spaces for wheelchair operation, first-floor master suites, hard surfaces with high coefficient-of-friction for flooring.

What newer aging in place architectural trends do you think homeowners should know about?

The first thing that comes to mind is a zero-threshold door that is covered by a porch. Tile and hardwood flooring is available in a myriad of styles and colors. Kitchen cabinetry with pull-out trays and pull-down shelves. Motorized racks and lower rods in the master closet.

How do the building and long-term costs usually factor into disability or accessibility design choices?

Once the client understands the benefits of this type of design, the additional cost makes sense. In a new home, the additional cost can be between $2500-$5000. In a remodeling situation, the costs are higher due to the limiting circumstances of the existing home. Often our clients are initially concerned but come to understand that incorporating universal design features will save money later on, since the accessibility options are already in place. Another way of looking at the costs that helps is thinking about accommodating aging parents, children with temporary mobility issues, children with special needs, or visitors with mobility issues.

Do you have any advice for people who want to design and build a new home?

Find a local contractor who is a Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist (CAPS) and is affiliated with a 50+ council as part of the local HBA. The Raleigh/Wake County HBA has the Council for Ageless Residential Environments. These professionals are willing help with education about accessible design. As I said earlier, it is less expensive to incorporate accessibility in the original design than to make changes later in an emergency situation.

What's the best way for people to contact you and your company?

Our website is www.rwsconstruction.com. There is a contact form there. Our phone number is 919-795-6640.

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