In the past 50 years, members of the Baby Boom generation have changed how society thinks about everything from civil rights to women in the workplace. Now they are taking on their next challenge – aging in place.
Instead of waiting for a health emergency before remodeling their houses to meet the challenge of aging, a growing number of Baby Boomers are being pro-active about it, say contractors in the Longview-Kelso area.
“We’re seeing it in new construction and remodeling,” said Debbie McCauley, owner of Better Home Construction Inc., in Longview. “There are a lot of people who have lived in their houses for years and years and don’t want to move, but they want to have their houses more accessible.”
Local contractors say while they have many clients who do wait until modifications are needed before they consider remodeling, more clients are open to thinking ahead.
“I do try to make people aware that in their remodel, they need to consider the long-term if they plan to stay in the house for some time,” said Jason Schoonover, president of Affordable Construction and Plumbing in Longview, who is also president of the Lower Columbia Contractor’s Association.
The age-friendly remodeling trend in Cowlitz County is mirroring a national trend.
Home improvement spending by those 65 and older will account for nearly a third of all remodeling dollars spent in the United States by 2025, more than twice the amount that age group spent in 1995 – 2005, according to a February 2017 study by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University. Owners age 55 and over already account for just over half of all home-improvement spending, the report found.
According to the National Association of Home Builders, the most popular Baby Boomer remodeling projects are home offices for a second career or part-time job, wider doors and hallways to accommodate a wheelchair or walker, better lighting and first-floor master bedroom and bathroom suites.
Local contractors say bathrooms are where pro-active clients in Cowlitz County are spending the most money. Modifications include low or zero clearance showers, extra grab bars, fold-down seats in the shower and portable shower heads.
“So if the time were ever to come, you could use it,” said John Krause, owner of Interior Resources, a Longview design and interior supply company. “You could be able-bodied and still use it. “
Krause added that he is seeing less interest in carpet and more interest in a new product called luxury vinyl tile, which looks like wood and is easy to install and keep clean.
“When you think about mobility down the road, it’s much simpler to wheel a wheelchair around on it,” Krause said.
He added that more clients in the area are also adding space to their homes to bring a senior parent back to live with them. It may be a garage conversion or a new addition with a bedroom, bathroom, a great room and small kitchen.
McCauley said she is seeing more client interest in electronic chair lifts, which are installed using existing staircase space but which move the occupant from floor to floor without having to climb stairs.
Other popular modifications for Cowlitz County residents include lower sinks in the kitchen, as well as more space around islands, said Bob Large, owner of Bob Large Construction LLC in Longview.
Large said he’s working for a client now who installed a wheelchair ramp and a walk-in shower for her husband, but who is considering additional changes.
“She’s going to retire, so we’re looking at things for when she retires; we’re keeping it in mind,” Large said.