Aging in Place: Making Your Home’s Main Entrance Accessible

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One of the first areas to address when modifying your home in preparation to age in place is the main entrance and the exterior walkways leading to and from this door.

If you are looking to update your current home or relocate due to age-related concerns, take the entry specifications and features below into consideration.

Threshold Height

Doorways, especially the main entrance to your home, should be step-less and have no threshold or a minimal threshold of no more than half an inch tall.

Door Width

Doorways should be no less than 32 inches wide, but a minimum of 36 inches is ideal. A standard wheelchair is approximately 24 to 27 inches wide. A simple alternative to widening a doorway is installing offset or expandable door hinges that could add up to 2 inches of width to a doorway.

Door Swing

Exterior doors should open into the home. Inswing doors prevent a person from stepping backwards when opening the door to enter.

Door Handles

Replace round doorknobs with levered handles. A loss of fine motor skills, arthritis pain and joint stiffness, and changes in vision can make the actions of twisting a doorknob or inserting the right key into a lock and turning difficult. Levered handles and keyless locks and entry systems can make the entry process easier.

Front Steps

The front stairway must feature secure and accessible handrails on both sides. The treads of each step should be deep and wide enough to safely accommodate you and a mobility aid.

All steps should drain properly. Accumulated water, snow, ice, or fungal growth can pose a serious slip and fall hazard.

Each step should be clearly defined as well. Ensuring proper visual cues are present is crucial. Adequate lighting and contrasting colors can help distinguish where the edge of each step is located to prevent tripping. Recessed lighting designed specifically for stairs can be installed to the face of each step or along a side wall to the illuminate the entire area.

A covered landing of some kind at the main entrance is ideal. It provides a flat, stable surface that is protected from the elements on which you can manage the front door and enter the home. Adding a bench or a small shelf next to the door will provide a convenient place to set any items, allowing use of both hands to get inside. Sufficient lighting on the landing also allows you to more easily lock and unlock the door.

Ramps and Lifts

An alternative to using or modifying existing steps to the main entrance is installing a wide, sturdy ramp with handrails and a toe board that can accommodate a standard or power wheelchair. A U-shaped ramp may allow installation of a larger ramp in a smaller area. Premade portable or threshold ramps are low-cost alternatives to permanent modifications and can be useful in cases where the threshold into the home is only a few inches high. A passenger or platform lift may be a good option for stilted or multi-level homes where installing an outdoor ramp is not feasible. Lift platforms can be open, feature a canopy, or be entirely enclosed to protect you from the elements. Permanent projects like this may require a building permit.

Outdoor Paths

All paths to and from the car, sidewalk, and street should be at least 36 inches wide, free of hazards and slip resistant. Anti-slip paint, grit tape, or safety treads can be applied to these areas to help prevent accidents. If you live in a region that is prone to snow and ice, be sure to have a salt company service the driveway, entrances and pathways. Keep salt in a handy container near the main entrance in order to easily de-ice the entrance and front path as needed.

Pathways to the entry should be assessed for damage. Tree roots, ice, and shifting earth can have a dramatic impact on the level surface of a driveway or walkway. Repairing the underlying problem is important, but clearly marking these hazards can at least help to draw attention to these areas. Ensure the landscaping is regularly maintained to keep shrubs and trees trimmed on both sides of all pathways.

Lighting along paths is an addition that enhances the safety and convenience of coming and going at night. Motion-sensor lights are an excellent option for illuminating pathways and the main door.

Meet with a Specialist

These are baseline rules for the main entrance to a home and the walkways around it, but each resident has his or her own needs and concerns regarding aging in place. In order to devise a customized solution for your residence, consult with a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist and a licensed contractor to see what options are available to help you remain in your home.

Michelle LaForme is an occupational therapist with over 20 years of experience. She holds a certification as an Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) and uses home modification, adaptations, and durable medical equipment to meet each client's unique needs and enhance their safety and independence.

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6 Comments

All sounds good BUT we live in a 55+ community and all they care about is every home looking the same, in other words, aesthetics. We put in a portable ramp and they threatened a fine. No railings permitted. Our patio has a drop off. No railing or wall or anything to protect it. One place we looked at, I was told this was an active adult community, No accessible devices or improvements allowed. I told that association president I wanted to live there because there must never be falls, sickness aging, etc.
Can you put a ramp in your garage to enter the home? Won't be visible to the community!
OT functions
Good idea and we did it. But there is also a concern for life safety In case of fire and loss of power we could be trapped. The Life Safety Code which is applicable in Illinois and many other states requires a door release not more 48" above the floor and no more than 15lbs (8.5 lbs in Illinois) to open the door. An overhead garage door does not meet this requirement wnen there is no power.