Accessibility for today and tomorrow
Choosing features that will make your new home livable for the long term
New home buyers come in all shapes, sizes and stages of life. Older people looking to downsize are one of the key demographics for condominiums. These empty-nesters are often in the market for a smaller, more maintenance-free home that is close to transit, entertainment and shopping.
But before making a purchase, individuals or couples who plan to live in their condo into retirement and beyond need to think about future needs. For example, physical limitations that may come as a natural part of aging. By anticipating the physical changes most of us experience later in life, they can look forward to years of comfortable, accessible living in the home of their (new) dreams.
If you, a parent or a grandparent are looking for a condo for retirement living, I can offer a few tips.
Condominiums are mostly stair-free by design but choosing a development that has wider hallways and doorways and a more open floor plan will make it easier to accommodate assistive devices (if needed) like wheelchairs or walkers.
There are also a number of relatively minor but extremely useful modifications that will make your home more livable in the long term.
Opt for door levers over doorknobs. They tend to be much easier to grasp and open.
Make sure your light switches are the newer rocker panel design. The old toggle switches can be very hard to manage. Even better, if your hands are full you can just use an elbow to flip on the light!
Two-way switches are also a great addition so you can turn on the lights as you enter a room and turn them off again once you’re in bed or at the other end of the room. It’s also important to have light switches at both the top and bottom of a staircase so you’re not tempted to negotiate a set of stairs in the dark.
Make sure there’s enough lighting in bathrooms, stairways, kitchens and outdoor areas.
When it comes to choosing flooring, steer clear of high-gloss, slippery materials such as marble which may come with a higher risk of slipping. Finally, when it comes to bathroom design, consider opting for a walkin shower with an adjustable-height showerhead and handheld unit to give you more bathing flexibility as you become less flexible.
If a builder is installing accessibility features for you, there’s good news: those features are likely to be covered under your one-year warranty for defects in workmanship and materials and unauthorized substitutions. If you have any doubts that something may be covered, or for how long, your builder representative – or Tarion’s customer service department – will be happy to help you find out.
And if you’re worried about coverage for the accessibility features you may need to rely on outside of your front door – in the shared common element areas of your community – there’s good news there too. Since 2015, the Ontario Building Code has required all new multi-unit residential buildings to include accessible and barrier-free features in many of these areas. If an issue does arise with one of your common elements’ accessibility features, it’s likely protected by the new home warranty on common elements, which is backstopped by Tarion. The problem may be warranted for up to one year (if it is related to work and materials or substitutions), or up to two years (if it’s a violation of the Ontario Building Code that affects health and safety). Keep in mind that the warranty covering common elements is separate from the one covering your own unit.
While contemplating your future limitations isn’t as fun as deciding on the colour of your kitchen cupboards, it can help to ensure the long-term enjoyment of your new home.
Howard Bogach is president and CEO of the Tarion Warranty Corp.