Reno Expert: Take It Outside

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by Jim Caruk


Elder aids that facilitate outdoor living

When planning or renovating a home to make it senior-friendly, most people tend to focus on the kitchen and bathrooms. But there are a few exterior projects that need to be considered as well.

First and foremost is to have a sturdy railing along the front stairs. The building code requires a railing, but if you walk through any neighbourhood you’ll see a number of homes that don’t have one.

If someone in the house is using a wheelchair or walker, you may need to install a ramp so they can enter and exit. There are very specific requirements in the building code regarding the width, slope, and dimensions of a ramp. If the pitch is too steep, you’ll have to build in switchbacks, including landings big enough for a chair to spin around on. Unfortunately, many homes just don’t have enough space at the front to accommodate the size of the footprint required. In that case, you might have to consider an exterior elevator, or a platform lift as they’re formally called ( see Jim’s pick ).

As I’m writing this, the snow is still on the ground. If you (or your elderly parents) aren’t able to clear the sidewalk and walkway safely, you really should consider hiring someone to do it for you. The expense of paying for snow removal is definitely worth avoiding breaking your hip—or your neck! Of course, if you have a limitless budget, I’ve worked on high-end homes where the owners have installed heating cables below the driveway that automatically melt all the snow.

In summer, in-ground irrigation systems to water the lawn and gardens eliminate the chore —and potential trip hazard—of hauling around a hose.


As on the inside, lighting is one of the most important considerations for senior-friendly design. I recommend exterior lights with motion-sensors on the building. I also recommend lining walkways with guide lights.

It’s a good idea to have a roof or some sort of canopy over the entranceway so people don’t have fiddle for their keys while standing in the rain or snow.

That said, even turning the key to lock or unlock the door may prove difficult for some people. A number of companies now have programmable keypads to unlock the door. There are even so-called “smart” locks that link to your cellphone. Your phone communicates with the lock so all you have to do is touch it to open or close it.

For safety and peace of mind, you should also consider having a video-monitoring system. I particularly like the Ring doorbell ( ) that has a motion-activated camera that streams a live video to your smartphone so you can see who’s there before you even get to the door. It’s also a handy way to avoid missing deliveries even if you’re not home: “I can’t come to the door right now, please leave it on the porch.”

Finally, install an automatic garage door opener so elderly drivers don’t need to risk slipping on snow and ice to open it.