It is extremely difficult in today’s world to understand retirement. Traditionally retirement (as a noun) meant “the action or fact of leaving one’s job and ceasing to work”. The leaving one’s job is not rocket science. In fact, in a recent Gallup poll 1 the average age at which an American retired is 60 years old. This is consistent with the findings of the last decade. The difficult part is the last phrase in the definition: “ceasing to work”.
Americans are working longer for a variety of reasons, including very real concerns about their financial security once they do retire. However, the primary reason is the actual understanding of retirement itself. In fact, working in retirement is now increasingly the norm. Nearly half of today’s retirees say they have either worked or plan to work during their retirement years, according to a 2014 report by Merrill Lynch and Age Wave. But what does that have to do with tiny houses? Follow me, if you will.
Not only is the average age of retirement 60 years old but it is also the benchmark for a number of age-related ailments. 1.5 million Americans aged 62-65 suffer from fractures brought on by Osteoporosis. During our 60s – especially if we already have impaired vision – mascular degeneration can set in. By age 60 1 out of 20 Americans are effected by some level of urinary incontinence due to weakened pelvic muscles in women and enlarged prostates in men. The golden years can be seen as golden or tarnished based on a number of factors but why allow your house to pull you into the tarnished category?
The tiny house community at large is rather guilty of forgetting the aging or retiring American. Between sleeping lofts with all manner of ladder and high-rise stairs, minuscule bathroom spaces, lack of guest sleeping arrangements, and narrow entryways, the majority of tiny houses meet neither ADA standards nor the basic needs of an aging human. There are ways to alter that though and perhaps the tips below will allow you to build a tiny house that sparkles as you do during your golden years!
CANCEL THE SLIP ‘N SLIDE
Hardwood floors and reclaimed wood floors are perhaps the most popular flooring choice for tiny houses today. Fast on their heels though is laminate flooring. It is less expensive and can give a home a hardwood look without the price tag. Unfortunately, they also tend to be slick, creating a slipping hazard. This can be remedied though with a non-skid treatment specifically designed for laminate. One such product is SlipDoctors Floor Grip. This roll-on water-based acrylic sealer creates a tough and durable surface that leaves a clear gloss “wet” look while improving traction and helping reduce fall risk.
FRONT AND CENTER
I’ve seen tiny houses with propane-fueled RV ranges, electric hot plates, alcohol-fueled marine stoves, and even camp stove “all-in-ones”. While great kitchen resources on their own, none are particularly safe and can prove a fire or burn hazard to aging adults. Consider installing an induction cooktop which operates with a different technology. Rather than depending on flames or hot coils, induction cooking elements heat pots and pans with magnetic fields. Only the cookware gets hot, not the cooking surface. To go a step further (if you include an oven in your build) include a countertop convection toaster oven like the Breville Smart Oven Pro. It keeps cooking functions at a manageable level and performs the same functions (plus some) as a larger unit without being overwhelming to the home owner.
WATCH YOUR STEP
According to a 2011 report by the AARP, 80% of senior falls occur in the bathroom. I can only imagine what this number would jump to if the bathroom were a tiny house bathroom. Granted a tiny house is just that; tiny. But they are also intelligent designs and with proper planning can be some of the safest domiciles for an aging population. A couple of quick thoughts for the bathroom facility:
- A minimum of 32″ for the door opening
- Step-free entry to a shower stall
- A bathtub with a door
- Anti-scald valves on faucets
- Hand-held spray devices in the shower
- Built in bath stool
- Grab bars next to and in front of the toilet
- A comfort height toilet (2′ taller than a standard commode)
UPSTAIRS? WHAT UPSTAIRS?
Mobility issues plague people of all ages. Senior citizens are not exclusive in this area. Yet the majority of tiny houses are built with a sleeping loft. Granted that is ideal in such a small area, it is not the only design option. Consider Dan Louche of Tiny Home Builders ‘Tiny Retirement’ design (purchase building plans HERE). It is “a single level home perfect for those who would prefer to not climbing a ladder to go to bed. It is unique in that its entryway is situated on the long side of the house, allowing for a bathroom to be located on one end of the house while still leaving room for a full size bed or pull-out couch on the other end.” 2 All of this on a 20′ trailer nonetheless.
THE “ALWAYS HOME” NEIGHBOR
One of the scariest parts of aging – I am told – is the thought of falling or hurting yourself and no one being around to hear you call for help. This can and should be remedied in ones home and with systems like the ADT Home Security Medical Alert, it can. Imagine a system built into the tiny house that with a simple push of a lightweight, waterproof help button would signal a senior sensitive trained Monitoring Professional. They speak to the homeowner over a mounted base unit and can call emergency services as needed. Newer systems also have alert pendants disguised as handsome wristwatches and elegant necklaces. Companies like ADT even offer Fall Detection Pendants.
There simply is no reason why tiny houses can’t age with us. Combining intelligent design with a bit of common sense and handyman know-how, even those in their golden years can join in the tiny house movement!
I am not at the retirement age and so far have been blessed with good health. Perhaps I missed something above? What tips would you offer for designing and/or building a tiny house fit for the golden years? Do you feel the tiny house movement is missing this demographic?