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Retrofitting Your Home for Universal Design on a Budget

Not every caregiver or older adult can afford to move into a home with universal design or afford to hire someone to come in and do even minor construction projects to bring their home up to universal design safety standards. There are a lot of things you can do to make your home safer and to prevent falls before you call in a CAPS professional or a general contractor.

Focus on the floors!

1. First, make sure if you have area rugs that they are either secured with rubber rug mats, so they are non-slip, or consider removing them altogether. Area rugs and mats are pretty, but they can easily catch on feet, canes, crutches and mobility aids creating a major tripping hazard.
2. Remove clutter, chairs and occasional tables you don’t need to make more floor space. Having more space to maneuver is key to safety. Navigating around tight corners or within cluttered floor space can be stressful and difficult.

3. Make sure the bathrooms, especially, are safe. Make sure if you have a bathmat that it is relatively thin and has a rubber bottom to make it slip proof. Additionally, make sure you have an anti-slip bath mat in the tub to lower the chance of a slip and fall.

Railings and bars!

If you can’t do a no step entry or retrofit your bathroom with a walk-in shower, then you need to have extra hand holds to make sure you are safe as you step up, in or around anything in your home.

1. Front and Back Door – you should have railings that run on both sides of the doorway to help you get up and down safely. If you have step into the front door, consider adding extra railings on both sides in case you trip and can grab something to support you.

2. Bathroom – Safety grab bars galore! You can get clamp on tub rail handles and grab bars that work with heavy duty, powerful suction cups. Ideally you would have more permanent grab bars installed, but these temporary measures will add safety and security. You may need them in and around the shower or bathtub and near the toilet if getting up from a seated position is challenging. You can also get special frames that fit around the toilet to help with sitting and rising comfortably and safely.

3. Bedroom- A lot of people aging in the home appreciate a bed rail to help them get in and out of bed. One of the most common times people fall in the home is in and out of their bed in the night, so think carefully not only about bed rails but also about the height of your bed and entering and exiting the bed.

4. Stairwells - This one might be a little bit of an expense, but try to make sure you have railings on both sides of the stairs, or that a railing is accessible to those walking on the stairs at all times. You always want to have something you can grab to keep you safe.


Make sure your home is well lit and that lights have switches that you can easily manage and maneuver. Toggle switches are easier than others. You also may want to choose brighter bulbs for ceiling fixtures and consider adding floor lamps and a universal switch, especially in the bedroom so you can turn everyone on and off easily.

Replace your round doorknobs with lever knobs.

Lever doorknobs are much easier to maneuver because you can simply push down to open the door, rather than trying to grasp and squeeze a round door knob. For older adults, especially with arthritis or weakening hand strength, round door knobs can become increasingly difficult to use and manage.

If you pay attention to these small changes in the home, you can get a lot closer to universal design standards and you'll make aging in place safely a reality.