Planning to Age in Place? Find a Contractor Now

He could move to a single-floor apartment or an assisted living facility, but like most older people, he wants to stay put. “I have a lot of good memories here,” he said.

So he turned to Mr. MacNeill, a longtime contractor in nearby Pine Brook. In 2014, Mr. MacNeill took a three-day course through the National Association of Home Builders to become a Certified Aging in Place Specialist, or CAPS.

Older people have the highest rate of homeownership in the country — about 80 percent, according to a 2016 report by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard. The great majority live in single-family homes, most of them poorly suited for the disabilities common in later life.

The center has looked at three of the most important accessibility features that allow people to move safely around their living spaces: entrances without steps, single-floor living, and wide hallways and doorways that can accommodate wheelchairs.

“Less than 4 percent of the U.S. housing stock has all three of those,” said Jennifer Molinsky, a senior research associate at the center.

Add two more important elements for aging in place — doors with lever handles, and light switches and electrical outlets that can be reached from a wheelchair — and the proportion drops to 1 percent.

You’ll often hear older people vow that they won’t leave their homes except “feet first.” Without modifications, however, the design of most older Americans’ homes could eventually thwart their owners’ desire to stay in them.

Solving that problem, individually or collectively, means confronting certain obstacles.

About 3,500 CAPS graduates across the country — builders and remodelers, occupational therapists, interior designers — retrofit homes to help people remain in them safely, said Dan Bawden, a Houston contractor who helped…

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