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Builders: Home renovations for elderly on the rise

By Grace Wong
Special to CNN
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- When David Harrill's aging mother-in-law moved in earlier this year, he knew one consideration trumped all others: Don't mess with her bridge game.

"She's been playing bridge with the same group of friends for 65 years, and it was very important that she could invite them over to her home rather than our home," he said.

The solution? The Harrills, of Jacksonville, Florida, hired a contractor, who added a sitting area with its own entry on to a back bedroom in their house.

Renovations designed with the elderly in mind is the fastest-growing segment of the remodeling industry, said James Lapides of the National Association of Home Builders, a home builder and remodeler trade association.

In a recent survey conducted by the NAHB, 75 percent of remodeling companies said they had seen an increase in requests for so-called "aging-in-place" work.

This trend is likely to grow as the baby boomers start to retire and the older population swells, so the remodeling industry is preparing for the surge.

The Certified Aging In Place Specialist program, a course offered by the NAHB that is designed to teach professionals how to modify homes for older adults, has experienced a dizzying growth in demand, Lapides said.

The association expects more than 300 graduates this year, up about six-fold since the program was launched four years ago.

Most elderly people want to stay in their home or community as they get older, but often it's up to families to provide long-term care for aging relatives, according to Suzanne Mintz, president of the National Family Caregivers Association, a nonprofit advocate for the chronically ill, aged and disabled.

The Harrills brought Chris' mother home to live with them when it became too difficult for her to manage her own home.

"The best option was bringing her here to live with us. We didn't want to move her to an assisted living facility. We felt she would be more comfortable with us," David Harrill said.

Caring for aging parents or relatives often is a life-changing event, but simple renovations to the home can make the transition easier for everyone, according to Stephen Saint-Onge, a designer for Dutch conglomerate Philips, which is making a push to focus more on health and lifestyle design.

Installing lever-style door handles for people with arthritis, laying hardwood floors or utilizing more of an open layout design can, in addition to being more user friendly for the elderly, actually enhance a home's appearance.

The Harrills converted a bathroom and widened the doorways in their house to allow for wheelchair access. "She's completely mobile now, but we're planning for the future," David said.

Renovation costs range widely, depending on the extent of the work done. Adding an extension cost the Harills $180,000, and none of it was covered by insurance.

The Harrills aren't convinced they're going to be able to get that amount back when they sell the house, but that wasn't the motivation for redesigning the home.

"The main reason we wanted to do this was to provide a place for her to live in comfort and be surrounded by those who love her," David Harill said.

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Harrill Home

David and Chris Harrill thought their Jacksonville, Florida, home was too small to accommodate an aging relative.

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