Living in Old Age: How to Prepare Yourself and your Home for it

January 7, 2021
  1. First clarify how you want to live in old age
  2. Barrier-free conversion and furnishing: Measures throughout the house
  3. Barrier-free conversion and furnishing: Measures in the living room
  4. Barrier-free conversion and furnishing: Measures in the bedroom
  5. Barrier-free conversion and furnishing: Measures in the bathroom
  6. Barrier-free conversion and furnishing: Measures in the kitchen
  7. Age-appropriate conversion: Get advice
  8. Age-appropriate conversion: How to save taxes
  9. Age-appropriate conversion: Measures throughout the house
  10. Age-appropriate conversion: the bathroom
  11. Age-appropriate conversion: the kitchen
  12. Age-appropriate conversion: If you are already in the process ...
  13. Talk to professionals for housing in old age

More than one fifth of the people in Switzerland are 65 years old or older. By 2035, their share is expected to rise to around one third. Most of them would prefer to grow old in their own four walls. Especially if they own the house or the apartement. This has emotional reasons, for example memories of their children who grew up in the house, and rational reasons, because owning is cheaper than renting or a place in a retirement centre or nursing home.

First clarify how you want to live in old age

At some point, the moment will come when you should start thinking about housing in old age. Sooner is better than too late. If you plan ahead, already when you buy, otherwise from the age of 50 or more, as soon as the children leave home and you live alone or with your partner in a house that is too big. If you don't want to sell and move into a smaller house or flat because you will work until retirement, your friends live in the neighbourhood or you are well integrated in the community, there are basically three options for living in old age:

  1. You stay in your house and use the extra space as a home office, studio or music room, for example. For this, you have to keep the big house and the garden in good shape on your own.
  2. You turn one floor into a granny flat and rent it out. This way you receive a rent as a contribution to your housing costs and don't have to clean as much living space.
  3. You convert your single-family home into a multi-generation home for the family. This way you reduce your housing costs, have less space to maintain and always have your grandchildren around you.

Regardless of whether you choose variant 1, 2 or 3, you should sooner or later convert your house to make it suitable for old age or, as a first step, convert it to make it barrier-free. These initial measures for living in old age are relatively simple and cost little.

Barrier-free conversion and furnishing: Measures throughout the house

  • Illuminate all living areas sufficiently brightly, including side rooms such as the cellar or stairs.
  • Set motion detectors so that the light intervals are long enough and you do not have to rush.
  • Clear all obstacles out of the way, for example small pieces of furniture, plants or piles of books.
  • Install a (second) handrail on all stairs that provides a secure hold beyond the last step.
  • Mark all edges of stair treads in a clearly visible and contrasting manner.
  • Ensure that stair treads are non-slip, even when damp or wet.
  • Place non-slip anti-slip mats under all carpets.
  • Tape upstanding carpet edges to the floor with carpet tape.

Barrier-free conversion and furnishing: Measures in the living room

  • Make sure that the armchairs or sofa are high enough so that you can sit down and get up more easily. If not, you can put blocks underneath.
  • Set up the living room with sturdy furniture so that you can lean on it in an emergency.
  • Do not use furniture with castors that roll away in case you need to lean on them in an emergency.
  • Tie all cables together and run them along the walls so that you cannot trip over them.

Living in old age: non-slip carpets and high seats
Anti-slip mats make carpets non-slip. Seating should also be high enough to make it easier to sit down and stand up.

Barrier-free conversion and furnishing: Measures in the bedroom

  • Make sure your bed is high enough so that you can lie down and get up easily. If not, you can put blocks underneath.
  • Install a bedside lamp so that you can easily turn on the light at night when you need to get up.

Barrier-free conversion and furnishing: Measures in the bathroom

  • Install grab rails in the tub or a firm bathing board so that you can get in and out easily.
  • Install a bathtub shortener if the bathtub is too big so that you cannot sink.
  • Stick anti-slip strips or mats in the tub or shower so you can't slip.
  • Put a stool in the shower or mount a seat on the wall so that you can take a shower sitting down.
  • Fit grab rails and install a toilet seat support so that you can sit down and stand up more easily.
  • Install non-slip flooring or place an anti-slip mat under the bathroom carpets to prevent slipping.

Living in old age: With permanently mounted grab rails, older people can get in and out more easily
Age-appropriate bathtubs are non-slip, at best shortened and have firmly mounted grab bars or rails.

Barrier-free conversion and furnishing: Measures in the kitchen

  • Store pans, kitchen utensils and food within easy reach so you don't have to bend down or climb onto a stool every time.

Age-appropriate conversion: Get advice

It makes sense to plan living in old age with a specialist. Every canton has an advisory centre for barrier-free construction. There you can get information and comprehensive advice on desirable and necessary measures. The aim of the advice and measures is to convert the house or the apartement simply and, if possible, without great additional costs, to make it suitable for the elderly and to make it barrier-free.

Age-appropriate conversion: How to save taxes

If you know at an early stage that you want to renovate your home to make it suitable for old age, it is worthwhile to implement the larger and more expensive measures before you retire. You can deduct value-preserving renovations from your taxable income. Because your salary is higher than your pension, you can save more tax with renovation work before retirement than after retirement. In addition, for tax reasons you should consider spreading the renovation over several years to break the progression and optimise your tax burden. The bottom line is that you can save a lot of money if you plan housing in old age with foresight and perhaps even combine it with other renovation measures.

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Age-appropriate conversion: Measures throughout the house

The measures depend on you and your partner. We all get older and frail, some more, some less. Vision deteriorates, mobility decreases, a simple fall can fundamentally change your life and severely limit you. The greater the risk of falling, for example, the more sensible conversion measures are for living in old age:

  • Doors, passages and stairways should be without steps or thresholds, for example for a wheelchair or rollator, but also for a pram when the children visit you. If not, you need a ramp.
  • Doors and passages should be at least 80 centimetres wide for wheelchairs or prams.
  • Outdoor parking (or in the garage) should be handicapped accessible, covered and easy to reach.
  • Stairs should be wide enough so that you can install a stair lift if necessary.
  • Have lamps installed everywhere and use bulbs with more illuminance, because most people's visual performance declines with age.
  • An emergency system is useful if you live alone or are home alone for a long time.

Age-appropriate conversion: the bathroom

  • A shower is more practical than a bathtub, especially if you are in a wheelchair or need a walker. Access to the shower must therefore be level - and the shower floor must be non-slip. A fixed seat on the wall is useful and practical.
  • If you prefer a bathtub, install grab bars and handles or, even better, an entry and exit aid. The floor of the bath must be non-slip, and the bath should not be too long for you.
  • Think about enough space and freedom of movement for you and a second person in case you need help with personal hygiene. Replace furniture with space-saving furniture. But not under the washbasin, because otherwise you will have to bend down laboriously every time.
  • Replace the slippery slab or concrete floor with a non-slip floor covering.
  • Have grab rails or bars installed so that you can hold on everywhere. By the shower, by the toilet bowl and by the washbasin. Many elderly people fall in the bathroom.

Age-appropriate conversion: the kitchen

  • Cabinets with pull-outs are more practical and clear than cabinets with doors.
  • The cooker, worktop and sink on the same level are more practical than separate elements, for example a cooking island.
  • Have appliances such as the oven or steamer installed at a height that is comfortable for you so you don't have to bend or stretch.
  • Get kitchen appliances and household machines that take work off your hands and secure them with anti-slip pads.
  • Have a smoke detector installed.

Age-appropriate conversion: If you are already in the process ...

If you convert your house to suit your age, you can live in your own four walls for longer. You could go one step further and reduce your ancillary costs, especially for electricity, in the long term. This makes sense because you will have to manage with less money after retirement than before. In addition, you can also deduct energy renovation measures from your taxable income and thus save money. Three possible measures:

  1. If you insulate the walls, roof and basement ceiling and replace the old windows with insulating glass, you will massively reduce your energy consumption - and thus your electricity costs.
  2. If you still heat with oil or gas, you can relieve the burden on the environment and your budget with a new heating system. For example, with a heat pump. With our free Heating Comparison, you can find out in two minutes which heating system is best suited for your home and how quickly a new heating system will pay for itself.
  3. With a photovoltaic system, you can secure the majority of your hot water supply yourself thanks to solar energy. With our Solar Calculator you can quickly find out whether your roof is suitable, how much electricity you can produce yourself and how much money you can save.

Living in old age: the experts at the cantonal advice centre can help you further
It is best to plan your housing in old age with the experts at a counselling centre.

Talk to professionals for housing in old age

If you want to convert your house to make it suitable for the elderly and not just make it barrier-free, you should plan the measures for living in old age with professionals. Talk to someone from the advice centre for barrier-free living in your canton and then to a craftsman from your region. For example, a carpenter or a plumber if you want to convert your kitchen or bathroom to make it accessible for the elderly.

Plan the measures sooner rather than too late. On the one hand, your house is ready, on the other hand, you can coordinate all the work and thus save costs and optimise your tax burden.

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