Focus on safety and ease of use

If you are thinking about adding an in-law quarters or renovating a space that will be occupied by an elder either in their home or in yours, choosing the right floor can affect comfort, health, and well-being. The rapid growth of our senior population in our country is a much publicized fact – by 2020, there will be 55 million Americans over the age 65 and 6.6 million over 85. As a result renovation of existing housing stock to accommodate an elder is becoming quite common place.

When choosing flooring, the most important issues to consider are vision and mobility. If using wood, tile or carpet, it is wise to employ color contrast solely for identifying a change in elevation or a barrier on the floor’s surface. This will also help to identify where the floor ends and walls, stairs and doors begin. Color contrast simply helps with visually mapping out the whole floor.

Utilization of sharp contrast at the edge of a step down can be accomplished in a number of stylish ways. I think of one kitchen I was in recently where the owners installed a somewhat darker border of tile around the edge of an entire ceramic kitchen floor to help identify access points for the family room and the basement. For hardwood floors, an end cap that is a few shades darker can improve both appearance and safety. When done right, this can look really sharp.

If your elder is using a walker or some other mobility aid, hardwood, linoleum and tile are the best choices as they are most easily navigated and do not drag or pull when in contact with sneakers or rubber covered devices. If you decide that you would like to install tile whether there is a mobility device or not, it’s important to understand the concept of “slip resistance”. Ask about the coefficient of friction (COF) before you buy. The American Heritage Dictionary defines COF as “the ratio of the force that maintains contact between an object and a surface and the frictional force that resists the motion of the object.” There is extensive debate around what constitutes “safer” flooring among engineers and how best to measure it. The American Disabilities Act guidelines recommend a surface with a COF of 0.6 for floors and 0.8 for ramps. It is widely recognized, therefore, that flooring with a COF higher than 0.6 is generally considered being slip resistant. These specs are available for review when you are shopping in a home improvement store.

One does need to be concerned with the type of finish that is selected. Following changes in level, glare is the next largest impediment to safe mobility. A matte finish on a wood floor reduces glare considerably when you compare it to a gloss. It’s important to check your lighting as well as the manner in which a room is illuminated will often make a difference with how easy or difficult it might be to navigate. This is a very subtle problem that one may easily overlook. Lastly, the biggest concern is that it’s critical to note that area rugs, when placed over wood, linoleum or tile floors, are ALWAYS a hazard for seniors who could easily slip and fall. Do not use them!

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