Aging In Place with an Updated Fireplace

Staying in our homes is becoming a top priority as we age. According to an AARP study, 90 percent of Baby Boomers hope or plan to stay in their homes instead of moving to senior residences, nursing homes, or assisted living.

What is Aging in Place?
Haven’t heard of aging in place? The Center for Disease Control defines it as the “ability to live in one's own home and community safely, independently and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level." This will become a topic of paramount importance, as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reports that by 2040, the U.S. population aged 65 and older will double to 80 million. In fact, their share of the total population will rise from 13 to 20 percent. And while this is an admirable goal, the kicker is that, according to another AARP poll, fewer than half of people feel their homes will fully meet their needs as they age.

What is Universal Design?
A successful aging-in-place plan may include some modifications to homes to be sure they are safe, secure, useable and enjoyable. Architects and builders often use the term “universal design” to encompass all the aspects of safely designing or retrofitting a home to be sure it can accommodate all kinds of common (and not-so-common) aging concerns—handrails, walk-in showers or bathtubs, zero-threshold doorways, and non-skid flooring are among a few of the considerations.

But just because you may want to make sure your home fits your needs as you age, doesn’t mean you want to, or have to, give up beautiful or well-thought-out design. We’ve seen that having a fireplace ranks among the top priorities for many or most homeowners—and there are ways to make sure you can enjoy your fires for years to come.

Minimize Maintenance and Expenses
“Fire is always going to be something humans are drawn to,” says interior designer Anne McDonald. “If you have a wood-burning fireplace, it’s super-great for mood, and really fun to make a fire, but every time I make a fire in my 1929 Tudor fireplace, the heat is literally escaping from our house,” she says. To say nothing of the maintenance of getting and loading firewood and cleaning up the mess. “People are paying way more attention to energy efficiency now, and want to create an efficient space at home for environmental and economic reasons,” she says. Updating your fireplace from a wood burning open hearth to an efficient gas insert is an easy way to address both.

“In terms of aging in place, maintenance is really key,” McDonald adds. “It’s about safety for these people for them to be dealing with the firewood and fires. It’s a major concern or consideration—not only for them but also caregivers.”

Open Plan Design
“Something I’m seeing as a trend over the last 20 years that’s definitely not going anywhere is more of an open floor plan,” McDonald says. The move to open-plan designs can be a boon for those hoping to age in place. Wider spaces and fewer doorways can accommodate medical supplies and machinery and can help eliminate spills on stairs or over thresholds, for example. But sometimes an open plan needs a bit more intimacy or warmth, which is a perfect opportunity for a fireplace.

“Nothing is going to create intimacy like a fireplace,” McDonald says. And, she adds, there’s a reason gas fireplaces especially are going into most new construction. “Designers and architects instantly create mood and really ground a space in a big, open room with a fireplace.”

And then there’s a therapeutic effect to creating coziness at home—the dry heat feels great on your bones and arthritic joints, and lends a feeling of comfort and care at the flick of a wall switch or tap of a remote control.

Connect to the Outside World
A hazard to aging at home is becoming disconnected from the outside world if your mobility gets limited or you don’t have a strong village to support you.

“Fire is life, there is movement involved in it. It’s dynamic,” McDonald says. “It’s exciting watching something organic that has its own sort of energy. There’s a fundamental connection to the outside, to the nature, and to the elements.”

To learn more about making the switch to a gas fireplace insert, connect with your local Heat & Glo dealer today.