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Don’t Get Tripped up at the Front Door! Here’s Some Help

The Aging in Place Revolution has unleashed a whole set of fresh design perspectives on kitchen and bath configurations, open space, and barrier-free layouts and loads of other universal design ideas. New, highly flexible shelving products, smart appliances, and e-tech monitoring devices are flooding the market place.

All Good. But sometimes this flurry of aging in place innovation can move the focus away from the fundamentals of smart aging in place planning. So today, we’re honoring one of the key starting points of the planning process…your home’s entrance. Three functional elements concern us: the steps that lead to the front porch that bring us to the front door. Let’s take them in order.


The cardinal rule of exterior steps and stairs: avoid them if possible. One go-to design strategy is to construct a gently sloping walkway leading to the front entrance. The alternative is a widely spaced series of low platform steps that are easily negotiated by most folks. The entrance walkway should be at least 36” inches wide and free of cracks, uneven pavement, or other tripping hazards. And, of course, the surface should be slip-resistant,

When necessary, we install ramps and /or a stairlift to accommodate our mobility-challenged customers. A later blog will be specifically devoted to this subject.

Steps need to conform to local building codes, and that’s not just law…it makes perfect safety sense. 

We build steps that have uniform riser heights between 4 and 7 inches and plenty of horizontal depth (at least 11 inches). We make sure there’s adequate drainage to prevent the build-up of water, snow, and ice and then install surface materials that are textured or otherwise ensure nonslip surfaces. Wait, there’s more: we add rounded handrails on both sides that extend beyond the top and bottom step. Finally, we light it up, with powerful wattage at the top and bottom and stairway illumination along the way. To bolster visibility, clients will often ask us to use contrasting color strips to define the edge of each step. 

The Front Entrance:  

We like this to be large enough for both wheelchair maneuverability and a table or bench for packages. 

When clients are juggling bags or other objects while trying to open the door, the risk of falling increases. Our mantra is: Put the bag down! We like the “both hands-free” approach to front door encounters. 

Here’s what else we like: a dry front porch, free of snow and rain. Our two-step recommendation: the installation of a porch covering, like an overhang, canopy, or full roof structure. We add a good drainage plan to prevent the ponding of water (ice formation is taboo on porches). And again, we lay down a slip-resistant surface to minimize the risk of falls. 

This can be a paint application with an anti-skid additive, an anti-slip concrete mixture, or even plastic drainage tiles that prevent slipping when they become wet.

The Door: We’ve Arrived!    

A general rule of thumb is that doorways should be at least 36” wide to accommodate a wheelchair and other mobility devices (scooters etc.) If your doorway doesn’t measure up, and widening is too costly, try this less expensive option: an offset or expandable door hinge. This little trick can add a few inches to your door width and solve your problem. A couple of other creative solutions: consider turning one of your windows into a full front doorway. Or you can create an entirely new entranceway by converting an underused small room into a foyer.

Another rule of thumb: Eliminate your “trippy” door threshold. Okay, the word trippy is made up, but the significant risk that your door threshold presents is not. If you can’t eliminate the threshold, then reduce the danger by keeping the elevation to no more than ½ inch. Another safety tip: Design your front door so that it opens inward toward the house. A door that swings out can cause visitors to step backward… occasionally, someone ends up tumbling down the porch stairs.

You’ll also want to replace your existing doorknob with a lever-style handle. The goal here is to eliminate the need to “grasp and twist” the knob, a movement that can become more difficult with age. One final idea: install a keyless locking system that dispenses with the tricky business of inserting and twisting a key in the lock to enter or leave your home. These are great for people with hand control issues or failing eyesight.

Starting your aging in place planning at the “front entrance” establishes a great organizational reference point for the remainder of your design effort. As certified aging in place designers and builders, we’re here to help. We invite you to take advantage of our years of experience and training to make your aging in place journey as smooth as possible. Give us a call or shoot us an email.  Our front door is always open!