As custom deck contractors in Denver, we write a lot about building and maintaining a deck so it can “last a lifetime.” Usually, we’re referring to the quality of materials and construction. However, there’s another take on building a deck to last a lifetime – it includes you, the homeowners, enjoying it through the later years of your lives.

Building a Senior-Friendly Deck

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Why Consider a Senior-Friendly Deck?

A senior-friendly deck is ideal for someone in their advanced years. Seniors enjoy many benefits from outdoor living areas, like decks.

Enjoying a change in scenery, connecting with nature, and catching some sun rays are all mood boosters that can decrease depression. Vitamin D absorption from the sun can reduce chronic illnesses such as heart disease, osteoporosis, and some cancer risks. And a University of Michigan study found that spending time in nature (especially when surrounded by trees) improves memory and recall.

Also, seniors with sleep troubles could see improved sleep from additional sun and nature exposure. Additionally, those prone to feeling cold can take advantage of a few minutes of sunshine when temperatures are warm.

Challenges for Seniors

Our eyesight, hearing, and balance decline as we age, multiplying tripping and falling risks. We also become more susceptible to the elements, experiencing the ill effects of nature (sun, cold, wind) more easily. We don’t have the strength, stamina, or stability to do what we were capable of in our younger years.
When designing a senior-safe deck, we approach it from all three fronts mentioned above to make it convenient and safe:

  1. We aim to minimize fall risks.
  2. We ensure a shady space for seniors to comfortably and safely enjoy the outdoors with shelter from the elements.
  3. We want a deck that is as low-maintenance as possible.

Overcoming Obstacles

When designing a deck that you or your loved ones can enjoy through the golden years, the following tips can enhance its safety and ease maintenance worries.

Extension of Home

For convenience and safety, it’s best if the deck is attached to the house. Ideally, transitioning between the indoor flooring and the deck should be as smooth and uncomplicated as possible. If the flooring levels differ, install a ramp with handrails to make getting in and out easier. Installing a wide enough door and ramp to accommodate a wheelchair will ensure the deck is usable in almost any future situation.

Additionally, having a restroom close by would be very helpful. We aren’t suggesting a bathroom on the deck, but a nearby indoor toilet can prevent accidents and improve the deck’s usage.

Clear Walkways

Reducing tripping hazards will significantly improve the deck’s future usage. Create clear walking paths and decorate outdoor areas with lightweight, easily moveable furniture to customize pathways.

Single-Level Floor

Varying floor depths creates unique looks and fun, distinct areas, but it isn’t optimal for seniors as it increases fall risks. Keeping one level floor is best.

Railing

Handrails are even more critical when designing a deck for lifetime use. Safety rails are sometimes mandatory depending on the height of the deck, but if you’re looking to make it senior-friendly, we recommend them despite the elevation.

The deck’s elevation influences handrail height — taller structures require a higher railing. Sometimes it’s advisable to install a second handrail below the standard one so seniors have more ergonomically correct support as they walk around the deck — at the height of a cane or walker, for example.

Quality Materials

Decking material can improve safety and maintenance requirements. Choose deck materials that give good traction in rain or shine. You’ll also want to consider splinter risks for seniors grabbing onto handrails. Some decking materials are more maintenance-free, so speak with a contractor about your options.

Stairs

Optimally, a gate should be at the stairs to prevent falls. But if a barrier isn’t practical, there are other ways of making the stairs more noticeable and safer. For example, an apparent change of colors at the stairs makes them stand out more. Lights inset into the risers can also prevent accidents.

Changes to the tread depths and riser heights can make ascending and descending easier for seniors. Adjusting the riser height will allow for a more gradual and easy slope. Also, the tread depth (the part of the step that is actually “stepped” on) can be optimized for ease of mobility. These changes may add an extra stair or two, but the advantages are worth it.

Shade

The natural shadows and breeze from trees benefit the body and soul, but planting a tree where there are none and waiting decades for its maturity isn’t always feasible. The next best option is a retractable awning, especially at the entranceway. The shade will prevent overheating and allow the eyes time to adjust from a darker inside to a brighter outside. Having it retractable makes it easier to maintain.

Pergolas are also a favorite option as they add to the beauty of outdoor living spaces while providing varying sun protection. However, they aren’t recommended over entranceways as the shadows they cast can throw off a person’s depth perception, leading to increased falls.

Next Steps

Building a deck for your future needs is a great way to ensure you can enjoy it for many years to come and at any life stage. The benefits are numerous (and it could even improve your home’s resale value). If you have any questions or are ready to get started, one of our custom decking contractors in Colorado would be happy to speak with you.