The U.S. population is aging. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, by 2020, there will be 56 million Americans age 65 and older, representing 17% of the population. Accordingly, retrofitting kitchens and baths for seniors represents a growing opportunity for the foreseeable future.


The population is aging

The baby boomer born following the end of World War II is now between 53 and 71 years old. They can expect to live longer. Life expectancy is now around 80 years. Moreover, a declining birth rate (it dropped more than 11% in the five years running up to 2012, the most recent year data are available) means the growing senior segment is a greater percentage of the population.


The plumber’s opportunity

According to the 2014 “Cost of Care Survey” by Genworth Financial, it costs $42,000 per year, on average, for a one-bedroom assisted living unit. By contrast, the average cost of a home health aide can be as high as $25 per hour. Even at the high end, 20 hours of assistance per week, which is a lot, works out to $25,000 per year. In short, seniors save at least $17,000 per year when they can remain in their own homes, which most prefer.

Yet, to remain in their homes longer, seniors need to make accommodations. Much can be done by plumbing contractors through retrofitting kitchens and baths to make them more accommodating to seniors. Extending the amount of time seniors can remain in their homes is not only financially advantageous for the homeowner — it results in a higher quality of life.

Seniors also have the money to pay for retrofits. According to Census data, seniors control one-third of the nation’s wealth.


What plumbers can offer

There is a myriad of products and services plumbing contractors can provide for seniors.

  • Grab bars ― According to the National Council on the Aging, falling causes the most fatal and non-fatal injuries among seniors. One out of four seniors fall each year. Thus, the first thing to offer seniors are grab bars.

Do not offer just any grab bars. Show them attractive, designer-type grab bars. Use them to replace towel bars, which are dangerous if a senior tries to grab one for balance and pulls it out of the wall.

  • Bath/shower — At the low end is a transfer bench that straddles a tub wall and makes it easier for a senior to sit on it outside the tub and swing legs over the tub wall. A handheld shower is another relatively easy addition. At the higher end is a walk-in tub, a curbless shower, and a doorless shower, which goes beyond pure plumbing, typically requiring carpentry and tile work.

  • Scald protection — Seniors are at significant risk of scalding. Installing a mixing valve at the water heater or, even better, replacing the water heater with a tankless heater where the water temperature is precisely controlled solves the problem.

  • Faucets — With arthritis, some seniors have a hard time turning round handles. Offer to replace these with lever handled faucets. For bathroom sinks, suggest hands-free faucets, eliminating the need to turn the handle altogether.

  • Sinks — Wheelchair sinks, which are typically wall-hung, are open below the sink to allow space for a wheelchair. The aesthetics of wheelchair sinks have improve dramatically over the past decade so that they are now attractive retrofits. Of course, the best time to make the retrofit is before they are needed.

  • Pot filler — In the kitchen, a pot filler for the stove area can make life easier for seniors since they did not have to fill pots at the sink and carry them to the stove area. Of course, when finished, they will need to carry them to the sink for cleaning.

  • Toilets — The options for toilets are increasing. At the low end is a toilet riser for the budget conscious or an add-on elevated seat for an emergency. Aesthetically, they are non-starters.

There are attractive floor-mounted elevated toilets that are easier for seniors to use. Some come with integrated flip up grab bars. There are also flip-up/down grab bars that can be mounted on the floor or wall.

  • Services — As people age, they become more dependent on others to do the things they might have once tackled on their own. This makes a plumbing service agreement more attractive, including a winterization service for seniors in colder climates. Design one and give a senior-focused name like “Golden Age Maintenance Agreement.”

To successfully market the products, make sure your customers are aware of them and talk with them about a plan to perform the retrofits over time. Do some now and some the following year. This spreads the cost and builds in a revenue stream.