4 Features to Look for in a Tiny Retirement Home

Certain design features can make tiny homes safer and more comfortable for downsizing retirees.

Moving into a tiny home can be uniquely appealing to certain retirees who are seeking to downsize their lives in a big way. After all, compared with a traditional full-size house, a tiny home is more affordable to purchase, less expensive to live in and easier to maintain. Plus, the limited space compels you to declutter. Incidentally, there's no rule that dictates just how tiny a tiny home needs to be. If you're accustomed to more space and want to hang on to more stuff, spring for a tiny home with extra square footage.

For those thinking about -- or willing to think about -- living in a tiny home in retirement, here are some of the most important design features to consider:

Main-floor bedroom. Leave the lofts to those who are younger and nimbler. Not only does going up and down a ladder increase the risk of falls, but it also increases the strain on already achy joints. Tiny Home Builders, based in DeLand, Fla., lists a Tiny Retirement (opens in new tab) single-level floor plan that accommodates a full bed (or pull-out sofa), a kitchen, a bathroom and storage, all in less than 200 square feet.

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A full bath. Ideally, it should come equipped with a raised toilet -- typically a couple of inches taller than a standard toilet -- for comfort and a walk-in shower for safety. The "Tiny Retirement" model has a 36-by-36-inch standing shower, the same width you'd find in a full-size home. Grab bars in the bathroom can cut the odds of slipping on wet floors. So, too, can slip-resistant flooring.

Easy-to-reach storage. Loft storage is fine for things you rarely need to retrieve, such as holiday decorations. If you require an occasional hand pulling down those items, ask a friend or family member to stop by. But closets and other storage areas that you access daily shouldn't involve the use of a ladder (or awkward stooping or stretching, for that matter). A friend or family member won't be around every time you need to reach clean socks or a spare roll of paper towels. Built-in drawers beneath beds and sofas are among the clever storage solutions found in tiny homes.

Accessibility. You might be active and healthy when you move into a tiny home, but age catches up with everyone. Build low to avoid steps, if possible. If not, consider a ramp for the entryway. Henry Moseley, president of Home Care Suites (opens in new tab), in Tampa, Fla., says his company takes into account aging in place when it builds its small cottages. (Moseley prefers the term "cottage" because his small structures are built on permanent foundations in backyards, unlike portable tiny homes that can be hauled around by trailer.) Moseley says his small cottages, which start at 256 square feet, include wide doorways and low-threshold showers to accommodate wheelchairs.

Michael DeSenne
Executive Editor, Kiplinger.com
DeSenne made the leap to online financial journalism in 1998, just in time for the dot-com boom. After a stint with Dow Jones Newswires, dreams of IPO riches led him to SmartMoney.com, where over nine years he held several positions, including executive editor. He later served as the personal finance editor at HouseLogic.com and AARP.org. In 2011, he joined Kiplinger.com, where he focuses on content strategy, video, SEO and Web analytics. DeSenne has a BA from Williams College in Anthropology—a major deemed the absolute worst for career success by none other than Kiplinger.