Design & DIY

3 considerations for enjoying your cottage as you age

When it comes to enjoying your cottage into your later years, there are many ways to adapt your cottage in the same fashion that homes are being altered.

Our cottages are certainly our summer homes, and they’re often the place where we spend the most quality time. But enjoying the cottage as we age may become more difficult because of the terrain. Uneven landscapes and differing architectures present challenges for renovators and product suppliers to create solutions for safe access, but there are ways to alleviate most problem areas. These generally include a combination of construction and product that will allow safe, easy access to the cottage and the lake, extending an your enjoyment of your cottage well into retirement.


The variety of elevations and slopes in cottage country is seemingly endless, and each property offers its own challenges. There are a few tried-and-true methods for accessing the cottage from parking location to cottage and cottage to lake, while some new products offer the solution of technology as a means to meet that goal.

Ramps: In some cases, a timber ramp can be the solution, or there are products such as Q Ramp, which is a polymer ramp design that can be assembled on site. Its material allows for a lifetime of use, while little features, such as sealed components that keep out nesting insects, can offer an advantage over timber construction. The slope of the ramp is an important factor in maintaining a safe, usable slope of 1:12 or, better yet, 1:20. Also, the use of landings and switch backs is likely a must when designing a path using a ramp system

Outdoor stairlifts: A fairly recent addition to the accessibility lift family is the outdoor stairlift. Although the straight version of these lifts has been available for some time, its use in cottage country was limited because of the lack of straight staircases. The lifts are also limited to length of travel. Some stairlifts, such as the Bruno Elite Curved stairlift, will allow a conformation to existing staircases no matter what the configuration or length. These can be used in a number of applications, and modern measuring techniques will allow for a fairly quick delivery time. These units are battery-driven, so power draw is negligible.

Vertical platform lifts: Straight-up access opens up the option of a vertical platform lift. Generally, the travel distance is less than 14 feet, and that distance comes into play when accessing an upper deck to a grade level near the lake or similar situations. A vertical platform lift requires a secure base (generally a concrete slab), power, and a means of securing the tower when the height of travel goes beyond 6 feet. An upper safety gate is a must. A platform-lift installation is usually done in conjunction with landscape design in order to ensure an accessible path to the lift.

Inside the cottage

Once inside the cottage, going between floors may be an issue, in which case stairlifts options once again become available.

Stairs: Stairs are generally built to code and conform to a set rise and run, which means a stairlift can be installed directly onto the treads of those stairs. In the case of cottages, there may be issues of width, overhead clearances, and stability. These conditions may limit or exclude a stairlift application in some cases.

Elevators: If stairlifts are not an option, then we can always go up. A residential elevator is not as expensive as many think, and when compared to the benefit of re-establishing the square footage of your cottage with an installation, the cost may become worth the renovation. A traditional cab residential elevator will require space of roughly 30 square feet on all levels.

Hoistless elevator: Another style of residential elevator is the hoistless version. It’s limited to two floors of travel, but it doesn’t need surrounding walls or the same amount of power. It has limited weight capacity, but its size tends to be convenient for tighter spaces. The construction and installation process for these units is quite simple, and they can be battery operated, which can be beneficial in cottage country.

Water access

For many cottage owners, being on the water is a major factor in the cottage experience. Getting into the lake or onto a boat may become more difficult as you age or for with people with limited mobility. If there is no other way but to use a mechanical lift, then there are a few options to help ensure no one is left behind.

Mounted chair lift: A mounted chair or sling-style lift can be fastened to a secure dock system where the individual can be gently lowered into the water and then rise back out again. Depending on the boat, it may also serve to lower the person into their boat seat. With a pontoon boat, a simple small access ramp can allow access to the boat.

Overhead lift system: For people with more mobility limitations, an overhead lift system may be the answer. With these lifts, a powered lift traverses on a solid rail. A mounting system is required to affix the track’s rail. This is a more elaborate solution, but it’s useful in many situations. These lifts can also be used for transfers in and out of bed, the tub, or other locations.

These suggestions of accessing the cottage should be part of an overall plan for enjoying your cottage in your golden years, and this plan should include a review of your bathroom and safety concerns around the tub and shower. A review of your cottage’s lighting should also ensure that paths and stairs are well lit. Make sure you have an emergency plan together for times of power outages, extreme weather, and medical situations.

Many of us spend the long, cold months thinking of visiting the cottage early and often. We also dream of perhaps someday retiring to the cottage, or at least spending more time there. The availability of new accessibility products can eliminate some of the hurdles that may influence the reality of those dreams.