What is a Good Size House for Retirement?

It’s common to wonder, “We’ll need a smaller space to move into when the kids are gone. What are we going to do with all this space?” There are a few options to go about where you would like to retire. Here we’ll explore the different possibilities and the pros and cons of each living setup. We’ll also look into the factors one must consider entering this stage in life, including financial and social dimensions.

Hoping this serves you as a proper guide when the time comes to make the decision for your parents or yourself!

Having a lot of factors come into play, a good size house is highly dependent on one’s context. Here’s a good standard and rule of thumb to follow:

A good size house for retirement is to have a minimum of 3 rooms:

  1. Bedroom: allocate a wide passage beside the bed for getting on and off (preferably 1 meter)
  2. Full Bathroom: ensure this has grab bars by the toilet and a shower (not a bathtub)
  3. Living space: living, dining and kitchen areas that remain in “open plan”, or without walls to allow easy maneuvering of wheelchair, walker, crutches, etc.

A good basis is anywhere from 140-280 square meters. It cannot be too small or tight to the point where mobility and use of equipment (such as a wheelchair) is compromised. A more critical requirement is to ensure the living space is all one level living (no stairs or steps as much as possible). Allocate doorways and hallways at a minimum of 820 mm wide.

Figures & Facts to Follow

Why is this a concern? Why should we give it a second thought as a move has major cost implications and stress in logistics?

All very true, and although most people opt to stay in their homes, 85% of senior people also predict they’ll be renovating for the problems they’ll encounter in their home. Are you confident your current living setup will provide you ample resources and critical services? (1)

As we get older, inevitably our mobility is compromised and one small accident can cause great damage. These clearances and design strategies follow international accessibility and architectural standards that consider wheelchair maneuvering and comfort. Regardless of the home setup you choose, ensure these standards are met in your home for a comfortable, less accident prone space for the elderly:

  1. Provide a 1.50 x 1.50 meter turning space in common areas and bathrooms
  2. A 3.7m wide parking slot for passenger unloading (especially if unable to drop off at the main entrance)
  3. Doorways at a minimum 800-820 millimeters with flat thresholds
  4. Aim to get hallways at 1.0 – 1.20 meters wide
  5. Opt for low sloping ramps over any steps
  6. Apply non-skid, non-slippery surfaces especially in wet areas
  7. Safety provisions in the bathroom: shower bench & stainless steel grab bars

Design standards taken from Time Saver Standards for Building Types (2)

Other guidelines can be found in the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design

Image from Mod Cabinetry » NKBA Guideline » Design and Buy Online

Ways to Scale Down

If you’re thinking of making that move and life change, here are a list of options you could look into and see what fits.

Assisted Living / Home for the Aged

This is a complex run by a Homeowner Association (HOA) wherein the place is kitted out as a paradise for the elderly. Redefining a bit what paradise means, but basically you have professional care on standby 24/7 and in-house doctors for a quick check up. Your room or home will be equipped with wheelchair or walker friendly furniture and clearances, and even have an emergency call button in each room.

Health is also monitored in providing nutritious meals with social and fitness activities. Studies show this living setup actually encouraged independence and social activity among the community, getting out of the house more than they would if they were living in their homes.  (1)

Image from Design for dementia | NORD Architects | Denmark | Alzheimer Village

This is a great option if you still want that big garden and home feel, without the worry of tending the garden, security or exterior maintenance. You wouldn’t have to clean your unit or worry about that leaky gutter. It’ll all be taken care of.

Of course this may be the costlier option, however it pays to weigh it against the emotional stress and time spent in renovation, searching for a new place, checking for standards etc. As these compounds can provide emotional support in the community and even provide transportation for residents to the grocery and essential facilities — not needing to hassle your grandkids so often.

Alternative Options

Moving to a condominium is great for those who travel often, want high security and low maintenance. However an apartment unit or retirement community can be unappealing to some, being uneasy about not “owning land” and following all the Home Association Rules at an old age. With the previous dimensions and clearances taken into consideration, one can scale down into the following options :(3)

  1. Mobile Home: Love life on the road? This keeps the element of adventure, travel and a new environment while keeping costs low. If you can manage life in an RV, the small rent, gas expense and occasional campfire dinners can be “home.” Not to mention you’ll automatically have a community to take care of the social aspect.
  1. House Boat: Always dreamed you’ll be retiring in the countryside? Or by the lake? This option gives you that picturesque nature view to wake up to every morning. There’s also a great community spirit among the docks and bay between fellow boat neighbors to share tips on how to care for one another’s boat and the area. These areas are usually maintained and kept well by an association with private access.
  1. Townhouse: This gives you a piece of land to own, with only having to worry about sharing walls on the sides, and not the noise above or below you. This gives more flexibility in having less rules to follow and a little ease off of exterior maintenance. It may however pose problems if your major spaces are on the second floor. Usually being a vertical development, have an architect strategically plan you not needing to go up and down as often. (3)
  1. Tiny Home: It need not be the tiniest per se, but it can do without the kids’ bedrooms and home gym. Coming from years of living in a 370-560 square meter home to a 200 square meter home is still scaling down and saving you money greatly.

Allowing yourself just one spare room as the gym and office can convert into that bedroom you want when your kid comes to visit. Combining living spaces and an open floor plan keeps entertaining an option. With rooms that can expand and open up to an outdoor space, a 140 square meter home can work and not compromise on hosting family events. (4)

If you do want to go as tiny as 24 square meters, make sure your doorways and hallways are wide, and flatten all thresholds and bath areas. Also be mindful your storage isn’t situated in a way you’ll give out your back. (5)

What to consider before Downsizing

If you’re going to move homes completely, it’s best to maximize that investment and reassess the new criteria in moving: A warmer climate to rid shoveling snow in the driveway, or to a district with great health care or public transport in the area as opposed to the best schools. (6)

Keep your space in mind while looking at these factors. Can your current home accommodate these changes?

Take a good look at the factors below as your ideal checklist. Even if you opt for another living situation, these all still need to be questioned with each setup if it’s the right fit for you.

Social Set Up

Will your home be the giant casita for everyone to have reunions and gather for parties? Will you often have to host guests? Do your kids or grandkids live far away and need a room for them to stay in? These are things to consider before planning a move.

The memories built in your four walls, the neighbors and community you’ve grown comfortable with is a huge factor on your mental and emotional health. Isolation and loss of social interaction are equally as important in care to lowering house costs, as this can rapidly affect your physical health.(1)

Are your friends close by? Maybe there’s a community in the next district you prefer. Perhaps your hobbies are held free as social events by the assisted living home. Otherwise, you can move to that sunny climate or peaceful hillside you’ve been dreaming of if this isn’t a concern.

Lifestyle & Mobility

You might have to check if the homeowner association will accept your 2 dogs or 3 cats. Also will your new place fit your golf clubs, fishing or workout gear? This may be a question of downsizing to a minimalist lifestyle but an emotional change to consider nonetheless.

Some couples might be working even at a retired age. This may keep the need for at least one home office/study area and some work furniture in your Living Room or Bedroom as a second office. (7)

Emergency & Health Protocols

Although none of us like to have someone look over our shoulder, there will come a time when mobility will be greatly compromised and a helping hand can come in handy. It can come to a point where we just need assistance in remembering what medication to take, how to work our nebulizer or maintaining an exercise routine.

Figure out what emergency system needs to be in place that you feel comfortable with: Having CCTV? Having a caregiver visit regularly? Living with your kids? Having a call button? Or living in a Home for the Aged complex where there’s always someone to call. (1)

Adapting to your Location

How far is the nearest relative? Or hospital? Does this hospital have the medical facilities that can treat your specific illness? Perhaps it pays to move to a district that does.(6)

Simple everyday errands need a new perspective. Is there a grocery or convenience store you can walk to? A few restaurants, shops or gyms nearby with a community you get along with? Is public transportation accessible and easy to use?

There will come an age when driving is no longer safe. Taking care of the car will grow to be a hassle and extra expense. Not to mention bugging your children to drive you, can grow as a  bother. There’s too much to assume that your suburban setting can serve you till you’re old.

Besides, a walkable town means the security should be relatively better. The safety and crime in your area might have changed from all the decades ago when you bought it. (1)

Managing Finance

There’s no more tuition to pay but there are a lot of unforeseen hospital bills and checkups underway. With making less income and surprise health issues left and right, it definitely pays to live less grand than you had previously.

This is what makes scaling down when we’re older so appealing and practical. Having less living expenses encourages us to scale our lifestyle down with it. (7)

Reframing Independence

This is case to case on one’s personality, perception and pride. There’s no right or wrong on how we feel about it, but if it makes us uncomfortable, it’s a non-negotiable.

It’s a transition in itself and hard to accept that we can no longer perform simple tasks. It bruises the ego greatly, needing someone’s help carrying our bags or getting dressed. Try to take on activities that encourage the use of limbs and cognitive thinking. Search for hobbies you can maintain, that keep you excited, or stick to routines that are just for yourself.

Conclusion: Plan Your Retirement Like a Giant Vacation

Plan your dream retirement!

It may sound odd to romanticize it, but it’s better than being morbid about it. Plan out your parents growing too old before it’s too late. Figure out that ideal retirement setup early! This way you can plan financially ahead of time among many other logistics that will surely give you headaches.

Each set up presents its own challenges and will be perfect according to your personality and unique needs. This can vary depending on the different upbringings, perception of privacy and personal space, cultures, family setup and generation mindset.

In my experience, it’s common that my grandparents of the silent generation had several issues with independence. They felt they were burdening the family by living with us but also never liked having a nurse always assisting them with simple tasks. The loss of control and independence can surely take a toll on mental health.

Image from KIRK | Sentul Aged Care Community Centre

It is interesting to see now how my baby boomer parents are opting for scaling down in house size and wanting in-house care, as they view it as personalized and attentive to their needs being 1 on 1. It’s an odd daydream but, what would be your dream way to retire?



  1. *. (2021, December 21). Aging in place vs. Assisted Living – updated for 2022. AgingInPlace.org. Retrieved February 2022, from https://aginginplace.org/aging-in-place-vs-assisted-living/
  2. De Chiara, J. (2001). Time-saver standards for building types. McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing.
  3. Pica, J. (2018, August 2). 5 types of homes to consider for retirement – US news money. U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved February 2022, from https://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/on-retirement/articles/2018-08-02/5-types-of-homes-to-consider-for-retirement
  4. Burch, M. (n.d.). This is the perfect size for a retirement home. Southern Living. Retrieved February 2022, from https://www.southernliving.com/home/1500-sq-ft-home-retirement
  5. DeSenne, M. (2016, November 10). 4 features to look for in a tiny retirement home. Kiplinger. Retrieved February 2022, from https://www.kiplinger.com/article/retirement/t010-c000-s001-4-things-to-look-for-in-a-tiny-retirement-home.html
  6. Parker, T. (2021, October 28). When should retirees downsize their home? Investopedia. Retrieved February 2022, from https://www.investopedia.com/articles/retirement/100116/when-should-retirees-downsize-homes.asp
  7. Mears, T. (2014, December 12). How to choose The perfect retirement home for you … U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved February 2022, from https://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/articles/2014/12/12/how-to-choose-the-perfect-retirement-home-for-you