Builders Adapt Home Features to Meet Aging-in-Place Demands

With the majority of seniors choosing to stay home for as long as possible, there has been a steady demand for age-in-place design features, both in new construction and in remodels.

According to a 2010 AARP study, 89% of householders over 45 want to age in place, and that trend is likely to continue.

“Most people do want to age in place,” said Steve Melman, director of economic services for the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). Increasingly, new homes are being built with age-in-place features from the beginning.

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A December 2010 NAHB survey of builders showed that about 20% of new homes will have universal access features in 2011. The top age-in-place feature for new homes, according to this survey, is doorways that are at least three feet wide, in order to accommodate wheelchairs and other equipment.

“That’s something that’s easier to put in right away than to do in a remodel,” said Melman.

Other top new home construction features are stepless entryways, seating in the shower, four-foot wide hallways, and stepless showers.

Remodeling is still the most popular way of dealing with age-in-place needs, and it’s a big market. According to the NAHB, Americans spent $116 billion on improvements to owner-occupied units in 2010, and the organization expects these expenditures to grow steadily over the next several years.

Although the NAHB doesn’t record data specifically about age-in-place expenditures, homeowners 65 or older account for 20% of the remodeling market, and it’s likely that a large percentage of these remodels involve age-in-place considerations.

Top Age-in-Place Features

For age-in-place remodels, the top two features, perhaps because they’re easiest and cheapest to install, are grab bars in the bathroom and higher toilets.

Other popular design trends for remodels include installing stepless showers, widening doorways, and adding ramps, task lighting, entry-level bedrooms, and walk-in bathtubs.

Why Wait?

Despite the fact that these features are often necessary to make it possible for seniors to stay in their homes, Melman said that according to NAHB’s research, 68% of homeowners wait until an acute age-related disability to do remodeling.

“People wait until it’s urgent,” said Melman. “Everyone says they want to age in place, but they don’t want to remodel until the last minute.”

One of the challenges is to make age-in-place designs look fashionable and appealing, so that homeowners who don’t yet need these features won’t mind living with them in the meantime, and might even appreciate having them.

This means designing functional and attractive features that are usable both for the elderly or handicapped and for anyone else who wants safe and functional living quarters. After all, step-less showers are as nice for pregnant moms, small children, or hurried teenagers as they are for seniors.

“You want to have these features, but you don’t want it to look like a hospital or nursing home,” explained Melman.

Written By Vivian Wagner