Growing Market for Design Features Aimed at Aging in Place; Remodeling Activity Up

This article follows “Will the Nation Go Broke Paying for Seniors Housing & Long-Term Care?” as Senior Housing News explores alternative housing options for seniors.

When given the choice, many seniors prefer to stay in their homes rather than move into a nursing home or other sorts of retirement communities, and to facilitate this, houses need to be remodeled or include designs from the outset that allow for aging in place.

Although homebuilding levels are slowly recovering from 2007’s housing market crash, according to the National Association of Home Builders, the remodeling business is in full swing, says Aaron Murphy of ADM Architecture, LLC, a licensed architect who is a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS).

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CAPS certification, a program that was developed and launched by the Remodelers of the NAHB in 2011, in collaboration with the NAHB Research Center, NAHB 50+ Council, and AARP, teaches a variety of professionals including remodelers, contractors, designers, architects, and healthcare consultants “strategies and techniques for designing and building barrier-free living environments,” according to the NAHB.

To aid aging in place, there are many design features and products that enable seniors to remain safely in their homes. Murphy says the contractors and remodelers he knows are getting very busy with a lot of age-related business.

Remodeling trends

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Remodeling activity hit a low point in the fourth quarter of 2008, but it’s trended steadily upward in the past three years. Remodeling sentiment rose to its highest level in five years in the fourth quarter of 2011, as the Remodeling Market Index increased to 46.6, up from the third quarter’s 41.7, according to the NAHB.

The higher rate of activity stems from consumers remaining in their homes rather than moving in this economy, says NAHB Remodelers chairman Bob Peterson, CGR, CAPS, CGP.

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Source: NAHB 2011

With many seniors financially unprepared for long-term care costs, aging-in-place can be an affordable alternative to moving into a retirement community.

A recent NAHB survey revealed that 68% of remodelers are already performing aging-in-place remodeling, with the most commonly requested features including grab bars, higher toilets, curbless showers, wider doorways, ramps or lower threshold, and task lighting.

Bathrooms and kitchens are the two main areas of a house that need special consideration.

Making the bathroom a safer place can include installing grab bars around toilets and in shower areas, or putting in non-slip floors, or placing special fall-protection mats in strategic areas.

In kitchens, some modifications include lower counters that are accessible for people in wheelchairs, drawer-style dishwashers, and appliances with automatic shut-off features.

There’s also been growth with residential elevators, Murphy says. “Things we used to see in commercial property types are making their way into the residential field.”

Design aspects that should be included

There needs to be forward thinking for new construction, though, especially as home construction starts to pick up again, says Murphy.

Nationwide production of new single-family homes and apartments increased 1.5% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of nearly 700,000 units in January, according to figures from the U.S. Commerce Department, and the average number of housing starts has now increased for nine consecutive months, according to NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe.

“So far, I’m not seeing Universal Design implemented very often; we’d be talking about it more if builders were building more,” Murphy tells SHN. “When they do build again, they have to pay attention to industry trends.”

Part of Universal Design is to design products and environments that are usable to all people, without the need for adaptation, according to NAHB’s website.

Places need to be navigable for wheelchairs or other ambulatory aids, meaning wider doorways and hallways.

This is especially true in bathrooms, says Murphy; there needs to be accessibility around the toilet for those with ambulatory impairments, along with non-slip surfaces and zero-threshold showers.

It’s also helpful to include the master suite on the main floor, according to the architect, and going a step further, smart designs for aging-in-place include one-level homes, rather than multiple- or split-level dwellings.

“Except for the 1950s ranch-style home, none of the other homes we’ve designed in the last one hundred years fits where this population is going, with the silver tsunami,” says Murphy.

That’s not to say that homes needs to be specifically geared toward a geriatric generation.

“Good Universal Designs disappears. It doesn’t have to feel institutional,” he says.

Written by Alyssa Gerace

Coming soon: A closer look into specific products and design trends for senior living, both at home and in facilities.

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