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Aging in Place- 5 Items for New Homes

by Louis on October 29, 2010

Iwas on a call today with some of the key Universal Design experts and advocates preparing for the special UD day planned by the 50+ Council for this year’s International Builder’s Show in Orlando January 12. It is a great and energetic group. UD is coming of age!

During the call I looked up a ‘list’ I wrote a few years ago. It is not outdated so I am pasting it here.

5 Easy Ways to Integrate Aging in Place into New Construction
Aging in Place features in housing help assure that we maintain control over where we live and consequently when we eat, when we go to bed and who visits.. Too often we are forced from our homes when health changes occur. The proper environment can help avoid or mitigate these changes.
Design features for Aging in Place are not complex difficult or expensive. Five considerations that are easy to understand and almost free to implement are listed below.
1. No step entries. Primarily accomplished when setting grade.
a.    Slab on grade construction. Recess the doorsill to avoid a bump. Make sure a drain or cover keeps rain or snow from entering.
b.   An outer block course isolates wood framing from earth.
c.    Garage slabs slope from the doorway so spills run out of the structure.
2. Better located and easy to use controls and handles.
a.    Raise electrical plugs so people don’t pull the cord if it is too hard to bend at the knees, waist or elbow.
b.   Dacora type switches are easier for arthritic (and full) hands, Locate below 40” above the floor so sore shoulders and elbows don’t limit use.
c.    HVAC controls should have large numerals, easy and intuitive operation and be kept low like the switches.
d.   Lever door handles and ‘D’ shaped cabinet handles are easy to use with stiff fingers.
3. Bathrooms that support independent use and easy caregiving.
a.    Maneuvering space so devices like walkers, crutches and wheelchairs can be used and a caregiver can help.
b.   A seated option for using the sink.
c.    Grab bar blocking. Even better, install three quarter inch plywood wall liners too, for additional bars and locations. No towel bars. Grab bars can be towels, but the converse is not true.
d.   Tubs are not wrong. They can be used safely with grab bars, seats, a handheld shower and ergonomic training.
e.    The option for a curbless shower with flexible water dam is a good idea. Another great idea is a floor drain outside the tub so a curbless shower is also available.
4. Maneuvering space throughout the home.
a.    Hallway width and turning spaces should be expanded. Doorways need to be 2’-8” minimum clearance ( 2’-10” doors). Think about getting a car from a narrow alley into a narrow garage. That is similar to maneuvering with mobility aids.
b.    In the kitchen
c.    A full bath and bedroom on the main floor (second floors and basements may not always be used by every  resident.
5. Better lighting throughout
a.    Task lighting for reading, cooking, makeup, shaving, etc.
b.   General lighting. Dimmers help avoid glare and insure proper lighting for each situation. Multiple controls reduce the need to cross the room to turn lights on or off.
c.     Soft lighting for night trips to the bathroom.

These features do not require special trades or unusual techniques. A few products are special order. Most are everyday things installed a little differently.
Communication to assure follow through from concept to concrete, tile and wood is very important. Sometimes implementing Aging in Place features is problematic. Two difficulties are:
• field personnel revert to standard procedure because they do not fully understand the changes or the reasons for them
• the difficulty is overestimated so the wheel is re-invented and bizarre or unattractive solutions result.

Aging in Place features that can easily be included in new construction are not rocket science. Builders who want to differentiate their product and serve their client’s true interest will adopt these modest changes to get ahead of the crowd.

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