Meeting the demands of Boomers and seniors with homes built to support longevity
By Bonnie Lewis
It’s a fact. Americans are getting older. America’s largest generation, Baby Boomers, are now more than 50 years old and 74.6 million-strong. Couple that with the fact that more than 70 percent of all homeowners are 50-years-old or older, and the importance of aging-in-place design becomes clear.
After all, homeownership is the American dream, and those who reach it want to live it for as long as possible. Aging-in-place design helps them do that with homes that offer safer floorplans, and finishes and fixtures that support the homeowner as they get older and experience the natural aging process.
The Power of Aging-in-Place Design
Homebuilders hold a powerful position in the United States. What they do can actually support longevity for the people who buy their homes. Innovation and leadership is the key.
By incorporating simple but impactful design elements into their floor plans, homebuilders can change the pattern of life for homeowners, reducing the risk of falling, offering support for the natural aging process, and helping Americans live in the home they love even longer.
Homebuilders should consult with accredited aging-in-place designers, like myself, to ensure that new homes are built to the proper specifications to fulfill the long-term needs of the 50-plus homebuyer.
Increasing Demand for Aging-in-Place Design
In 2015, 41 percent of homebuyers were over the age of 50. Of those, approximately 30 percent between the ages of 50 and 68 expected to live in their homes for 16 years or more, according to a report by Realtor.org.
With an eye toward the future, 50-plus homebuyers are creating new home-buying trends that indicate their preference for a home that will support them in the years to come, including the desire for single-story homes and homes with first-floor bedrooms, asking for homes with elevators instead of stairs, and seeking out communities that build to their needs.
How Can Homebuilders Incorporate Aging-in-Place Design?
As a Boomer and senior living interior designer and an accredited aging-in-place specialist, I leverage my experience in of art and science to create home designs that meet the needs of homeowners as they age and builders as they create functional homes for the future.
It begins with a well-planned, scientific approach that incorporates functional space planning.
Key elements for aging-in-place design include creating open space in the home. Going beyond the common open-concept floor plan, aging-in-place design focuses on eliminating congested areas, maximizing light and enabling accessibility.
Homebuilders should create floor plans with a focus on building clear passageways, implementing appropriate height restrictions for countertops, installing the correct finishes, and planning for common occurrences, such as the need to live on a single floor with a main living area that includes a full bath and, ideally, a bedroom.
Ample turning space is a key element. Living rooms, kitchens, bedrooms and bathrooms should offer at least a five-foot-by-five-foot turning space, even once furnished. That means planning wider entries and more spacious rooms.
Flooring is also a crucial factor in aging-in-place design. Hard-surface flooring, like tile and wood, should be durable, smooth and slip-resistant to assist mobility. Carpets should be short, hard and even to prevent tripping. No-barrier thresholds should be a standard throughout the home.
Putting the Focus on Fixed Elements and Fixtures
To create a safe, functional bathroom, the design should focus on the sink, toilet and shower for ease of movement and walker and wheelchair access.
Kitchen design can also be adjusted for aging-in-place by relocating appliances up from the floor and down from overhead areas. For precise positioning and layout, it’s best to consult an accredited aging-in-place designer.
Finding the Right Furniture for Aging in Place
Furniture is a key element. Wider, stable furniture is desired. Chairs and couches should be firm and fitted to offer physical support.
Proper color choice can help mitigate the effects of certain, common types of visual impairment. Varying the color selection distinguishes the beginning and end of pieces so that edges are recognizable.
Now and in the future, the topic of aging-in-place design should be at the forefront of homebuilding-industry discussions, as we work together to provide boomers and seniors with what they need to live long and independent lives in the homes they love.