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Aging in Place

How can architects and designers utilize Universal Design principles to help aging homeowners remain independent for longer?

According to AARP’s 2021 Home and Community Preferences Survey, 77% of adults over 50 would like to remain in their homes for the long term. However, one-third of polling participants indicated that they would need to modify their current house before it would be safe enough for them to age in. While it’s usually simple to add a grab bar next to the toilet, other necessary changes, such as turning a tub/shower into a zero-entry shower or adding an additional first-floor bedroom, are much larger projects that would have to be started well before a homeowner needed it. How can architects design homes from the beginning that allow people to stay independent in their homes for longer?

This idea of designing for a broader user audience is called Universal Design. While it’s rarely possible to design for 100% of people, Universal Design encourages designers to push the boundaries of everyday objects and environments to be more inclusive and comfortable for as many user groups as possible.

Recently, we partnered with Roost Builders to design The Phoenix, a modular housing development located in Cincinnati, Ohio. One of our key design missions in this project was to consider what differently-abled residents would need in a home. We worked hard to include many safety features that would make the houses accessible and comfortable for a broader user group.

On the exterior of the home, we included ramp access from the garage to the first floor and designed the front porch and rear deck to be at floor level, allowing wheelchair or walker access without the barrier of stairs.

Street view rendering of the Phoenix

On the interior of the project, we included a first-floor bedroom and full bathroom with a zero-entry shower – a shower that doesn’t require a step up to enter, removing the trip hazard posed by a traditional tub/shower. On a micro level, we included lever door handles, which are easier to grab and turn than a round doorknob, and the ADA standard 36-inch-wide doors in every room. Another design effort we made was to include good lighting throughout the interior and wide spaces whenever possible to allow for maximum mobility and visibility.

Level 1 floor plan of the Phoenix, highlighted areas indicate Universal Design elements

If aging at home is a priority, keep some of these things in mind early on when looking for a forever home, or plan early on to begin the process of making these safety modifications to your current house. A few months of working with an architect and builder can add years of comfortable living to your home!


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