Designing homes for an ageing population
In recent blogs I have looked at the rising numbers and proportion of older people in the New Zealand population. Most Councils I work with are well aware that the type of houses built in the next decade will need to adjust to reflect changing market needs.
The market just needs to come to the same realisation.
Housing design will have to change too.
The physical effects of ageing will need to become more important in house design. Household features to assist older people could and can include smart assistive technology and modifications to help mobility, hearing or sight impairment e.g video-entry phones and speed controls on auditory output.
But there is also opportunity to make some very basic building changes like handrails, ramps or street-level entrances (no steps), panels rather than toggle light switches, brighter task lighting, wider interior doorways and falls, more accessible driveways and bathrooms, plus street-level entrances.
Some Councils are taking extra steps to future-proof their housing. An interesting case study is the City of Vancouver. Vancouver is unusual in Canada because it has its own building code.
Known for its socially forward-thinking and “green” approach to city management, Vancouver recently introduced building guidelines that require all new housing to be senior and disabled friendly.
While actively promoting initiatives such as co-housing, rent banks and laneway housing, Vancouver has now banned door knobs in new private homes and apartment buildings.
Starting in March 2014, the doors of new buildings will be opened by easier-to-use and ergonomic lever handles. And door knobs are not the only simple household item that has been outlawed. Levers will also be required on water taps, light switches will be placed lower on walls and power outlets higher.
The host of adjustments to the Vancouver building code are not aimed solely at an ageing population, they are driven in spirit by a concept called universal design – an admirable ideal where built environments are barrier free, designed so that they are able to be used by the majority irrespective of age or capability.
I would be very interested in hearing of any similar initiatives by New Zealand or Australian Councils.
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