Miami Green Homes

Age in Place, Part II: Connect-ability

This post is building on the previous post – Age in Place – Increased focus of future design. Another key aspect to aging in place is to look beyond the actual building or space itself, and consider the larger context the living space is sitting in. In order to have a functioning aging in place concept, the occupant must be able to interact with basic services and obtain daily needs in an accessible fashion. Setting a well structured and support aging in place community in a remote parcel with separated living, working and support zones, will likely require a vehicle or other transportation to properly provide all the essential needs. IN order to truly embrace the concept, dependability on a car or vehicular transportation should be reduced or eliminated. To achieve this, locations must be walking friendly and feature amenities that are useful to the aging population, beyond those of other desirable walkable communities. A great site to check the walkability of any location is: WalkScore. The higher the score, the more integrated a location is.

Of course there are certain services related to the aging populous, that are unlikely to be in walking distance, such as hospitals and other medical providers. Here the connection to public transit can be key to a successful location. Personal vehicles have a decreased value for the aging in place group. Parking spaces and structures limit opportunities for walking, biking and other low impact outside activities. The Smart City Challenge has some great ideas about transportation; find it HERE.

Parks and other shares spaces in close proximity will further enhance the concept of a well integrated or even planned community. Urban planners and architects have for decades attempted to create communities that could work by design. The Congress of New Urbanism has in recent times made great advances in the planning approaches. More can be read HERE. The CNU is a great starting point to learn more about urban and community planning. Technology and infrastructure are yet another angle to the aging in place living and will be covered in a future post.

Age in Place – Increased focus of future design

With a growing portion of the population living longer, aging in place is receiving increased focus beyond the healthcare industry. City planners, service providers and designers are all becoming aware of adjustments that are required in the fabric of everyday life to accommodate the needs and preferences of an aging populous. I have received an increase in design focused questions towards this topic and believe that its importance, particularly in the residential renovation and addition marked, has only begun to take hold of the profession.

As architects we are already entrusted with the general welfare of our clients. While this generally relates to building code related items, the proper setup of design issues is the focus of this post.

ADA – the “Americans With Disabilities” Act, already is doing a fine job regulating and encouraging safe environments in public and commercial spaces. Ramps, grab bars, accessible counters and preferred parking are standard in our everyday life. Many of these concepts can be translated into the residential sector, but are at this time not required by code.

So what are some of the key features to look out for in a home project? To start, I like to focus on access. Creating spaces that have enough clearance as well as an ease of access are key. Many design programs feature a great master suite on a second or elevated floor and also request a smaller guest suite, typically located on the ground level. I recommend to make the latter a 2nd master suite, eventually changing the uses, when climbing the stairs becomes too cumbersome for the primary occupant.

Bathrooms. Provide additional bracing in the walls to allow to add handrails and grab bars when the time comes. Drywall will not support anchoring these items, resulting in a full demolition of the existing walls, if not planned for, and documented, during a previous construction/ (PS: also consider adding backing for televisions, as an increase in weight of TV’s and brackets will also not be handled by drywall).

Counter spaces should be designed to allow easy access, eventual for a wheelchair, if needed. Solid vanities do not function in this manner. Floating counters are a beautiful design feature that also allow floor clearance. Similar counter consideration should be taken the kitchen. Not just the working counter, but also the height of appliances should be considered.

Smart houses are really a great way to help with age in place design. As more technology finds its way into our lives, it is easy to connect most lights, appliances and systems to operate away from switches through the devices we already use. An added benefit to a connected smart home is the connection, or connectability, to outside sources, such as family and emergency responders. Networks will undoubtedly grow in the future and adding the required infrastructure is easy and affordable during construction.