Aging-in-Place as Sustainable Living

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Above: Conceptual sketch for a sustainable/universal design home: single level, daylighting, high efficiency features, independent living on one level, large porches that encourage outside activities. Link to gallery of photos on this home

“We want this to be our forever place and work for us, as we age.”

The beginning of a three-part series inspired by a Leadership Texas Conference on Health and Wellness (research reprinted with permission from Stanford Center for Longevity):


Our architectural firm is hearing the statement above more frequently than ever before from clients. After some demographic and marketing research,we determined that this is not just our trend; it’s a paradigm shift in housing needs for the entire U.S., which we noticed a number of years ago from our clients. If you want your current home or the one you will design in the future to be flexible for your continuous use, an understanding of the phenomena of “aging in place” and Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORC) is important (in Part 3).

East Texas Lake Home, a sustainable/universal design, has main living area on one level; guest area on second level; large doors and openings; hard floor surfaces for ease in maneuvering; floors and porches at same level with minimum thresholds

Findings from The Stanford Center on Longevity

Longevity is not just about the elderly. Young people today are the first in human history who can — with reasonable certainty — anticipate very long lives. Changes in life span and shifts in population demographics affect people’s lives at all ages. The implications are profound, and there is no single problem or solution. There needs to be a national conversation about long life because of the economic, employment, and resource allocations are beginning to result in stresses throughout our society.

The Stanford Center on Longevity is asking the same questions that we, as architects, are posing to our clients when they discuss their new designs with us:

1. When our clients undertake new designs, how can we prepare their homes for continuous use as their needs change with family size and age?

2. What kind of neighborhood infrastructure is necessary to support young adults so that they can reach old age physically fit, mentally sharp and financially secure?

3. What do our older clients who will also live far longer than the role models who preceded them need in their new or retro-fitted designs?

4. How can we as architects assist our clients who want to ‘age in place’ and stay in their homes in comfort and security?

Trends to Follow for Aging in Place

“Aging in place” refers to staying where you already live and retrofitting your home to accommodate you as you age. It is not about moving to a healthcare facility. But rather finding products and services which allow you to remain in your home safely, as health diminishes.

You’ve Got Options as you Age

The essence of home is to feel safe in an environment where you have the ability to control and enjoy your experiences. However, aging can lead to the reduction in physical abilities and loss of “environmental competence”–or the ability to get around, see obstacles, and conduct your daily routine. Later in life the home you love can become difficult to live in, even unsafe.

The good news is that with a growing number of housing modification options: care giving, assistive technologies, aging in place tips, and green strategies, the home may actually serve to maintain independence by compensating for reduced functioning–as well as help the environment for future generations. The better news is that if you start with a new design that considers your future needs from the beginning as a young adult, taking into account the principles of universal design, not only do have a good real estate investment, you can stay ‘in place’ as long as you desire. With all the concerns about where Mom and Dad should spend their retirement years, often the last option explored is perhaps the simplest: to stay right at home. After all, if the comforts of home also provide the comforts you need in old age, within affordable, convenient and familiar surroundings, then why should it be necessary to leave?

Low maintenance design and landscaping for a single level home

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reports modification for aging-in-place is the fastest growing segment of the residential industry. The NAHB in collaboration with AARP developed the Certified Aging-in-Place Specialists (CAPS) program to meet the increasing demand by seniors and baby boomers for barrier-free living environments. Architects have been required for years to understand accessibility and ‘universal design,’ as these are basic licensing requirements. Here is AARP‘s guide for modification of existing homes.

The requests of my parents when they were alive was that they live in their home until the end of their lives. They got to do it, because their home was designed by an architect who understood universal design–my dad was a disabled veteran of WWII. We all deserve to live in dignity and safety in our homes, until the end of lives, if this is what we want. Steve Chambers, AIA

(Information in this article reprinted with permission from the Stanford for Longevity)

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