Get Educated

Many industry resources are available to assist builders, remodelers, and architects in learning about universal design and aging in place. They include:

  • Institute for Human Centered Design;
  • The Ronald L. Mace Universal Design Institute;
  • National Aging in Place Council;
  • AARP's Home Design information center;
  • NAHB Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist designation program;
    Aging in Place Initiative;
  • ToolBase Services Aging-in-Place Design Checklists.

    Vowels recommends the NAHB's CAPS program as a starting point for builders and remodelers serious about entering the aging-in-place market. "It introduces you to working with the aging population and the seven principles of universal design," he explains. "It's probably the best starting place, and it gives you credentials. Anyone can say they know how to do something, but if you learn a few more tricks, you have more value."

    In addition to professional education and certification, Stahr recommends consulting with specialists in universal design and aging in place and creating a team of experts on which builders can rely. AARP's Levner suggests that builders also reach out to local occupational therapist associations, such as a chapter of The American Occupational Therapy Association. "Occupational therapists are terrific at assessing how people interact with their environments," she says.

    Emphasize Design and Aesthetics

    Acknowledging the reality of the aging process is difficult for many Baby Boomers, who may have visions of spending their retirement pursuing many activities and having adventures rather than accumulating ailments. So it can be challenging to get them to think about the possibility that they may develop physical limitations or mobility problems that can make getting around their home a daily hassle. In some cases, the better part of valor may be simply incorporating universal design without pointing it out to clients who can't envision themselves needing to navigate their homes using a walker or wheelchair, even temporarily. Subtlety and attractive design are key.

    "You don't tell people that you're installing the best, newest GFCI outlet. You just do it," Tenenbaum points out. Similarly, with universal design, "You just create an attractive entry that doesn't happen to have steps, create a beautiful bathroom that doesn't have a curb in the shower, and install grab bars that are attractive and happen to be well-anchored and ADA-compliant."

    For homeowners not ready to transform their homes fully for aging in place, James Bateman, CAPS, manager of Fairfax, Va.-based Bateman Custom Construction, recommends designing elements that can be easily modified in the future to provide accessibility, such as wall blocking for grab bars and stacked closets for elevator shafts.

    How you speak about universal design features also can affect how clients perceive their current and future value. Vowels emphasizes design, rather than universal, aspects. "I don't use the term 'ramp,'" he says. "Instead I use 'stepless grade changes.' I don't talk to people about 'roll-in showers,' I talk about 'curbless European showers.' It sounds more interesting, and people want to know more about it."

    To win over design-savvy clients, universal design and aging-in-place features need to be seamlessly integrated into a home's overall design. The best universal design is invisible. Homeowners and their guests should notice only the home's good looks and how easy it is to navigate and operate.

    For more information on the aging-in-place remodeling market, see the recent survey by the NAHB Remodelers' Council.

    To read the full results of AARP's survey of the economy's effect on age 50-plus housing choices, click here.