The catch cry “Why wouldn’t you? is the three word tag used in promotional material to promote universal design in housing. A builder, and a building designer are calling their collaboration Project Silver. They are promoting Livable Housing Australia’s Silver Level for improved liveability. The mystery is if it would cost so little in the scheme of things, why aren’t the building designer and builder just doing it automatically?The catch cry should be to the builder – why wouldn’t you just do it? Then no-one would have to label the home as some kind of special design.
The six minute video (below) puts the case very well. It includes contributions from different people, including the mayor of the Sunshine Coast. It’s worth a watch. Another builder in Townsville is telling the same story.
Editor’s comment: The builder claims Silver Level costs an additional $3000 to potentially save $60,000.Possibly it is another way to sell an “extra” and therefore the customer pays over and above the actual cost of the features.
A research paper from Colorado State University brings together all the elements for successful ageing in place – universal design in housing, walkable and wheelable communities and a discussion on home and place, and what it means for residents. It shows how simply providing infrastructure is insufficient to support population ageing. While the situation is a little different in the US, the research supports Australian studies and the advocacy for universal design in housing. However, the recommendation for market incentives in terms of certification has not worked in Australia, save for the specialised homes specifically for people with disability. It is a similar situation in New Zealand. It has not produced mainstream uptake of accessible housing.
The tile of the report is, Colorado Lifelong Homes: A review of barriers and solutions for aging in place.
Abstract: Colorado’s aging population is growing, yet our housing options are not evolving to support this population. The need for housing that accommodates older adults as they age is crucial to balancing demands on other services, such as assisted living facilities, and to support successful and healthy aging. Most homes in our state are not built using principles of universal design that support successful aging in place. The outcomes of community and industry engagement activities show that advocating for lifelong housing is a critical step to help advance age-friendly housing in the state of Colorado. This paper summarizes key research and industry trends related to lifelong homes, the barriers in the marketplace, and the key qualities of lifelong homes. Based on this research, we present a path forward for advancing affordable, healthy, and safe home options for our growing population of older adults in Colorado and beyond.
The Housing Industry Association website has a page tucked away titled, Aesthetically Accessible. It shows how designing and constructing a bathroom can be “accessible to people of all abilities and ages”. And it is becoming much easier, “with more beautiful results than ever”. The key points for accessibility are discussed in the article with lots of pictures. Livable Housing Design Guidelines are mentioned, and so they should. HIA was one of the stakeholders in the development of the Guidelines. However, this is only one page relating to accessibility. More recent news on bathrooms returns to the regular design ideas and the importance of fashion trends and style inspiration without reference to the Guidelines. Universal design and inspired style are compatible – they are not mutually exclusive.
Editor’s comment: At the recent access consultants’ conference, the Chair of of LHA, Alex Waldron, said that LHA maintains its stance on voluntary adoption of the guidelines. This leads to the conclusion that they will not be supporting changes to the National Construction Code proposed by the Australian Building Codes Board.
A home builder in Queensland, is building Livable Housing Silver level homes and he wants everyone else to follow his lead. He has persuaded Townsville City Council and industry stakeholders to come together to make this possible. In a 9 minute video (below) various people explain the importance of Silver level to them. The best parts of the video are in the second half where Martin Locke shows how Silver level homes are modern and “normal”. One key point is that it shows there are no design or technical impediments for having Silver (or Gold) level in all new housing.
The video begins with several wheelchair users explaining their situation. But wheelchair users are only one part of the story of universal design in housing. The emphasis on wheelchair users is likely to perpetuate the idea that this is “disability housing” and this puts it in the “specialised housing” bracket. The Livable Housing Design Guidelines are about everyone, not just wheelchair users.
Locke believes Silver level can be rolled out without additional regulation. In theory this might be true. However, the evidence is not with him. The industry, particularly the mass market section, relies on regulation to hold the system together so that all the designers, engineers, and trades know what they are doing and can work in tandem.
The Australian Network for Universal Housing Design (ANUHD) supports Gold level of the Guidelines because these thoughtful features are good for everyone, and especially for older people and young children. Locke’s estimations of extra cost need further examination. For example, he doesn’t say why a level shower recess and level access into the home should cost more than current designs. If included as regular practice the cost, if any, would be negligible.
It’s great to see at least one community trying to make a difference in this space. Martin Locke and the Townsville City Mayor are to be congratulated for their efforts in bringing people together to show the way for the house-building industry.
Lifemark and BRANZ, the building research organisation in New Zealand, have produced a guideline titled Universal Design for Houses. The drawings and design ideas are based on wheelchair users. This is useful for understanding circulation space that’s good for wheelchair users and also good for everyone. However, not everything good for wheelchair users is good for everyone – so not exactly universal design. The guide is concise and has lots of graphs to illustrate design ideas. Topics include what’s legally required, getting in and out of the home, wet areas, kitchens, hardware and lifts in dwellings.
Here is the latest news from Australian Network for Universal Housing Design (ANUHD) on the Australian Building Codes Board project:
“The Australian Building Codes Board is undertaking a Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) for potential minimum accessibility standards for housing, to be applied through the National Construction Code (NCC).
Research into the role of State/Territory and Local Government planning policies which may relate to housing accessibility is now complete.
The research, conducted by SGS Economics and Planning on behalf of the ABCB, has identified many instances where planning policies are relevant to housing accessibility. The research has also identified variations in stringency, application and technical standards adopted, consistent with many of the views put forward regarding planning policy in responses to the Options Paper. Technical development of draft NCC provisions is still underway.
This work is being done in-house by the ABCB. Sourceable has an article giving an overview of the NCC and how it works.
The opentender process for the formal Regulation Impact Statement (RIS) has started and closes 29 July 2019.
Information is available on AusTender: All questions regarding the tender should be submitted though AusTender link. It is anticipated that the above work will be published in conjunction with the Consultation RIS.
ANUHD will continue to monitor the progress of this work. Stakeholders will be notified once the Consultation RIS is released.
Australian Network for Universal Housing Design (ANUHD) has a webpage with best case examples in housing design. ANUHD considers the minimum standard should be the Gold Level of the Livable Housing Design Guidelines. ANUHD invites additional examples for the webpage. There are three categories:
Universal design in mainstream housing – mass market and architect designed homes that will suit most people across their lifespan.
Universal design in housing for people with disability – Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA) for people with higher needs. Most include the Platinum level of the Livable Housing Design Guidelines.
The Dementia Enabling Environments website has a page on home designideas. Some of them are simple and cost nothing, but might not be obvious to the casual observer. The Adapt a House page has a floor plan of five rooms: living room, kitchen/dining, bedroom, bathroom and laundry. It’s interactive, so clicking on a room brings up more detail. For example, in the kitchen they suggest see-through doors on wall cabinets. If replacing an appliance, match it closely to the existing one. In the bedroom colour contrasts are important for finding the bed and other furniture. Block-out blinds on the windows help differentiate between day and night, especially in the summertime. There is lots more information and resources on the website.
The Dementia Enabling Environments web tool was developed by Alzheimer’s WA.
An article on an American home builder’s website has some good information and dispels many myths. The one about “ugly and costly” is dealt with well. While they are American designs, the principles apply elsewhere. The title of the article is, How Great Aging in Place Design Prepares you for a Llifetime. There are lots of examples on the website of kitchens and bathrooms. There is also a section titled Universal Design.
Editor’s comment: Few older people will use a wheelchair at home, but they might like to sit to do some tasks. So the idea of lower benches could be a mistake unless you know all home occupants are either of short stature or wheelchair users. All family members have to be catered for in a workplace such as the kitchen. Lower bench sections or adjustable height benches help here. A pull-out workboard in the drawer section of the cabinetry is also another way to provide a low workspace for children and others who might need it. Also, in Australia and elsewhere, few homes have the kind of space shown in the pictures to allocate to a kitchen, so designs need to be considerate of all likely kitchen users. Creativity is required. Lowering benches and not having under bench cupboards is the easy solution.
Australian Network for Universal Housing Design put out a call for good examples of universal design in housing. They haven’t vetted them, but they have put them into three categories. This is because people also submitted projects related to retirement living and specialist disability accommodation. You can decide for yourself if they meet universal design principles. ANUHD advocates for mainstream homes to be to Gold level of the Livable Housing Design Guidelines. The three categories are: