Universal design and existing homes

Modifications are different to renovations and they are not usually chosen willingly. Modifications are often work-arounds – a ramp here, a grabrail there and a rubber wedge for good luck. These tacked-on fittings fail to add value to a home and that’s why they are removed after they are needed. So we need universal design in existing homes when thinking about modifications.

Home Mods App logo with stylised spanner looking like a person with their arms in the air.DIY (Do It Yourself) is a popular activity for home-owners especially with places like Bunnings that have everything you could possibly need.  But what renovations should people think about for their later years? UNSW has devised a free App to answer that question.

Builders and building supply businesses should also find this app very useful. The App shows how to select products and how to install them in an easy step-by-step way that allows homeowners to choose the cheapest options that suit them best. 

Home Mods – costs and gains

A man in a bright yellow T shirt is painting and archway in a wall inside a home. The wall is grey and there are tools on the floor. Accessible housing, costs and gains.The need for all new homes to have basic universal design features will continue to increase as the population ages. Evaluating the costs and gains of modifying homes is the subject of an article from Europe, Improved Housing Accessibility for Older People in Sweden and Germany: Short Term Cost and Long -Term Gains.

The authors claim that even if the costs are large, they are one time costs. Whereas costs for home services will continue. This article by Slaug, Chiatti, Oswald, Kaspar and Schmidt was originally downloaded from ResearchGate.

The personal value of home modifications is measured in quality of life and health outcomes. Research by Phillippa Carnemolla found that home modifications reduced care hours substantially. 

Costs? or Savings?

A man kneels on the floor, he is laying floor tiles.Lesley Curtis and Jennifer Beecham claim that the expertise of occupational therapists can help save money in health budgets as well as improve the lives of people needing assistance at home. Their article is about home modifications and identifying the hidden savings in providing home adaptations. They argue that significant savings can be made if you tally all aspects into the calculations. The article is available from Sage Publications. You will need institutional access for a free read. The title is, “A survey of local authorities and Home Improvement Agencies: Identifying the hidden costs of providing a home adaptations service”. Or try ResearchGate and ask for a copy. 

 

What an accessible home looks like

As more builders get the hang of the Livable Housing Design guidelines, the more creative the designs. And the more we see the concept of universal design in action.  Too many people associate accessibility with ugly public bathrooms, but the pictures below show that’s not the case. They show what an accessible home looks like. 

Good examples of universal design are difficult to find. Because universal design is invisible until pointed out, pictures alone do not tell the story. 

Thanks to Taylor’d Distinction for allowing the use of their pictures. They are based on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. Looking forward to the day when there is no need to have a separate section for “accessible housing”. It should be considered mainstream. After all, how many of us can invite a wheelchair basketballer into our home? See more on the quest for mainstream universally designed housing

Kitchen with white benches contrasting with the light brown floor.

Contrast between floor and benches

Kitchen island bench with timber finish giving colour contrast.
Timber finish contrast with kitchen bench
Bathroom design with dark tiles and floor and white bath and vanity bench.
Vanity bench has easy access
A white Labrador dog lays at the opening to the level access alfresco.
Level access alfresco
A stainless steel level handle.
Lever handles good for poor dexterity
Shower recess with half screen and hand held shower.
Shower recess with half screen
View into the bathroom through a wide door.
Wide doors throughout
Level access to the outdoors.
Level access to the outdoors
Light switches with large rockers.
Larger rocker switches easy to use
Laundry with white fittings. Washer and Dryer raised up.
Raised washer and dryer good for all backs

A view of the kitchen showing the bench height over and access to another room.Circulation space and bench height oven

Timber staircase with handrails both sides.
Handrails both sides for safety
A person with a four-wheeled walker rolls over the level threshold.
Level threshold gives access for all

 

Adaptable Housing Guide

Front cover of Your Home manual.The National Construction Code will introduce accessible features for all new housing in 2022. In the meantime, the old Adaptable Housing Standard (AS4299) will continue to be referenced.

Your Home was published online in 2013 by the Australian Government. It has a section on the livable and adaptable house. This guide is especially helpful for home renovations and modifications. 

There are many detailed diagrams to help explain design features and floor plans. The chapter makes distinctions between livable, accessible and adaptable designs. Reference to the public building access standard (AS1428.1) for an “accessible” home can lead to institutional designs that lack design creativity. AS1428.1 was not intended for application in residential dwellings, which is one of the reasons the Livable Housing Design Guidelines were developed. 

Introduction: Many people, when building a new home, anticipate spending a number of years, if not decades, living in it. Others may conceive of a shorter stay. Whatever the intention, any new home is likely to have to accommodate changing needs over its lifetime. A livable and adaptable house is one that is able to respond effectively to these needs without requiring costly and energy intensive alterations.

Designing homes with dementia in mind

Graphic showing the design process.
The design process

In most cases, designing homes with dementia in mind does not mean a special type of design.  It’s not news that people prefer to live at home as they age. So, universal design for dementia-friendly dwellings helps people live at home for as long as possible. However, for some people with dementia this can prove challenging for them and their family members.

Once basic accessibility features are considered, as they should be in all homes, it’s about the details. The research that underpins the guidelines for dementia friendly dwellings found four key design principles:

      1. Integrated into the neighbourhood
      2. Easy to approach, enter and move about in
      3. Easy to understand, use and manage
      4. Flexible, safe, cost effective and adaptable over time

Heading for the Dementia Design GuideThe Dementia Friendly Dwellings Guideline is from Ireland, but the good ideas are not country specific. The online resource produced by the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design is divided into separate downloadable sections: 

      1. Home location and approach
      2. Entering and moving around
      3. Spaces for living
      4. Elements and systems

The Dementia Friendly Dwellings Guidelines complement Universal Design Guidelines for Homes in Ireland and are intended as a first step in raising awareness. They provide a flexible framework for designers to apply the guidelines creatively to all new home types through incremental steps.

 

Good Design for Social Housing

Front cover of the social housing brochure. A woman sits on the edge of a raised garden bed.Good design for social housing creates neighbourhoods where people feel they belong. The NSW Government has produced a four page brochure outlining their goals for social housing. Wellbeing, Belonging, Value and Collaboration are keywords. There is no explicit mention of universal design principles in this document, but there is in the one that links with it. This is the one on dwelling requirements for good design in social housing.

The more detailed document of dwelling requirements leads with legislation and codes. It follows with Universal Design Principles. They require all new stock to apply a minimum level of Silver as outlined in the Livable Housing Design Guidelines. Each development may require a percentage of Gold level as well.

The document goes on to provide unit and room dimensions. If the NSW Government can design Silver and even Gold into these relatively small areas then everyone else can too. There’s more detail in this 5 page document that covers siting, gardens, utilities and more. 

The documents are titled, Good Design for Social Housing, and Dwelling Requirements

The NSW Government Architect has also introduced a universal design approach into its overarching document, Better Placed. While the term “universal design” is not used explicitly, it is inherent in the way the document is written. 

 

Better Apartment Design Standards

Front cover of standard with internal view of an apartment.The Victorian Government has updated the Better Apartment Design Standards. The aim is to make surrounding neighbourhoods better as well as the dwellings. There is also a section on accessibility at the end. The policy’s main aims are:

      1. More green space
      2. Designing for families
      3. More durable and better quality materials
      4. Attractive and safe street frontages

A community fact sheet gives a good overview and there is a separate one for industry and councilsThere is a short video on their website explaining the changes.

The final draft report has more detail, and as always with these guideline documents, accessibility is tacked on at the end. However, it has some useful guidance and encourages 50% of dwellings to have the following:

• A clear opening width of at least 850mm at the entrance to the dwelling and main bedroom.
• A clear path with a minimum width of 1.2 metres that connects the dwelling entrance to the main bedroom, an adaptable bathroom and the living area.
• A main bedroom with access to an adaptable bathroom.
• At least one adaptable bathroom.

Some of the floor plans look to be based on the old Adaptable Housing Standard (AS4299) rather than the more flexible Livable Housing Design standard. 

Case studies of universally designed homes

Max and Tricia stand at their doorway which reflects their love of Japanese design.Lifemark in New Zealand has several good case studies of universally designed homes. Some are modest homes and some are more upmarket.

The latest edition of their newsletter features a spacious home with great views. The owners, Max and Tricia have an interesting story to tell. Max is a mechanical engineer who taught environmental and spatial home design to architecture students. He knew about accessibility but not heard of universal design. Turns out that one of Max’s students in 1995 became the designer of their new home. The story of Max and Tricia has some nice detail and pictures in the article. 

Not everyone has money to spend on a “grand design”, but it doesn’t have to be grand to be universally designed and suitable for everyone.  Lifemark has a gallery of homes designed with universal design principles on their website. There’s also some examples of retrofits. 

delete page https://universaldesignaustralia.net.au/case-study-of-a-ud-home/

Apartment Design Guides: Victoria, NSW & SA

Front cover of standard with internal view of an apartment.Here are three apartment design guides: Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia. 

Reference to accessibility is the last item in the list of design considerations in this 2021 apartment guide from Victoria. However, it is a good reference with technical advice. Victoria says 50% of apartments should have as a minimum:

    • A clear door opening of at least 850mm at the entrance and main bedroom
    • A clear path of 1200mm between entrance and main bedroom, bathroom and living area
    • A main bedroom with access to an accessible bathroom
    • At least one accessible or adaptable bathroom

front cover of the apartment design guide.The NSW Department of Planning Apartment Design Guide includes a small section on universal design (P 118). In the design guidance section, it refers to the Livable Housing Design Guidelines (Silver Level, equivalent to visitability).  However, it suggests a proportional number (20%), which means universal design is not universally applied. Consequently, this becomes specialised housing rather than mainstream housing. The old Adaptable Housing Standard (AS4299) is also referenced. The new apartment guide replaces the NSW Residential Flat Design Code. The guide was published in 2015.

Photo used for front cover of guide. It shows an outdoor area similar to a veranda.The Housing for Life: Designed for Living guide was developed for the South Australian Government. Population ageing and ageing well polices underpin the report and guide. The features and factors that older people identified as important are documented as well as industry perspectives. It also outlines the economic arguments for considering the housing needs of older people. Examples of floor plans are included in the 2019 report which is 16 pages in PDF.

Healthy Home Guide

View of the website landing page.Joining the dots between all aspects of physical and social sustainability is important for a healthy life and a healthy planet. Central to this is the design of our homes. The Healthy Housing Design Guide from New Zealand says they need to be durable, efficient in size and cost, and friendly to the occupants and the environment.

The three bar menu icon on the landing page of this online resource takes you to the content of the Guide. Universal Design leads in the table of contents. This is pleasing as most other guides leave it to a last thought at the end. The design detail features wheelchair users for circulation spaces, which, of course are good for everyone. Among the interesting images is a lower storage draw doubling as a step for child to reach the kitchen bench. The case studies focus on energy efficiency and sustainability.

This is a comprehensive document starting with universal design, site and location, through to air quality and acoustics and ending with certifications. The Guide characterises a healthy home by the acronym HEROES:

      • Healthy: Promoting optimal health and wellbeing through its design, resilience, and efficiency.
      • Efficient: Size and space, affordable and energy positive for the life of the building.
      • Resilient: Resilient enough to withstand earthquakes and climatic conditions. Durable to stand the test of time.
      • On purpose:  Designed specifically with Heroes in mind and fit for purpose.
      • Environmental: Socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable to build and run. Considerate of Climate Change.
      • Sustainable: Meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

The style of the website is pleasing but the landing page gives little idea to navigation. It says “Welcome” and then asks visitors to stay super involved. There is a bar with an arrow to go to the Foreword. The navigation is via the three bar menu icon at the top left of the page. 

Editor’s note: I first thought that I had to sign up to get access because the first thing my cursor met was “Stay Super Involved”. It was not obvious to me that the three bar menu icon was the entry point. I later found, when writing this post, that there is a tab on the right hand side of the webpage that takes you page by page. It would be interesting to know if this document is accessible for screen readers.

The video from the launch of the guide takes you through the content. Universal Design gets a mention at the 25 minute mark. It is introduced by Henry McTavish.

Ageing in Place: A timely book

Front cover of the Ageing in Place Book.Across the globe, older people want to stay put as they age. They do not aspire to residential care and are also moving away from the retirement village model. But are our planners, designers and builders listening? COVID-19 pandemic is also challenging established policy about where older people want to live. “Ageing in Place” is a timely book.

Bruce Judd, a long time Australian researcher in this area, is the editor of a new book, Ageing in Place: Design, Planning and Policy Response in the Western Asia-Pacific. The book looks at ageing in place in built environments in Japan, China, Taiwan, Australia and NZ. 

From the book review:

“Encouraging older people to age in place in their own homes is a common response internationally to the economic and social demands of population ageing. It is recognized that the nature of the built environment at various scales is critical to optimizing the social participation and wellbeing of older people and hence in facilitating ageing in place. This insightful book showcases a range of design, planning and policy responses to ageing populations from across the rapidly changing and dynamic Western Asia-Pacific region.

Ageing in Place considers diverse cultural, political and environmental contexts and responses to show that regional governments, industries and communities can gain, as well as offer, important insights from their international counterparts. With significant changes in caring, family dynamics and the supporting roles of governments in both Eastern and Western societies, the chapters demonstrate a clear and increasingly convergent preference for and promotion of ageing in place and the need for collaborative efforts to facilitate this through policy and practice.

The unique geographical focus and multi-disciplinary perspective of this book will greatly benefit academic researchers and students from a variety of backgrounds including architecture, urban planning, sociology and human geography. It also provides a unique entry point for practitioners seeking to understand the principles of design and practice for ageing in place in homes, neighbourhoods and care facilities.”

A related article on smart home technology for older people links with the concepts in the book. 

The book is edited by Bruce Judd, Emeritus Professor, City Futures Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Australia, Kenichi Tanoue, Professor, Department of Environmental Design, Faculty of Design, Kyushu University, Japan and Edgar Liu, Senior Research Fellow, City Futures Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Australia.