Inclusive energy efficient home renovations

A case study from the Netherlands describes an inclusive process for designing energy-efficient home renovations. A neighbourhood of 280 apartments is the subject of the study. With a mix of homeowners, renters and social housing tenants, it was essential to involve residents in the renovation process.

Several tall apartment buildings situated next to a canal.  Energy efficient home renovations.

Involving residents in major renovations is essential for bringing together the technical and social aspects of design.

The principles of civic and energy justice underpinned the approach to the project. Given that the resulting designs will largely be the same for every home, they need to be inclusive and considerate of ongoing energy costs for everyone. That means an inclusive design process is required.

Participatory action research

Expert stakeholders and six residents were interviewed and 50 residents were observed and interviewed during a tour of the demonstration apartment. Mutual learning was a key part of the iterative process involving prototypes.

Attention was paid to diversity, accessibility of research materials and interview materials were both verbal and visual. Technical design features were part of the results, but values emerged from the process. These values were health, sustainability, property value, cost of living and comfort.

The paper goes into more detail on the findings and the process. As part of the process, researchers developed a renovation guide to help residents understand what the proposed changes mean for them. They acknowledged time constraints which meant residents did not have time to experience the apartment. Rather, they only had time to view it.


Recommendations for improving the process include:

  • Location. Any sessions should be in the neighbourhood and in an accessible venue.
  • Time. Different meeting and interview times will suit different people.
  • Invitations. The guide acts as an invitation but might not work for everyone.
  • Language. Dutch is a second language for some people so a session in English might be necessary.
  • Other options. Apart from meetings, phone and email should be available. Not everyone feels comfortable in a group.

The lessons from the paper could be applied in housing situations such as social housing and co-housing. It also adds to the literature on inclusive design and co-design, and participatory action research.

The title of the article is, Values arising from participatory inclusive design in a complex process. There are diagrams to illustrate the complexity of designing an entire home and it’s technical systems, indoor climate, the lives and values of residents, and connection to systems and services.


This paper addresses inclusive design in a situation of complexity and how to improve it. The focus is on the inclusive design of a complex process and its tools, which is increasingly an issue in systemic design challenges. The current situation of climate change means we need to work on sustainability and inclusion at the same time.

The paper presents a case study of an energetic renovation process and the stakeholders’ activities and views in it. In a research-through-design process, the paper traces the possibilities to intervene in the process with communication tools to increase inclusivity of both process and outcomes.

Values emerging from the interventions revolve around insight, openness, and responsiveness in answering needs and resolving mismatches. The paper concludes that the communication tools developed help to generate these values and manage complexity. The tools give residents a voice in goal alignment towards inclusivity.

Housing options in later age

Front Cover of the report. Staying put in later age.

Residential aged care is not usually a choice but a last resort. We all need better housing options in later life.

Long term care, nursing homes, residential care are all names for care in a facility dedicated to supporting older adults. But how many people desire this option? Usually it is a place of last resort because staying put is no longer an option. But can we do better than this?

A report from Canada looks at the issues of long term care, ageing in place with a brief mention universal design. The 14 page document takes a Canadian perspective of international solutions and options which are all specialist solutions.

The first recommendation is to encourage alternatives to long term care. The alternative recommendation is to develop housing and care models that incorporate universal design features into new builds. The second recommendation focuses on support services.

The report discusses seven different types of housing, five of which are based on segregation by age. Here is a brief overview:

Current housing options

Independent Living /Active Lifestyle Accommodation is for adults requiring minimal assistance. They are either detached homes or suites within apartment buildings. These solutions are best when offered within the existing neighbourhood.

Assistive Living / Supportive Housing is designed to provide safe and accessible homes for people needing personal care and housekeeping services.

Retirement Living homes are usually privately owned and suit older adults in the higher income brackets. This option suits older adults with higher incomes.

Co-housing consists of private dwellings with kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms and shared common areas such as gardens and walkways. This model is not exclusively for older adults and offers connectedness as well as privacy.

Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs) develop overtime due to older adults remaining in their own homes as they age. This model is aimed at helping older adults to live as independently as possible. The concept of NORCs originated in the US.

Villages are member-based, grassroots organizations developed and governed by older adults in the US. Villages provide free and discounted services and staff and volunteers coordinate activities. This model helps reduce the risk of social isolation.

Intergenerational housing is the fastest growing housing arrangement in Canada. A diverse range of individuals of different ages live together and share life experiences and skills. Multigenerational housing encourages older adults to remain engaged in the community.

The report concludes with additional resources and references.

The title of the report is Housing & Care Models to Support Older Adults to Remain in Their Communities.  

Editor’s note: Universal design features for housing will be in the new edition of the National Construction Code. The features are basic and we have yet to see when industry and state governments will implement them.

Including people with intellectual disability in co-design

Picture of a large family looking jubilant outside their housePeople with intellectual disability are rarely considered when it comes to design. Whether it’s built or digital environments, services or products, this group is often overlooked. However, with co-design methods, people with intellectual disability could and should be included. But, this is still a new idea and there is very little literature or case studies on working with this group. This is the finding from a recent literature review.

The literature review was carried out in the context of housing design. The review found the following gaps in knowledge:

    • General lack of literature on co-designing with people with an intellectual disability
    • No specific literature encapsulating the co-design process, in the context of intellectual disability, and housing
    • No frameworks or benchmarks on co-design with people with disability
    • Lack of evaluation of the design outcomes of co-design process
    • Lack of research that can assist parents plan for their ageing children. 

Housing design for people with physical disabilities has evolved over time and is not easily adapted to suit people with intellectual disability. There is also a need to consider people with both intellectual and physical disability. 

The title of the article is, Co-designing in Australia housing for people with intellectual disability: an integrative literature review“. You can download the web version or the PDF version

Related work: A research project undertaken by the University of Technology (UTS) recruited researchers with intellectual disability to participate in all aspects of designing and carrying out social inclusion research. This was a key step for informing the research process. 


Background: This paper provides an evidence base for practice in Australia from an integrative literature review of research on co-designing housing with people with an intellectual disability. The study asks: what methods and outcomes have been reported from including people with an intellectual disability in the co-design of their housing?

Method: The integrative review framework described by Whitemore and Knafl (2005) was used to analyse the literature.

Results: The literature searches yielded 16 articles after applying inclusion and exclusion criteria. Important gaps in the literature were found relating to: co-designing with people with an intellectual disability; the co-designing of housing with people with an intellectual disability; specific frameworks or benchmarks for co-designing with people with an intellectual disability; processes on use of proxies; and on design outcomes.

Conclusions: Considerable work is required to explore and evaluate co-design processes in the design of housing with adults with intellectual disabilities, as well as how the outcomes of these processes are evaluated.

Downsizing? But where to?

A row of flat front row homes in blue and white. Downsizing? But where to?The idea of downsizing is appealing to empty-nesters. But where can they go?  The biggest barrier to downsizing is finding a suitable home in the right location. Many empty nesters just want a smaller home and yard. Governments have a vested interest in older Australians having a home in which it is safe to grow old. It’s cost effective for everyone.

Sometimes it isn’t the home they want to downsize – it’s the garden maintenance. ‘Empty’ bedrooms do not necessarily mean that a home is under-utilised.  This is a crude measure because spare bedrooms are needed as guest and hobby rooms. Spending time at home means the home has to do more. A home too small limits options.

An expanse of green lawn in a suburban back yard.The Conversation discusses these issues and has links to well-researched reports. The title of the article is, Half of over-55s are open to downsizing – if only they find homes that suit them.

A similar article was published earlier in The Conversation titled, Lack of housing choice frustrates would-be downsizers.

When it comes to house size, Bruce Judd and colleagues from UNSW found that retirees generally want three bedrooms for flexibility of lifestyle. Some for visiting family and looking after grandchildren. Others need room for hobbies or a study. Some couples sleep separately for health reasons. Typically, retirees spend more time at home now that they are not working, so space becomes even more important.  

Baby Boomers defy predictions.

Facade of a large two storey home commonly called a McMansion Housing experts predicted “the great senior sell-off”. But baby boomers aren’t downsizing – they are staying put.

Mimi Kirk in a CityLab article looked at new research from Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies that discusses issues related to housing type, affordability and the different expectations of millennials and boomers. Millennials are generally uninterested in the style of their parents’ homes. So there goes the myth that boomers are (selfishly) holding onto homes that millennials could buy. 

Policy makers think that downsizing is largely about finances and homes being too large to suit ageing in place. But the evidence is something else. Research findings put to bed some of the myths younger policy makers have about older people and their ideas on housing.

“…high cost of new multi-storey apartments means that householders don’t necessarily have enough money from the sale of their larger family house to buy an apartment, particularly after stamp duty, bank and real estate agent fees, and moving costs are included.”  AHURI report, 2018.

Suitable housing in the future?

In the future, people living in Victoria, ACT, Queensland, NT and Tasmania will have the benefit of universal design features in new homes. However, the NSW, WA and SA governments have decided that this important change to the building code isn’t necessary. To keep up to date on the latest, follow the ANUHD website and join their network of supporters. The 2022 edition of the National Construction code will have the updated design features. 


Design with people with dementia

Front cover of the thesis. Design with people with dementia.It’s not often that people diagnosed with dementia get asked what works for them in terms of home design. People with dementia want to age in place in the same way as others. However, this requires integrated and diverse living solutions. The only way to do this is to design with people with dementia.

In a master’s thesis, Kembhavi explains the background to her research and the research objectives. Using a co-design process she was able to identify three key concepts important to people with dementia: choice, integration, and service support. The process was not linear – many modifications and iterations were required to arrive at the final result.

To begin, the idea of aging in place was investigated. This inquiry created the first design challenge. That is, factors that make aging in place difficult. This resulted in the adoption of a user-centered design philosophy.  User-centred design focuses on the requirements and desires of users throughout the concept development process.

This paved the path for the second research topic: ‘how can people with dementia be involved in developing living solutions for themselves?’ 

Title of the thesis is, Integrated living environment for people with memory decline. Author Shreya Kembhavi, Aalto University. Helsinki city housing company housing was the context for the research.

This masters thesis covers a literature review, design methods, and an implementation strategy.  As with many architectural theses and documents, this one is presented in landscape format. It includes case studies with images and explanatory graphics. If you want to get the short version of method, the conclusion explains the background to the research, and how the research was done.

From the abstract

Giving people the ability to choose their own way of life has the potential to be an effective way of developing living alternatives for people with dementia. Residential services and spaces, engagement services and spaces, and support services and spaces are three elements that must be addressed through service and space provision to enable aging in a place of choice. A strong network of these elements in the area could potentially allow a greater population to age in place.

By integrating the serviced housing with the housing for other user groups, the thesis proposes a strategy that incorporates serviced housing as a component of the standard housing stock. The serviced housing is built on the three principles of residency, engagement, and support. As part of this approach, new services such as drop-in consultations for persons seeking advice, social spaces such as a cafés, and residential services such as a dementia hotel are proposed.

A branding strategy is advised to de-stigmatize and incorporate people with memory decline, and supporting services and properties for them into the city’s portfolio. This is an attempt to change an image associated with such spaces, into one that is inclusive and open to the community. The thesis with demonstration of the concept’s scaling and its benefits in the realm of living solutions for people with dementia.

Ageing well in suburbia

A single story home viewed from the back yard. A woman reaches up into a small tree and dog sits nearby. Ageing well in the bluefields.
Image by Damian Madigan

In a previous post Guy Luscombe alerted us to some forthcoming articles in ArchitectureAu. The first is by Damian Madigan and is titled, Ageing well in the Bluefields.  The context is suburban infill sites. The problem is how to increase housing supply and diversity while maintaining the existing character of the area. Madigan comes up with models based on the Livable Housing Design Guidelines. 

The overall aim is to support ageing in place and multi-generational living.

Madigan describes suburbs that have an established character and high financial values as ‘blue’. They are often exempt from density increases and also housing diversity. 

Madigan explains a collaborative design research project that developed ‘bluefield housing models’. The models are based on four different allotment sizes, small, medium, large and extra large. They are also based on Livable Housing Australia gold or platinum levels. Floor plans are included in the article. Madigan explains:

“Underpinning the designs is what I call the “bluefield housing model,” which:

        1. denies subdivision of the block, instead creating a design-led whole-of-site approach
        2. retains and adapts original housing into smaller accommodation
        3. creates new housing through leveraging the existing pattern of alterations and additions
        4. creates all housing in a flat hierarchy rather than as “accessory” dwelling units
        5. arranges the housing around shared landscape capable of retaining or developing large trees.

Ageing well in the bluefields is on the ArchitectureAU website and will be of interest to building designers and smaller developers. 

The value of home modifications

A white Labrador dog sleeps behind the couch with a view to an alfresco with level access. Value of home modifications.Quantifying the value of home modifications is a tricky business. It depends on who is doing the valuing. Governments look immediately to costs and benefits while home occupants look at their quality of life. Research findings of cost benefits and improved quality of life have done little to change either policy or home design. So we have yet another research article. 

Jesse Abraham’s paper points to our ageing population and the lack of suitable housing for later life. It’s time for America’s existing housing to be made safe and accessible for ageing in place, says Abraham. The healthcare cost of falls is over $50 billion a year in the US. And that doesn’t count the quality of life costs to individuals and the inconvenience to families. 

Abraham looks at the current evidence and takes an economic approach to the issues. That means there are a few equations and tables in his paper. His key argument is that there are cost efficiencies for society and for the government to provide subsidies for home modifications. 

Abraham is curious that so few older people think about modifying their home in preparation for ageing. Usually it’s done as a reaction to a medical event and then done last minute. This is when the family is already coping with other healthcare needs. 

Australian research by Carnemolla and Bridge underpins much of the work in this paper. Abraham cites three of their papers using their map of the evidence. He acknowledges that there are other quantifiable benefits such as improvements in physical and mental wellbeing. 

A government incentive

The key point in the paper is that the cost of updating homes with accessibility features is a cost effective healthcare prevention. Given that older people are reluctant to take steps for their own wellbeing there is much to gain by providing a financial incentive. If governments were to pay half they would still be saving healthcare costs. 

Abraham says that this is a difficult argument to prosecute because there will be costs for those who may never benefit. Perhaps if he had taken a universal design perspective he would see that benefits go beyond older people.

The title of the article is, The Cost Efficiency of Home Modifications to Reduce Healthcare Costs. If you skip the technical bits, this is a relatively easy read. It has a lot of useful information on this topic and good references. 

Home adaptations for people with dementia

A kitchen in the middle of renovations. Home adaptations for people with dementia.Most people with dementia live in their own homes within the community. A group of researchers in the UK wanted to find out the role of home adaptations in supporting people with dementia. They wanted to know what works, what doesn’t, and what more needs to be done. There were four key questions in their literature review:

    1. Which housing adaptations are being implemented and used by people with dementia and their carers on an everyday basis?
    2. How are decisions made to implement and use housing adaptations, or otherwise?
    3. What are the barriers and enablers to housing adaptation and use?
    4. What is the impact of housing adaptations on everyday life?

Results of the review

The review found that the most common adaptations were about physical limitations. The emphasis was on preventing falls. Clinical trials found that home adaptations have the potential to minimise falls. Safety relies on predictability of the environment for people with dementia. Nevertheless, this is the one area that is most lacking for people living in the community. 

Professionals and family members were good at coming up with ideas for adaptations. The study also found that carers were often inventive with novel solutions. However, some carers preferred their own trial and error methods when they thought professionals would not be helpful. A key issue here is that most useful information for families is online and not everyone has the ability to access this information.

“I’ll wait until the time comes” was evident in some of the literature. Some families were in favour of adaptations prior to need, whereas others wanted to wait until it was necessary. The type of housing also had an impact on this aspect.

Carers felt the adaptations made their caring tasks easier. They spent less time supervising and resulted in less burden and more sleep. The health and wellbeing of carers was the main gap in the literature. 

There’s a lot more information in this scoping review. The title is, Exploring the contribution of housing adaptations in supporting everyday life for people with dementia: a scoping review.

You can read more on home modifications and renovations

Older adults: to move or not to move?

We expect to grow old, but because we don’t aspire to grow old, we rarely plan for it. “I’ll worry about it when the time comes” is a usual response. A report from AHURI looks at the housing situation for older Australians and some previous research is confirmed.

Most respondents felt their current home would suit them as they grow older. Eliminating steps is obvious, but what about other features? Generally, older people would like to own a detached dwelling (69%) with three bedrooms (50%). Those in the 75+ group think that a two bedroom apartment is a good idea, probably because they can eliminate steps. Most importantly, they don’t want to be in the private rental market.

Older Australians are not planning ahead. If they are, they lack information on how to go about it, what to look for, and what their options are other than age-segregated housing. A significant proportion of respondents hadn’t thought about planning ahead for their living arrangements. 

Plenty of material in this report for anyone interested in housing and older people. Title of the report is, Older Australians and the housing aspirations gap. There’s a full report and an executive summary. 

 Editor’s comment:  Although home owners said their homes would support them in later life, this might not be an objective view. With a desire to stay put, can we rely on their self-assessment when they have so much emotional and financial investment in their current home? 

But do all older people want to stay put?

Apartment block with blue windows and balconies with plants and washing drying.It is often said that older people want to stay put, but this may not be the case for everyone. A study from Berlin, Germany looked at this issue in depth. While some of the findings might be specific to Berlin, the article raises interesting questions.

The researchers found that social class, gender, age and migrant history were not necessarily measures of movement behaviour. The top three reasons that emerged were: to have a smaller apartment, an obstacle-free apartment, and to have to a cheaper apartment. 

The title of the article is, Why Do(n’t) People Move When They Get Older? Estimating the Willingness to Relocate in Diverse Ageing Cities.  This is an open access article in Urban Planning journal. The results indicate decisions to move are multifaceted. Older adults are not an homogeneous group with the same needs. As with other studies, older people want the same things as younger people. 

From the abstract

Two of the dominant processes shaping today’s European cities are the ageing and diversification of the population. The living environment around the place of residence plays an important role in the social integration of the older generation. 

There is a peak in the decisions to move at the age of 65-75 and a drop in the inclination to move among people over 80. Our study suggests that variables other than classic socio-demographic data, such as apartment size, rent, social networks, and health, are a starting point for achieving a full picture of older people’s movement behaviour.

Articles on home modifications

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. Articles on home modifications.In September next year, a step free entry and other minor changes for accessibility will be mandated for all new homes. For many people it will minimise the need for home modifications. Where they are needed, it will make it easier and more cost effective. In the 20 years leading up to the code change, many research articles were written to put the case. These articles remain relevant for existing homes and in jurisdictions yet to mandate access features in new homes. They are a mix of magazine and research articles and are listed below.

Ageing in Place: Are we there yet? (2019) Mary Ann Jackson

Your Home: Adaptable Housing Guide (2013) published by the Australian Government

Overcoming inertia to jump start renovations for ageing in place (2020) Louis Tenenbaum 

The potential of a home modification strategy – a universal design approach to existing housing (2014) by Phillippa Carnemolla.

The role of home maintenance and modification services in achieving health, community care and housing outcomes in later life (2008) AHURI Report by Andrew Jones et al. 

Better supporting older Australians to age in place (2021) AHURI Brief. 

Accessible housing – what’s it worth? (2020) by Dušan Katunský.

Accessible housing: costs and gains (2017) 

Ageing better at home (2018) Centre for Ageing Better 

Housing and older people: four strategies (2018) Jon Pynoos

Home design and later life (2017)

Adaptable housing for people with disability in Australia: A scoping study (2021) Australian Human Rights Commission. It looks beyond the code change for new housing to the issues in existing housing.

Universal design and existing homes (four articles in this post)