How are Baby Boomers Impacting Home Design?

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The Baby Boomer generation, consisting of 75 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964, are getting older with the first wave of boomers turning 65 in 2011. Unlike their predecessors, they want to remain in their own homes and maintain their independence. This is known as aging in place and is a growing phenomenon. As a result, the home-building industry is predicting that aging will be the second-biggest influencer on home design in the coming years [source: NAHB].

While baby boomers don’t want to move to a retirement home, they are aware that their homes will need to be adjusted to accommodate their changing mobility and abilities. However, they don’t want to sacrifice aesthetics for function. This is where universal design comes in. Universal design is a concept that allows for function and aesthetics to coexist, regardless of ability or age.

The AARP promotes universal design to its members, and 75 percent of contractors polled by the National Association of Home Builders report an increase in requests for work related to aging in place [source: NAHB].

Universal Design Features


Universal design is based on several concepts:

The concept of universal design is based on seven principles, including equitable use, flexibility in use, simplicity and intuitiveness, perceptive information, tolerance for error, low physical effort, and size and space for approach and use. These principles ensure that design features can be used by anyone regardless of their abilities or disabilities. For example, a universal design home should have a stepless entry, lever door handles, wide hallways, and appropriately placed countertops and cabinets in the kitchen and bathroom. The design should also accommodate a wheelchair’s turning radius and provide sufficient lighting throughout the home. Stairs should be stained different colors to aid those with poor vision, and stacked cabinets could be installed to accommodate an elevator. The goal of universal design is to make the home accessible to everyone, regardless of their physical abilities.

Including Universal Design


Plan for universal design when constructing a home.
Ariel Skelley/Blend Images/Getty Images

Integrating universal design into a home’s construction may cost only 5% more than building a comparable home without it [source: Taylor]. Sometimes, there may be no cost difference at all, resulting in significant savings compared to a retirement community.

However, retrofitting an existing home to incorporate universal design is much more costly than building a universal design home from scratch. Certain features added as part of a retrofit may cost 20 times more than if they had been installed during the original construction process [source: Dupes]. For instance, fitting a wider doorway during home construction may only require an additional $6, the cost of a bigger door. If you wait until remodeling, it could cost up to $650 to rework the doorway [source: Burney]. The installation of an elevator in a house with stacked cabinets could cost around $20,000, while the same project from the beginning would cost closer to $50,000 [source: Burney].

Regardless of whether you’re building a new home or remodeling an existing one, it’s crucial to plan for universal design features early on. Waiting until you require universal design features is not a good idea; it’s too late if you’ve had a fall and your home doesn’t accommodate a wheelchair.

It’s also never too early to begin considering universal design. As you may have noticed from our previous home tour, not only seniors benefit from these features, and they’re not noticeable unless you need them. A wide hallway will assist a young mother with a stroller, and lowered light switches will be reachable for children.

Incorporating these features may also increase your home’s value since anyone can live there. By 2030, 70 million people will be over the age of 65, which is 20% of the entire US population [source: Gardyn]. Neglecting universal design features may cause potential buyers to overlook your home, and as more baby boomers request these features, universal design may become compulsory. Already, the state of California has a voluntary universal design code, and some cities and counties are creating zoning categories to encourage universal design construction.

If you’re unsure which features you require, assistance is available. While more contractors are becoming familiar with these concepts, look for one that has received specialized training. In 2002, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) created the Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS) program in collaboration with the AARP. The program trains professionals on how to create and design a home that meets the needs of the elderly. During the program, contractors and designers leave the drawing board to experience moving through a home in a wheelchair and trying to open a door while holding tennis balls to simulate arthritis. You can search for a CAPS professional in the NAHB’s directory.

You can learn more about aging, baby boomers, and housing by visiting the next page’s stories and links.

The Difference Between Universal Design and Accessibility

Universal design aims to create a home that is usable by everyone, while accessibility guidelines primarily cater to people with disabilities. Although both universal design and accessibility share some common features, such as wide hallways and grab bars in the bathroom, universal design does not require any special materials that would distinguish it from accessibility. One way to distinguish the two is by looking at the entrance of the home. An accessibility home typically has a ramp, while a universal design home has a stairless entryway that anyone can use.

Additional Information

Related Articles on HowStuffWorks

  • How Baby Boomers Work
  • How House Construction Works
  • How Smart Homes Work
  • How Aging Works
  • Why do old people look alike?

More Useful Links

  • AARP
  • National Association of Home Builders
  • Center for Universal Design and North Carolina State University
  • Universal Design Alliance

References

  • “Aging in Place.” Abode. July 2007. (June 9, 2008) http://www.mbaonline.org/adobe/documents/Building_Innovations.pdf
  • “All About Aging in Place Fact Sheet.” National Association of Home Builders. (June 9, 2008) http://www.nahb.org/generic.aspx?sectionID=717&genericContentID=87872
  • Burney, Teresa. “Building for Life.” AARP SegundaJuventud. April/May 2005. (June 16, 2008) http://www.aarpsegundajuventud.org/english/issues/2005-AM/05AM_build.html
  • Connell, Bettye Rose, Mike Jones, Ron Mace, Jim Mueller, Abir Mullic, Elaine Ostroff, Jon Sanford, Ed Steinfeld, Molly Story and Gregg Vanderheiden, comp. “Universal Design Principles.” The Center for Universal Design. April 1, 1997. (June 9, 2008) http://www.design.ncsu.edu/cud/about_ud/udprincipleshtmlformat.html
  • Creno, Glen and Jonathan J. Higuera. “Homebuilders Cater to Active Baby Boomers.” The Arizona Republic. Jan. 23, 2006.
  • Dupes, Bill. “Aging in Place, Gracefully, with Universal Design.” In Motion. March/April 2005. (June 9, 2008) http://www.amputee-coalition.org/inmotion/mar_apr_05/universaldesign.html
  • Gardyn, Rebecca. “Retirement Redefined.” American Demographics. November 2000.
  • Hickey, Mary C. “A Design for Senior Living.” Business Week. July 19, 1999.
  • Lewis, Marilyn. “Elegant remodels allow ‘aging in place’.” MSN Real Estate. (June 9, 2008) http://realestate.msn.com/improve/article2.aspx?cp-documentid=1089720
  • Miller, Janet. “Building homes with aging Baby Boomers in mind.” Ann Arbor Business Review. May 3, 2007. (June 9, 2008) http://blog.mlive.com/ann_arbor_business_review/2007/05/building_ homes_with_aging_baby.html
  • Neal, Andrea. “Elder Care: Aging in Place.” The Saturday Evening Post. July/August 2007.
  • Perkins, Broderick. “Baby Boomer Demand Boosting ‘Universal Design’.” Realty Times. June 27, 2003. (June 9, 2008) http://realtytimes.com/rtpages/20030627_universal.htm
  • Peterson, Mary Jo. “Ten Design Trends to Follow for Aging in Place.” Kitchen & Bath Design News. January 2007. (June 9, 2008) http://www.kitchenbathdesign.com/publication/article.jsp?pubId=2&id= 3546&pageNum=1
  • Robinson, Joe. “Hey, great-looking grab bar!” Los Angeles Times. Jan. 24, 2008.
  • Savoye, Craig. “‘Aging in Place’: More People are Staying Put for Retirement.” Christian Science Monitor. April 3, 2001.
  • Taylor, Charles. “Aging populations inspire ‘universal design’ housing.” National Association of Counties County News. Jan. 15, 2007. (June 9, 2008) http://www.naco.org/CountyNewsTemplate.cfm?template=/ContentManagement/ ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=22282
  • “Understanding Universal Design.” AARP. (June 9, 2008) http://www.aarp.org/families/home_design/universaldesign/a2004-03-23-whatis_univdesign.html
  • “Universal Design in Housing.” The Center for Universal Design. Rev. January 2007. (June 9, 2008) http://www.design.ncsu.edu/cud/pubs_p/docs/UDinHousing.pdf

FAQ

1. How is the baby boomer generation affecting the design of homes?

The aging baby boomer generation is influencing home design in various ways. They require features that make home living easier as they age. For instance, wider doorways, lower countertops, and non-slip flooring are some of the features that are becoming increasingly popular.

2. What are the popular design trends for baby boomers?

Some of the popular design trends for baby boomers include single-story homes, open floor plans, and wider hallways. These designs ensure that the homes are easy to navigate, and the occupants can move around with ease.

3. Are baby boomers looking for smaller or bigger homes?

Baby boomers are not necessarily looking for bigger homes. They are looking for homes that are easy to maintain. Therefore, they are downsizing to smaller homes that are cozy and comfortable. They want homes that meet their needs, and they don’t want to be overwhelmed by maintenance.

4. What are the most important features that baby boomers are looking for in a home?

Baby boomers are looking for homes that are easy to maintain, accessible, and safe. Therefore, they are looking for features such as single-story homes, wider doorways, non-slip flooring, and grab bars. They are also looking for homes that have low maintenance costs.

5. Are baby boomers influencing the use of technology in home design?

Yes, baby boomers are influencing the use of technology in home design. They are looking for features such as voice-activated lighting, smart thermostats, and remote-controlled blinds. These features make it easier for them to control various aspects of their homes without moving around too much.

6. How are baby boomers changing the design of bathrooms?

Baby boomers are changing the design of bathrooms in various ways. They are looking for features such as walk-in showers, adjustable showerheads, and grab bars. They also prefer bathrooms that have non-slip flooring and easy-to-reach storage spaces.

7. What are the most important design considerations for baby boomers?

The most important design considerations for baby boomers are safety, accessibility, and ease of maintenance. They want homes that are easy to navigate, and they don’t want to be overwhelmed by maintenance costs. They are also looking for features that can help them age in place.

8. How are baby boomers changing the design of kitchens?

Baby boomers are changing the design of kitchens in various ways. They are looking for features such as lower countertops, pull-out shelves, and easy-to-reach storage spaces. They also prefer kitchens that have non-slip flooring and appliances that are easy to use.

9. Are baby boomers looking for homes that are energy-efficient?

Yes, baby boomers are looking for homes that are energy-efficient. They want to reduce their carbon footprint, and they also want to save money on energy costs. Therefore, they are looking for homes that have features such as solar panels, energy-efficient appliances, and double-paned windows.

10. How are baby boomers changing the design of outdoor spaces?

Baby boomers are changing the design of outdoor spaces in various ways. They are looking for features such as easy-to-maintain landscaping, outdoor lighting, and accessible pathways. They also prefer outdoor spaces that have features such as seating areas, shade structures, and water features.

11. What are the design considerations for baby boomers who want to age in place?

The design considerations for baby boomers who want to age in place include accessibility, safety, and comfort. They want homes that are easy to navigate, and they don’t want to be overwhelmed by maintenance costs. They are also looking for features such as grab bars, non-slip flooring, and wider doorways.

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