Trends in aging in place and universal design remodeling

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The U.S. population is aging and most people want to continue living independently in their own homes

October 10, 2011
Aging in place bathroom

Aging in place bathroom

The U.S. population is aging and many seniors want to continue living independently in their own homes. Creating a safe, livable environment to foster aging in place through universal design without the home screaming “this was made for old people” can be an easy task for professional remodelers.

Good design is good design

The same design features that make a home comfortable for older people also work for younger families.

“Aging in place continues to grow in popularity among homeowners because applying universal design principles in the home transforms it into a multi-generational living space,” notes Mary Jo Peterson, CAPS, on behalf of Delta Faucet. “Homeowners want safe functionality, but don’t want to give up attractive design. The ultimate design goal starts with an emphasis on user-friendly products with a great aesthetic that is easy to maintain. Products must be easy to grip or grasp, easy to understand and operate, and, when possible, they should include fail-safe features. Subtle integration of safety and support are also critical.”

“Even homeowners in their 40s are starting to think about aging in place,” notes Jayme Neumann, manager, Marketing & Design Group, Contract Channel for Whirlpool Corporation. “Many are in the home they plan to be in through their senior years, so they are starting to ask themselves how they will function in their homes with limited mobility or other physical issues.”

She says open floor plans continue to be the trend as they provide a flexible space that can change as occupants’ needs change.

In diagnosing and correcting risky or dysfunctional characteristics of the space, remodelers concentrate on baths and kitchens.

“Other aspects to consider in terms of aesthetic are lighting and vision,” says Peterson. “Not only must the room be lit well, but the products in the room must be a color and finish that will reflect light without creating a glare.”

New technology helps

Many products incorporating new technology help improve safety and are easier to use than conventional products. For example, Kohler’s Rite Temp faucets control water temperature to prevent scalding. Ease of use is gained by selecting lever handle faucets and intuitive controls on remote controlled devices and interfaces within showers.

Delta’s Touch2O Technology and Touch2O.xt Technology are available on kitchen and bath faucets, providing the option of touch and hands-free activation. The user can either start the flow of water by tapping the faucet anywhere on the spout or handle or by simply approaching the 4-inch sensing field around the faucet.

“These faucets are beneficial for those who suffer from arthritis because once the water is set to a desired comfortable temperature, you can use a wrist or forearm to turn the faucet on and off without repeatedly grasping the handle,” Peterson notes.

Bath options

“As we age, it becomes more difficult for us to get in and out of low seating and your experience with your toilet is no different,” says Diana Schrage, Kohler senior designer.

Including the seat, Kohler’s Comfort Height Toilets are about 17 inches high, the height of a standard chair, which is about 1.5 inches higher than a standard toilet. By being a bit higher, they are easier to sit down on and stand up from, but look little different from other toilets. Available in several styles and models, installation is the same as any standard toilet.

The Delta Transfer Tub has a curvilinear tub apron incorporating an enlarged shelf with a bump out seating area. This provides a place to sit for a caregiver or parent who is helping the bather. This shelf can also be used to rest a book or beverage for someone bathing unaided.

Delta Traditional and Contemporary Shower Systems feature grab bars combining designer style with strength and functionality. Delta Universal Design Shower Systems have a flip-up seat offering a safe bathing experience for people with limited mobility. Grab bars come pre-installed in every Delta Universal Design Shower System and are flangeless for easy cleaning.

Another Kohler innovation is the Elevance Rising Wall Bath. One side of this tub lowers for bathers to enter, providing a generous space for ease of access even from a wheelchair. After pressing a button to raise the tub wall, a waterfall in the front fills the bath quickly.

“Faucet controls and grab bars are within the bather’s reach for additional safety,” Schrage says. When done, drains efficiently remove the bathwater, allowing the bather to open the wall door and exit.

Other useful aging in place products have subtle differences that may not be obvious. Kohler’s Belay handrail blends into the tiled shower environment, providing functionality yet allowing the shower’s craftsmanship to remain a focal point. The subtle curve of the Parity bath’s edge provides a secure ledge bathers can hold. Purist sconces and Robern cabinets come with LED lighting, avoiding the need for bright overhead lights. Tubs with flat, non-slip bottoms and non-slip bathroom flooring help create a safer environment.

Liners Direct offers low maintenance walk-in tubs and replacement showers with built-in slip resistant bottoms.

“Our wall and base products are acrylic, which is non-porous and very easy to clean,” notes Director of Marketing Dave Wilson.

Because everything is molded in during manufacture, nothing can fade or peel. New products include barrier-free and built-in seated showers designed for one-day installation even when behind wall reinforcement is needed to support grab bars and add-on seats. Large behind-the-wall anchors are also used. This quick installation minimizes inconvenience for homeowners. Multiple models, sizes and finishes are available for grab bars along with several shower seat options.

American Standard Brands Seated Safety Shower is an acrylic seated shower with a wide, contoured, full-sized seating area. Its recessed front makes standing or sitting easy. There is also an accessory ledge for personal items and a built-in armrest. With dimensions of 60 x 30 x 37 inches, it fits in a standard bath enclosure. Its low 3-inch threshold and built-in wrap-around grab bar lets bathers feel safe and confident while standing, sitting, entering or exiting.

Another example of universal design with safety and ease of use in mind is the flush drain at the entry to European style no-threshold shower bases like the Delta Zero Threshold Shower Base, which is available in several sizes and designs. The design features a smooth and integrated aesthetic eliminating the need to step or wheel over a threshold.

“The drain is level with the floor, making it easy to get into and out of the shower while also creating clean lines,” says Peterson.

Kitchens matter

In the kitchen, organizing the space into work zones is becoming prevalent.

“This also allows those with physical limitations to move around more as they complete tasks instead of being subjected to one area only,” Neumann says. “Thoughtful product and design considerations such as taller toe kicks, cutting boards built into cabinetry drawers and touch faucets are easy ways to meet everyone’s needs, including those in seated positions.”

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) established guidelines for appliances to make daily activities easier for those with varied disabilities. Examples include appliances with handles, buttons and graphics located on the front positioned closer to the user, appliances with larger labels for easier visibility, ovens with large windows, drawer appliances, smooth electric cooktops or gas cooktops with continuous grates so pots and pans can be moved without lifting and cooktops with staggered burners so users don’t reach over hot burners.

In designing the kitchen, lower countertops and cabinets are desirable for people in wheelchairs who cannot reach high, Neumann notes. Putting cabinets on or very close to the countertop makes them more accessible. Selecting cooktops with a short burner box allows wheelchairs to slide under them while in use.

If the issue is difficulty in bending or reaching down low, dishwashers can be elevated with a higher toe-kick. Installing drawer appliances and cabinets with easy pullout or rollout storage improves usability for everyone. Drawer appliances, including dishwashers, refrigerators, freezers, microwaves and food warmers, are available at several price points. These are designed for installation right under the counter, making them easy to use for children, people in wheelchairs and those who have trouble bending down.

No single right way

Professional remodelers can express their creativity when doing universal design as they do on any remodeling job. The only difference is the need to be more mindful of safety and usability considerations.

“Universal design or design for aging in place is a philosophy, a way of thinking, with no one formula for getting it right,” Peterson points out. “Therefore, products must be beautiful and flexible in order to fit into the parameters of the consumer in terms of space, budget, wants and needs.”

It's about more than aging on place, Neumann says.

“Universal design is trendy now because, if done well, it is very good and thoughtful design, not cold or institutional,” she says. “Over the past few years, universal design has come a long way in part because there are so many new beautiful and flexible products.”

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