K&B Design: Aging-in-place bathrooms

When the U.S. was founded, the average American was expected to live to the age of 35, but according to the World Bank, the 2009 life expectancy of U.S. citizens is 78.1 years of age and 80.66 years of age for Canadian citizens.

October 16, 2013
An example of universal design, this bathroom provides occupants the flexibility

An example of universal design, this bathroom provides occupants the flexibility to easily use every feature available.

The 2010 U.S. Census places the 65-and-older population at 38.6 million, up from 34.9 million in 2000. The U.S. population between ages 65 and 74 is expected to increase 6.5 million over the next decade, a rise as more ?baby boomers? reach retirement. The 55-to-64 age group is expected to grow by 3.7 million. Over the next 20 years, the share of 65 and older will rise from 13 percent of the population to 19 percent. Estimates of the Canadian 2011 Census by Statistics Canada places their 65 and older age group at 14.1 percent of the overall 2011 population number of 34,600,346, with a large portion of the over-65 group living in more rural areas.

Increased life expectancy is credited with some of the increase in this older age group. When the U.S. was founded, the average American was expected to live to the age of 35, but according to the World Bank, the 2009 life expectancy of U.S. citizens is 78.1 years of age and 80.66 years of age for Canadian citizens.

The State of the Nation?s Housing 2010 states the increasing number of ?baby boomer? retirees has dominated housing market trends for decades and will continue to have a significant impact. As they purchased their first homes and then traded up to bigger, better homes, the sheer number of individuals in this group has shaped the housing market. Now, as they reach retirement, many are seeking housing to meet their current needs either by making changes to their current home or moving to a smaller home.

The number of older homeowners able to move from their current residence has declined sharply in recent years due to the nation?s financial crisis that depressed home equity and reduced retirement income. This trend will open the market for remodeling projects that allow them to ?age in place?. For those boomers who can relocate, they tend to downsize to smaller homes with fewer rooms and one-level living.

For both the remodeling market and new, smaller retirement home market, there will be an increased interest in bathrooms that are safe, comfortable, and ergonomically designed. Of course, accessible design will be critical for those aged individuals with disabilities.

Bathroom trends

These changing demographic characteristics also impact how consumers use their baths, the products they demand, and the looks and styles they favor. The retail markets of today offer the consumer and designer an unlimited array of choices for bathroom design.

Although certain styles may go in and out of fashion, today?s selection of colors, materials, styles, sizes, and textures allows the designer to create a room to fit every preference and situation. As new trends are incorporated in the bathroom, the designer must always keep in mind that the bathroom is a very complex space to plan, and the fundamental characteristics of sanitation, ergonomics, and safety should always be considered.

In addition to population and demographic changes that may affect bathroom design, specific consumer preferences can greatly impact the bathroom projects your clients request. Surveys conducted by national trade magazines, associations, and manufacturers can give designers an idea of what consumers prefer in their bathroom. Just remember, tastes change quickly in today?s market.

History and state of the art

Ron Mace, FAIA, known as the father of universal design, defined it as ?the design of products and environments to be useable by all people to the greatest extent possible.?

From 1994 to 1997, Mace led a research and demonstration project at the Center for Universal Design at N.C. State University, funded by the U.S. Department of Education?s National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, which included the development of universal design guidelines or principles.

The following is the Center for Universal Design?s current list of the Seven Principles of Universal Design with design applications for the bathroom. You might find these principles a good checklist to use in the design process, as additional criteria when choosing between options.

1. Equitable use

Design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities. Design provides the same means of use for all users: identical whenever possible, equivalent when not. It avoids segregating or stigmatizing any users. Provisions for privacy, security, and safety should be equally available to all users. The design should be appealing to all users.

Design applications include visit-able guest bathroom, center-mount lavatory faucets, grab bars, tall storage, rocker light switches, an automatically opening toilet, and motion-sensor lighting, ventilation, and water at the vanity.

2. Flexibility in use

Design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities. It provides choice in methods of use and accommodates right- or left-handed access and use. The design facilitates the user?s accuracy and precision. And it provides adaptability to the user?s pace.

Design applications include a folding or built-in tub seat and reinforcement for, or installation of, multiple grab bars to support tub or shower use by a seated or standing user. Other applications include grab bars for use in a horizontal or vertical position, or that can be folded down out of the way.

3. Simple and intuitive use

Design is easy to understand, regardless of the user?s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level. It eliminates unnecessary complexity and is consistent with user expectations and intuition. The design accommodates a wide range of literacy and language skills. It arranges information consistent with its importance. It provides effective prompting and feedback during and after task completion.

Design applications include single-lever faucet operation that is left for hot and right for cool or the use of red to indicate hot and blue to indicate cold.

4. Perceptible information

Design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user?s sensory abilities. It uses different modes (pictorial, verbal, tactile) for redundant presentation of essential information. The design provides adequate contrast between essential information and its surroundings. It maximizes ?legibility? of essential information. It differentiates elements in ways that can be described (i.e., makes it easy to give instructions or directions). It is compatible with a variety of techniques or devices used by people with sensory limitations.

Design applications include open or visible storage, a digital temperature control that both makes a sound and blinks when temperature limits are reached, or lighting controls that light up in the ?off? position and go dark when the light is on.

5. Tolerance for error

Design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions. It arranges elements to minimize hazards and errors, with the most-used elements being the most accessible, and hazardous elements eliminated, isolated, or shielded. The design provides warnings of hazards and errors and includes fail-safe features. It discourages unconscious action in tasks that require vigilance.

Design applications include GFCI receptacles that reduce risk of shock, temperature-limiting faucets that prevent accidental scalding, and timed automatic shut-offs on faucets, small appliances, or ventilation devices.

6. Low physical effort

Design can be used efficiently, comfortably, and with a minimum of fatigue. It allows the user to maintain a neutral body position and use reasonable operating forces. It minimizes repetitive actions and sustained physical effort.

Design applications include lever handle on cabinetry and doors, tall storage, remote controls for operating windows, and remote flushers, as well as motion-activated appliances and fittings, and conveniently located towel bars and toilet paper holders.

7. Size and space for approach and use

Design applications include full-height mirrors, movable (portable) storage, knee space at a vanity sink, and private toilet compartments that incorporate 30 inches by 48 inches of clear floor space.

A number of terms are used that relate to universal design but have slightly different meanings.

Lifespan design refers to the aspect of universal design that provides for the changes that may occur in the lifespan of household members, such as the birth and growth of children, or the return home after a skiing accident that resulted in a broken bone.

Transgenerational design refers to design that acknowledges and supports the multiple generations commonly living under one roof today.

Barrier-free design is an older term, first used to refer to solutions that removed barriers in the environment. While removing barriers is still one important aspect, in North America universal design has been embraced as a broader, more positive approach and term.

Universal design seeks to eliminate building of architectural or structural barriers that will need to be removed at a later time.

Accessible design or accessibility is a function of compliance with regulations or criteria that established a minimum level of design necessary to accommodate people with disabilities, i.e., ?wheelchair accessible?.

Adaptive design refers to features that are either adjustable or capable of being easily added or removed to ?adapt? the unit to individual needs or preferences.

Visit-ability refers to basic accommodations that will allow people of differing abilities to visit a home. In terms of bath design, visit-ability requires at least one bath on the main floor, with a minimum 32-inch-wide clear passage at the door. In some jurisdictions, it includes requirements for clear floor space and reinforcement for possible addition of grab bars. PR


This article is excerpted from the NKBA Professional Resource Library volume: Bath Planning, Second Edition by Kathleen Parrott, PhD, CKE, Julia Beamish, PhD, CKD, JoAnn Emmel, PhD, and Mary Jo Peterson, CKD, CBD, CAPS, CAASH. Copyright: 2013 National Kitchen & Bath Association; published by John Wiley & Sons Inc. This material is reproduced with the permission of John Wiley & Sons Inc.

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