Have Boomers forgotten about Universal Design and Aging in Place? 

 .. and how they can make your retirement more comfortable 


Update: Are aging in place concepts still relevant?

Books for 2 sides of this coin:

Residential Design for Aging in Place by Michael A. Thomas seems to contradict the current boomer philosophy of ignoring aging.   

Unassisted Living by Jeffrey P. Rosenfeld is about engaging in a very active life and continued employment.  Home designs for active aging.

Do you believe in an active lifestyle and not concerning yourself with aging in place home design or do you feel it is reality to be facing aging with the help of new designs for aging boomers?  

Do homes at communities use these principles or are the efforts to increase these design features failing.  When you visit communities, ask about these features.  That is the way to know the answer to this question.

Boomers need to educate themselves on what their needs are for the future and promote inclusion of them or builders will not be encouraged to put them into their floor plans.   Builders are only interested in those features that boomers want in their homes.

Are the features of Aging in Place still relevant and being utilized?

I first heard about this in 2007 but today in 2013?  I wondered if this concept is being utilized today by builders, or have they forgotten?

The Concept:

I attended an aging expo and a lecture about Universal Design concepts.  At the time it was a fairly new concept so it was interesting to hear from the experts in this area.

Universal design concepts  can be found at retirement commmunities.  Some use only a few of the principles while others, for instance Lennar Homes, make a point of using many of the features (verify).

The Concepts are for everyone for their future:

The main idea is that these principles can be used to the benefit of everyone universally, irregardless of age; not only for the aged or those with physical disabilities.

You can use and enjoy these principles starting today whatever age you are because the principles are needed by everyone.  Once set in place, they can be there for the life of your home.

The newest designs use them without your knowing they are even there and they will make your life easier in your home.  

Aging in Place

Aging in place is another concept associated with aging. This is the idea of being able to age in your home and not needing to move somewhere else because of the effects of aging.  

If you are building or buying a new home, by including these features for aging, you will be able to stay in your home as you age.

While aging in place refers to all resources that will enable you to age in your home and not have to move, Universal Design are the features of your home that help you stay there.

The Goal of Promoters:

The goal is to build all new homes using these principles so they won't have to be added later at great expense.  Most retirement communities will have some of the universal design features in their home portfolios.  They may make it an optional package at extra cost. 

Become acquainted with this concept

The more you, the customer, inquire about Universal Design Homes, the more builders will begin to use the features.

  • Developers may have one or two floorplans that they state have universal design features.  
  • Some will say they use these features in all floorplans.  
  • Some may use only a few of the most important features.

If you know what the features of Universal Design Homes are, you can begin to notice if they are being used as standard features or if they are available as options.

Main Principles:

  • Bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens on first floor -- at least one bedroom and bath on first floor.
  • Turning space in bathroom and kitchen
  • Walkin shower
  • Wider doorways and hallways
  • Turn around space for wheelchairs in bathrooms and kitchens.  
  • Lower light switches that can be reached by someone in a wheelchair.
  • At least one stepless entry or ramp up to entry.
  • Grab bars in shower or tub areas or blocking for.
  • Lever handles instead of knobs for persons with sensitive wrists.
  • Lower rise steps
  • Good lighting throughout the home.
  • Exterior windows have crank handles or a design for easier opening.

First floor bedrooms, baths and kitchens:

Additional design features you can use:

  • Slip proof bathtubs
  • Raised Toilets
  • Towel bars become grab bars
  • Railings down hallways and stairs
  • Bathroom shower has a level no-threshold entry (love this one)
  • Bathroom showers have seats in them
  • Kitchen sink can have under-cabinet knee space.
  • Raised dishwashers to eliminate extreme bending as well as other adjustments for appliances
  • Lowered clothes racks by making closet bars adjustable
  • Lower kitchen cabinets for easier reaching

It is best to have these features built into the home as it is being built, especially if you intend to reside there long-term, rather than having to someday spend thousands of dollars in remodeling costs later.

Benefits of these principles:

At my tai chi class (tai chi is an exercise often recommended for seniors because it is not strenuous) not too long ago, the instructor asked the group of seniors, some of whom were in their 70's and 80's, what they feared most.  Nearly all said falling was their greatest fear.   And rightly so, as 1/3 of seniors over 65 will have a serious fall.

The principles of Universal Design greatly aids to lessen this fear. You may not feel this way yet, but someday it may be important.

Are communities utilizing these concepts:

In a past survey to assess over 55 communities for universal design being used, out of 25 models in 8 communities visited, 52% had no-step entry, 52% had turning space in bath and 40% had wider interior doors.  Therefore, this survey shows there is a way to go for all builders to begin using these principals.  

Homes for Life Coalition:

Fortunately, there are associations that promote universal design to homebuilders and architects.

The Homes for Life Coalition of Howard County in Maryland has as its mission to increase the number of new and renovated homes that are safe and convenient for all residents of Howard county.  The means to do this is education and public awareness. 410-917-5767.

There is a brochure on the products for universal design from the National Builders Association.


More people are deciding to stay in their homes due to difficulties in selling their homes in today's market, and, therefore, are using the principles of universal design and aging in place when remodeling their older homes.  

However, purchasing today's new homes in retirement communities, you will probably find many of these principles already in place.

Alternatively, there may be options by some builders to add them prior to building.

Looking for more articles about design:

Traditional Design concepts

Today's Floor Plans