How is an aging baby boomer generation changing the design of homes?

Incorporating Universal Design
Plan ahead for universal design when building a home.
Plan ahead for universal design when building a home.
Ariel Skelley/Blend Images/Getty Images

Incorporating universal design may only add about 5 percent to the costs of building a home, compared to building a similar home without universal design features [source: Taylor]. Sometimes there may be no cost difference at all, representing a tremendous savings from a retirement community.

It is, however, much more expensive to remodel an existing home to incorporate universal design than it is to build a universal design home from the ground up; some features put in as part of a retrofit may cost 20 times more than if they'd been put in at the start [source: Dupes]. For example, installing a wider doorway during home construction may only cost $6 more than a conventional home, the cost of a bigger door. If done as part of a remodel, it may cost $650, to account for the reworking of the doorway [source: Burney]. Installing an elevator in a home with stacked cabinets could cost about $20,000; the same project from scratch is closer to $50,000 [source: Burney].

But whether you're building a new house or remodeling, you shouldn't wait until you need universal design features to start incorporating them. If you're interested, it's time to start planning -- it's too late if you've fallen and your home doesn't accommodate a wheelchair.

It's never too early to start thinking about universal design, either. As you might have picked up from our home tour on the previous page, not just the elderly will benefit from the features, and they're not noticeable unless you need them. A wide hallway will help a young mother with a stroller and lowered light switches will be reachable for children.

Incorporating the features may also increase the value of your home, because anyone can live there. By 2030, 70 million people will be over 65 -- that's 20 percent of the U.S. population [source: Gardyn]. Neglecting universal design features may cause many potential buyers to overlook your home, and as more boomers demand these features, universal design may become mandatory. 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 not sure which features you'll need, help is available. While more contractors are becoming familiar with these concepts, you might look for one that's been specially trained. In 2002, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) created the Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS) program in association with the AARP. The program trains professionals on how to design and create a home that meets the needs of the aging. During the course, contractors and designers step away from 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. To find a CAPS professional, check out the NAHB's directory.

You can find more stories and links on aging, baby boomers and housing on the next page.

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