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The Silver Tsunami and Universal Design


You may have heard the phrase “Silver Tsunami” in the news lately. It refers to the Baby Boomers aging and the resulting costs that will come along with that. What does that have to do with the building industry? Well, smart builders and remodelers will be paying attention to the idea of universal design. As a large portion of the population ages, there’s going to be more interest in building and remodeling homes that will take into account the needs of the elderly. And universal design principles are important to the younger set too: if you want to live in your home for a while, you’ll need to think about the future.

Consider these findings from a recent study of older Americans (age 55 and up) by the Mature Market Institute:

  • Nearly two-thirds (63%) plan to stay in their current home as long as they can. That number rises to 78 percent for those aged 75 and older
  • Eight in 10 prefer a single-story home to a two-story or split-level, with 75 percent preferring to have the master bedroom on the main floor
  • Windows that open easily rank among the top features that consumers said would help them remain in their homes longer, with 81 percent of consumers citing them as important. Other key desired features include a washer/dryer (90%), ample storage space (84%), and an easily operated thermostat (73%)
  • Energy efficiency also ranked high on the list of desired features, with 73 percent of consumers saying that features such as windows with low-emissivity glass and EnergyStar-rated appliances are important to them

Those findings highlight why more than 80 percent of the builders surveyed in the same study indicated that they included Universal Design features in their 55+ community homes.

These features include:

  • Wider doors and hallways
  • Lever door handles
  • Lower kitchen cabinets
  • Larger medicine cabinets
  • Attached garages with garage door openers
  • Non-slip floors
  • Larger medicine cabinets
  • Easy opening windows

Recent census data shows that more than 29% of Americans aged 64 and over suffer some form of physical disability that makes it difficult for them to climb stairs, open doors and windows, or use a historically designed bathroom. That number reinforces the need for Universal Design when it comes to home building and remodeling for an aging – yet still independent – population.

For more information on Universal Design, visit the Center for Universal Design.

Photo courtesy of Susan Serra Associates via Flickr.