Designing Safer Homes for Everyone

October 17, 2019

Baby boomers are retiring at an astonishing rate, creating issues not often addressed. Aside from them, many families have needs outside of age that could use features embedded in design. We are doing them a disservice if we don’t educate ourselves – and them – on how to contribute to their health and welfare. 

Here are a few examples:

  • Contrasting tile colors are proven to help people with vertigo by giving them a horizon line in the shower. That horizon line should be about 5 feet above the floor. It could be several rows of accent tile or even contrasting tiles at a certain height.

  • How many have had their children accidentally pull a towel bar out of the wall? Keep this quiet, but I’m a grown man and have done it. The bathroom floor can get pretty slippery, and we’ll grab the closest thing to steady ourselves. Why not have every towel bar serve as a grab bar? Grab bars can be beautiful, not like the ones in public restrooms. Most decorative hardware manufacturers also make designer grab bars. Obviously, they have to be installed correctly. Hint: Can you know you haven’t created a check-in in the stud or blocking when fastening those monster screws? You don’t want to find out by an emergency room call from your 250-lb. client.

  • When designing a vanity, why not incorporate varying heights? This enables someone to be seated or standing, accommodating for a wheelchair or seat if it’s more comfortable.

  • Here is an unfortunate scenario: Grandpa visits and falls in the bathroom against the door. You can’t get to him because the door opens into the room, so you have to call paramedics and you hope they arrive in time. A door that swings out would have saved time by providing immediate access.

  • More people are gravitating to lever-style door handles for their aesthetics. They’re also better than doorknobs for those with trouble gripping, especially the elderly and very young. A healthy adult with slippery hands may grab the handle and lose their balance, almost falling as their hand slides off. If it’s an elderly or special-needs person, subtract the “almost.” This could be prevented by specifying a lever with a return. The return can catch the hand before slipping off, not to mention there’s less chance of it catching one’s clothing.

  • Why not plan ahead and stack closets above one another for a future elevator? With 74.9 million baby boomers and most planning to live in their homes long term, clients will appreciate the longevity of your plan. An aside: If you specify a residential elevator, they have a typical swing door on each level and an accordion door in the elevator car. Kids can get trapped between what’s sometimes a 5-in. gap. Always specify a space guard on each door at each level. It’s not expensive and will save lives.

  • One more safety concern and also a pet peeve: Why place a microwave above a cooktop if you don’t have to? First, there is never enough ventilation, even on the off chance that it’s actually vented to the outside. If it is, it’s probably only 150 CFM, which in my opinion is severely lacking. More importantly, when you have a vertically challenged person or a child removing extremely hot liquid reaching above shoulder level, possibly above a hot element, there’s an accident you can count on.

I encourage designers and builders to check out the Living In Place Institute for tips on how to address the needs not just of those who want to age in their homes but anyone with requirements outside the norm. For me, it’s been great to confront issues with aesthetically pleasing solutions for homeowners and their visitors alike.