Designing sustainable homes for everyone

Tomorrow is International Day of People with Disability (IDPwD), celebrating the contributions and achievements of Australians with disability and we thought it would be a good time to discuss the importance of universal access in sustainable design.

Household needs vary over time, people can expect temporary or permanent variations in their physical capabilities in their life due to injury, illness or age. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that the percentage of individuals with a disability increases significantly with age, rising to more than 50% of people aged over 60. Longer life spans and higher proportions of older people in our society make it more likely that every home will be required to respond to the needs of a person with a physical limitation whether they are the primary resident or a visitor.

For those with limited mobility, reduced vision or other impairment, the ability to perform common tasks such as carrying shopping into the home, cooking a meal, using the bathroom or accessing items from high shelves may be unnecessarily limited by the physical design of a home. As the needs of individuals are specific to their personal circumstances there is no single solution to designing a home to meet changing needs; however, several approaches exist:

  • Livable house — designed to meet the changing needs of most home occupants throughout their lifetime without the need for specialisation.
  • Accessible house — designed to meet the needs of people requiring higher level access from the outset, and usually designed and built with a specific person’s needs in mind.
  • Adaptable house — adopts the idea of a livable house but in addition is able to be easily adapted to become an accessible house if the need should arise.

A single space may act at different times as a home office, a teenage retreat, a family study or a bedroom for an elderly relative.

We design adaptable houses using livable house standards for most of our homes. This provides a comfortable home for residents and visitors, that will be easily adapted if there is a need for higher level of access at a later date.

Some of the basic design principles we implement are;

  • Wider doorways and hallways
  • Flush thresholds of recessed sills to reduce trip hazards
  • Reduce floor changes, the garage is the same level as the rest of the home. Limit stairs and if there is an upper floor ensure the stairwell is wide enough to install a chairlift when required
  • Hobless showers to reduce trip hazards in showers
  • Bathroom on the north facing elevation, allowing the bathroom to dry quickly so water does not pool making it slippery to walk on
  • Bathrooms and Laundry designed to suit people in wheelchairs, with space to move around and semi recessed basins to make it easier to use
  • Kitchens are designed with circulation space in mind, drawers are used for ease of access

If you would like to read more about livable and adaptive homes go to the Your Home Guide here or Livable Housing Australia website here.