Two New Studies Point to Aging-in-Place Trend

CHARLOTTE, NC — More remodeling clients are planning ahead and opting to alter their homes – including kitchens and baths – for aging-in-place requirements, according to the results of two separate studies conducted by industry-related organizations.

The studies, conducted by the Research Institute for Cooking & Kitchen Intelligence (RICKI) and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), point to a distinct trend toward increased consumer demand for Universal Design modifications to existing homes.

“Many homeowners are now planning for kitchen remodels to work for them well into the future, whether they’re thinking about doing everything they can to stay in their homes as they age or thinking about the overall lifetime environmental impact of a kitchen remodel,” said Brenda Bryan, executive director of the Charlotte, NC-based RICKI, an independent, membership-based organization of manufacturers, retailers, wholesalers and publications whose revenues come from sales related to activities that take place in the kitchen, including remodeling.

According to RICKI, its study was conducted over a three-day period in December 2008 among a diverse group of 19 professional kitchen designers from across the U.S.

Designers participating in the study offered suggestions to address the challenge of designing for older clients, including: raised dishwashers, separate refrigerator and freezer units, separate cooktops and ovens, modified base cabinets (to accept wall cabinet functions), drawers instead of cabinets, electronic or soft-touch drawers, and a walk-in pantry (“so that the most valuable storage space – between the knees and the shoulders – can be maximized”).

Additional design suggestions include ergonomic knobs/pulls, wider doorways/pathways between cabinets, no thresholds or level changes in flooring, and enhanced lighting.

Geleta Fenton, a Georgia-based designer, described a demonstration she conducts for clients wanting to better understand aging and mobility issues, since these can impact design and product decisions.

“I carry a long scarf that can be used to put someone’s arm in a sling, pull up their leg as though they have a sprained ankle or even cover one eye,” Fenton explained. “I also carry a cane [that] can be used to simulate a crutch.

When the client [simulates] having a physical problem, he can [see] why you want the refrigerator opening on the handle side next to the counter or why the microwave hood isn’t functional.”

The NAHB survey points to similar results. According to recent data gathered by NAHB Remodelers, 70% of member remodelers surveyed reported making Universal Design home modifications, a significant bump from 60% in 2006.

NAHB’s survey also found that consumers are becoming increasingly aware of aging-in-place options, with remodelers saying that 84% of homeowners have at least some knowledge of Universal Design solutions. Seventy-four percent of remodelers also note an increase in requests for these types of features.

“Homeowners are asking for remodeling improvements to make their homes more comfortable as they age because they don’t want to move or lose independence,” said NAHB Remodelers Chairman Greg Miedema, a remodeler from Tucson, AZ. “These modifications can make a home more stylish and convenient for the aging population.”

Aging-in-place modifications most frequently purchased by homeowners, according to surveyed NAHB remodelers, include:

  • Adding grab bars (78%).
  • Installing higher toilets (71%)
  • Upgrading to a curb-less shower (60%).
  • Widening doorways (57%).
  • Constructing ramps or lower thresholds (45%).
  • Enhancing lighting and task lighting (45%).

While remodelers say the bulk of jobs for aging in place come from clients age 55 and older, a growing number of consumers are not requesting aging-in-place remodeling solely for themselves, according to the NAHB. Some age-related improvements are done for older relatives, while 70% are done for homeowners planning ahead for future needs.