Survey Sees Accessibility in Demand

WASHINGTON, DC — As home sizes continue to level off after years of increases, American homeowners are rethinking their housing needs. They are increasingly requesting greater accessibility within the home through wider hallways, fewer steps and single-floor design, according to a recent survey into housing trends conducted by the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

The survey, conducted among a panel of 500 architecture firms that concentrate their practice in the residential sector, also revealed that, as sizes of homes and properties level off, homeowners are paying an increasing amount of attention to the concept of multi-functionality, as well as outdoor living spaces that serve as an extension of indoor living. Those outdoor spaces include kitchens, upscale landscaping, fireplaces, courtyards, gazebos, swimming pools and outdoor storage facilities, according to the Washington, DC-based AIA.

“The continued interest in greater accessibility is being driven by Baby Boomers approaching retirement who are adapting their homes to meet their longer-term needs, along with those who are caring for aging parents or relatives,” says AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker. “Along with accessibility is the desire among homeowners for more flexible and less formal living space with a more open layout.”

Adds Baker: “Rising home energy costs and concerns over affordability are resulting in a decrease in extra interior spaces that add to heating and cooling expenses.”

Households are also putting less focus on the amount of space in their homes and more focus on how that space is being used, Baker notes. He adds that ease of accessibility around the home, with an emphasis on informal areas with multiple functions, is a trend that is growing in popularity.

Bigger no Longer Better

According to the AIA, its survey revealed that more residential architects reported home sizes to be decreasing in 2007 than increasing (see graph above, right). In addition, a smaller share of respondents reported the volume of space in homes (for example, ceiling heights) to be increasing. Specifically, the AIA noted, 31% of survey respondents reported the volume of space in homes to be on the rise, compared to 47% in 2006 and 51% in 2005.

“Lower rates of home price appreciation coupled with higher short-term interest rates are no doubt a contributing factor in households moderating their expectations,” Baker observes. “Additionally, rising home energy costs are discouraging larger homes, as well as extra interior space that adds to heating and cooling expenses. Many households are finding that improved use of existing space in their homes reduces the need for additional square footage.”

Recent surveys of residential architects have confirmed the rapidly growing trend toward outdoor living. Almost two-thirds of AIA survey respondents said they see outdoor living as a trend that is growing in popularity. To support this added attention to the outdoors, more than half the respondents reported that space that helps to blend indoor and outdoor living is also increasing in popularity. With added attention to outdoor space and activities, respondents also noted the continued popularity in upscale landscaping and outdoor amenities.

Homeowners are also looking to use their homes differently from previous generations, and therefore are looking for different layouts and greater accessibility around the home in terms of wider hallways and fewer steps, as well homes with a single-floor design, according to Baker.

Part of this concern, he explains, stems from an aging baby-boom generation planning for their own retirement years and beginning to think about how best to adapt their homes to their longer-term needs. Another part is a response to more immediate concerns about caring for aging parents or other relatives in their homes, or just making it easier to accommodate visitors who may have mobility issues.

“Related to accessibility is the desire for space that can serve multiple needs of the household,” he says. “Increased multifunctional space was seen by residential architects as a trend growing in popularity, as was more open space in the home.

“As households look to more flexible space, they also are looking for informality in their homes,” Baker adds.