“People don’t know what universal design means. It sounds like a graduate school program. Aging in place sounds like it’s just for old people,” Harrell adds, “and people don’t want to imagine themselves incapacitated.
“One of the ways we overcome that is to talk about visit-ability. Is your home visit-able? Do you have any relatives or friends who can’t come to your house? Are you not having Christmas dinner at your house because there’s not a zero-step clearance from the house to the car? Are they not spending the holidays because there’s not a curbless shower or they can’t get into the guest room because the door is too narrow?” she asks.
An ‘Aha’ Moment
Harrell recalls an “aha” moment when working with a client who had aging parents and was also expecting her first child. The client was asking how to make the house safer for her parents when they came to visit, Harrell relates, and then asked if she should do anything different to make the home safer for a young child. “If the place is safer for an 84-year-old, it’s safer for a 4-year-old,’” Harrell notes.
“The green part of a forever home is that you’re using low-maintenance, long-lasting products, and on the universal side it means you’re not going to have to rip out improvements because now somebody is in a wheelchair or broke their ankle,” she says.
Harrell’s home is green for some of the things she did and some she didn’t do. There are 42 photovoltaic solar panels on the roof, for example. On the other hand, the home’s two original 1986 furnaces are still in place. The ductwork was sealed with a liquid mastic so the furnaces effectively perform at 93 percent efficiency. “We would have received a lot more green points if we had replaced the furnaces, but it just seemed inappropriate and ungreen to throw them in the dump,” she says.
The home has a green rating by Build It Green as opposed to a Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Green Building Council LEED rating because “LEED started out for new homes and commercial, and Build It Green originated trying to make existing homes more green. Build It Green is less expensive, and I think it achieves the same outcome,” Harrell says.
Harrell’s remodel demonstrates that thoughtful design and aesthetics are as much, if not more, a part of green remodeling as green points accrued under a rating system.