How architects are helping people continue to live at home as they age

In virtually every country, the average age of the population is increasing. Better healthcare means people are living longer. This, combined with the fact that the number of children each person has is also falling, has created what many statisticians refer to as the “demographic timebomb”. More people are at the point in their adult lives where they need a little support than there are younger people willing and able to provide the necessary assistance.

For the whole world, this issue is an important challenge. Fortunately, with the help of the right technology and ways of living, it is one that can be met. As you will, see architects across the world are rising to this challenge and playing a role in keeping everyone living safely and happily. Below, we take a look at how architects are helping people to live at home, as they age.

Home adaptations

First, on the list are home adaptations. These come in many forms, and implementing some of them requires the help of an architect, but, others do not. For example, installing stair lifts, walk-in baths and lowering worktops for wheelchair users are all internal adaptations – things people typically do not need planning permission or the help of an architect to be able to do.

Installing floor-to-floor lifts in residential buildings

Installing a lift is something an architect may need to assist with. Often, there is not sufficient space within a residential building for an internal lift to be installed.

In that situation, it is sometimes possible to add a lift shaft to the exterior of a home. This is not a cheap option, but it is one that people are increasingly considering. The fact that care homes are expensive means that it does not take that long for the cost of lift installation to be more than covered. Plus, of course, people are willing to pay quite a bit to be able to stay in their own home.

As a result, demand for residential lifts is growing and architects are getting involved in their installation. They are helping homeowners to work out where an external shaft could be built and how to connect it to the property.

The fact that on each floor an opening needs to be cut to allow people to enter and leave the lift, means this is potentially quite complex. This is because the structural integrity of that wall needs to be maintained. Despite the hurdles, architects are getting approached by more people seeking to make this kind of home adaptation.

Help with planning and building ramps

Building a ramp is a far more complex task than many people realise. It takes careful planning to get it right. If it is too short, it will end up being too steep to use safely, and there are health and safety regulations that need to be taken into account. Architects have a good working understanding of everything involved, and can identify the best option for each property and come up with a design that works and fits in with all of the relevant regulations.

Building ground floor extensions

More common are clients who want to extend their home on the ground floor, so that they can move to living on one level. In the UK and many other parts of the world, there are not enough bungalows available for people who can no longer climb stairs to buy, so extending their existing home is the only viable option.

In most cases, an extension and layout rework is sufficient to make it possible for a person to continue to live where they want for several more years. Typically, the plans include a new bathroom and bedroom.

Often, homeowners take the opportunity to make other adaptations. For example, widening their doors, building a lobby that is big enough to park up and charge a mobility scooter, and changing room sizing to better accommodate wheelchair use.

In many cases, they are planning ahead and making these changes before they are physically necessary. Wisely, plenty of people are actively preparing for a time when they will be less able to move around freely.

Adding extra buildings to a property

In some cases, they are also converting their garages, lofts and having extra buildings erected in their gardens. A lot of elderly people are incorporating accommodation for a caregiver, or sometimes two, into their homes.

Loft extensions and garden rooms for live-in supporters

In some cases, younger relatives are moving into the loft, annex, converted garage or self-contained garden house. For many families, this arrangement is a win-win situation. The younger members of the family get to live independently of their parents in affordable accommodation, while the older homeowner has someone they know and trust close at hand to assist them with daily tasks.

Later, should a higher level of personal care be needed, arrangements can be changed and professional carers can be hired and live in that accommodation. Au pairs for the elderly and old-fashioned housekeepers are growing in popularity, but both require a reasonable standard of accommodation.

Outside adaptations to make life easier

When you are young, getting out of the car on a cold and wet day is not a problem. It takes moments, and is something you barely think about this simple task.

When you are older, it’s a different story. Getting out of the car can take a long time and the walk up the drive is a nightmare, because you are worried about slipping. Plus, when you get cold and wet, your hands and feet are going to be freezing all night long and the chances are you could get a nasty cold. With this sort of thing in mind, a lot of people realise that building a large garage is a good idea.

Provided it is large enough, you can open the doors wide to get in and out. Plus, maybe transfer into a wheelchair and there is no chance of getting cold and wet while doing it.

The future for elderly living

Globally, the number of people aged 65 or over is set to increase by 230 million by 2030, so we can expect to see more demand from this sector of the population for housing they can continue to live in comfortably.

Without a doubt, this fact is changing the way architects are approaching the design of new properties too.

An introduction to the bio-architecture movement

A lot of people have never heard of the bio-architecture movement, yet in reality, the chances are they do actually know what it is. It is just that they have heard it called something else.

What is bio-architecture?

According to Your Dictionary, bio-architecture has the following definitions:

“The design and construction of buildings and an ecologically-friendly manner.”

“The design and construction of buildings that reflect structures found in nature.”

Both are great definitions. They both explain what we mean when we talk about the bio-architecture movement.

Sustainable architecture

In this article, we are going to be looking at the second definition; that is, buildings that are designed to be as environmentally friendly as possible, or to put it another way, sustainable architecture. This style of construction is also sometimes referred to as green building.

This architectural movement has its roots in the ‘60s and ‘70s, but it has only started to go mainstream in the past couple of decades.

What makes a building green or sustainable?

There are many ways to build in an environmentally friendly way. However, most of the buildings that fall into the category of bio-architecture have one or more of the following features included in their design:

Water efficiency systems

Green buildings often include design features that enable water to be recycled; for example, using grey water to maintain the grounds or gardens or collecting rainwater and utilising it to flush the toilets. Minimising the amount of water used also falls into the water efficiency category.

A building that generates most of its own energy

Energy efficiency is one of the key features of sustainable buildings. Utilising wind and solar to generate as much of the power the occupants use as possible is a great way to minimise the environmental impact of a structure.

Increasingly, companies and residential property owners are also installing air and ground heat source pumps. Currently, these do not generate power as such; they basically move energy from one place to another. In the case of ground source heat pumps, they move warmth from the ground into a property. However, research is ongoing and it may be possible to one day to use similar devices to actually generate power.

Built-in energy saving systems

A well designed green building will also use far less energy. This means that it will be well-insulated. This ensures that heat stays in during the winter and outside the building when the weather is very hot.

Energy efficient appliances, heating and cooling systems are usually installed in these buildings. A lot of bio-architects incorporate sensors into the design of their buildings. These automatically turn off lights, screens and air-conditioning when nobody is in a room, or lowers the blinds on a hot day to keep the heat out.

Efficient waste management

In some cases, specialist waste management systems are incorporated into the design. For example, a composter in the grounds and space for recycling bins included in the design. In larger buildings, waste may be processed to produce energy or materials that can be used within it or sold on.

Making the most of natural light

Utilising natural light is another feature you usually find in green buildings. Taking this approach reduces the amount of power consumed to provide lighting for the building’s occupants. This usually means large windows, light wells and shiny surfaces to refract light throughout the building.

Wise use of outdoor spaces

Ensuring that the grounds or gardens support nature is another feature of environmentally-friendly buildings and developments. Making room for wildlife is an increasingly important part of the bio-architecture movement. It is not all about green roofs and plant walls; they do play a part, but matters like providing a pond, mature trees and areas that are left to grow wild are even more important.

Resisting the temptation to pave over or pour concrete upon large areas of the outdoor spaces is something that bio-architects do. Instead, permeable surfaces like gravel and wood chips allow paths to be created.

Sustainable materials used in the construction of the building

All of the above reduces the impact the building has on the environment when it has been finished and is in use. However, the way that it is built is what makes the biggest difference. The materials and building techniques have a far bigger impact on how environmentally friendly the finished property is.

The use of recycled materials

The recycled materials used in sustainable architecture come in two main forms. Firstly, materials that have been used elsewhere can be employed, such as second-hand tiles, wood, fixtures and fittings. Demand for this type of recycled building materials is on the increase. As a result, the architectural salvage industry is thriving

Using building materials that have been made from waste products is the other way in which architects are able to build in a sustainable way. New types of recycled building materials are becoming available. It is now possible to create a building using mostly construction materials that are primarily made from recycled materials.

Products made from waste wood are especially easy to get hold of and use. These includes flooring and planks made from compressed waste wood chips. Artis walling is a great example of this style of building material.

It is also now possible to buy tiles made from recycled plastic and countertops made from waste glass and stone. A lot of the steel that is used in modern buildings is also recycled.

The use of sustainable building materials

The other way architects reduce their carbon footprint is using building products that are made from sustainable materials. This means materials like fast-growing wood, bamboo, hemp and cork. All of these can be harvested and replaced within a few years, or sometimes months. For residential buildings, straw bales and green insulation products like wool are also viable sustainable building materials.

Small thatched cottage in the forest, english medieval style,

Using locally produced construction materials

Using locally sourced building materials is another practice that is widely used within the bio-architecture movement. The fewer miles the materials have travelled, the less pollution has been produced.

So ,now you have a good idea of what makes a building green. Stay tuned, as we’ll return to this subject at a later date and provide you with the best examples of bio-architecture from across the world.

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