It's a good idea to think about the things your home may need for you to be independent and comfortable in later life, so you can continue to live there as you grow older and/or your mobility becomes impaired.
It's sensible to make those changes as you renovate or build now, rather than having to make them later.
Lifetime (or Universal) design is about making homes that people can live in and enjoy regardless of their age, mobility or stage of life.
It means having a home that is adaptable if needs change due to having children and the different stages they go through, children leaving home, mobility and health changes, needing to simplify housekeeping and staying in your home as you age.
Some basic principles of universal design include:
• having flat access to the main entrance
• having the main floor at entry level
• having the kitchen, bathroom and at least one sleeping area at entry level (note: the sleeping area could also be used as a study
or living area)
• ensuring all walkways and doorways are wide enough for strollers, wheelchairs or mobility scooters to easily pass through
(an 800mm-wide doorway will allow minimum clearance for wheelchairs of 760mm width)
• ensuring all rooms are large enough for residents to easily move around in
• doors opening outwards in small bathroom areas
• providing grab bars beside toilets
• providing a wet area or 'European' shower (i.e. a shower that drains directly through the floor with no door or
'lip’ that has to be stepped over)
• ensuring door handles are lever-style (which are easier to grip and open than door knobs)
• providing kitchen benches and other work/storage spaces at the appropriate height
• planning appliance heights to reduce bending or kneeling
• installing light switches by beds and a telephone outlet by the main bed
• ensuring garages and carports are large enough for wheelchair access
• having light switches, socket outlets and door handles at easily reached heights.
Many of the features of universal design can be built into any new home or renovation, saving costly alterations further down the track.
If alterations are required as needs and lifestyles change, they'll be more cost-effective if they have been considered as part of the initial design.
Homes for adults
The needs of adults are quite different to those of children. If you want to have other adults live with you as friends or flatmates, they may need more independence and privacy than children.
In particular, think about:
• will you need separate living areas?
• whether you have enough full-sized bedrooms for adults' needs
• whether you’ll have room(s) that can be used as office space if you decide to work from home.
• For information on adapting your home for future needs see Smarter Homes.
• The University of Iowa's Practical Guide to Universal Home Design. provides checklists for renovating and designing homes to suit people
for whom mobility is an issue.
• If you have a disability now, funding for housing modifications may be available through the Ministry of Health. Look for
‘disability funded services’ on the Ministry of Health website. If a disability is the result of an accident-related injury, talk to the
Accident Compensation Corporation or see their website.
• Building or renovating? Understand your rights and obligations. Go to this website for advice and guidelines on building regulation
so you can make informed decisions about building work.