Unfortunately, Jeff’s case is no exception. We rarely think of livable, accessible, and adaptable houses before we face the facts.
The construction industry is already waking up to the growing demand for livable houses and buildings.
There is no turning back. We should build with ageing, infirmity, and inclusion in mind to bring livable design features to a maximum number of people — throughout their lifetime.
What is Livable Housing Design?
A livable house is designed to meet the changing needs of most home occupants without the need for customization and remodelling.
Such houses provide the peace of mind for whatever the future may hold. And if the occupants wish it to be their last home, it will readily become one.
An adaptable house may lack some features of livability at present, but it is designed to be easily adapted to become a livable house, should the need arise.
Why do we need livable homes?
While environmental issues force us to opt for sustainable practices, designing for livability helps to solve other essential problems.
The Australian population is growing. Our country is being transformed by aging (baby boomers, a total of 5.5 million people born between 1946 and 1965, have gone into retirement). Our lifestyle requirements are constantly evolving. The pressure on health and social care services is rapidly increasing.
We need homes that enable us to live independently and safely so that we can live in our houses for as long as possible. In other words, when the lifetime needs of occupants evolve, the house evolves with them.
The three levels of a livable house: Silver, Gold, Platinum
The Livable Housing Design Guidelines is a document created by Livable Housing Australiawhich outlines three performance levels for livability — silver, gold and platinum. Designing for each level, builders choose to include features that range from basic requirements through to the best practice.
Here is what each level includes:
Silver Level: The keylivable design elements.
Gold Level: Enhanced standards plus additional design elements.
Platinum Level: Further enhanced standards plus all remaining elements.
Let us walk you through the seven core design elements that make a home livable, adaptable and accessible.
Features of a livable house
1. Dwelling access
The house has a continuous, step-free pathway to the entrance of the house whether from the street or the car park.
The height of the window sills enable home occupants to view the outdoor space from a seated or standing position. Window sills are fitted with easy-to-reach window controls.
The floor features slip-resistant materials to reduce the likelihood of slips and falls.
Ultimately, accessibility and livability in housing is about thoughtful design when the lifespan of the occupants is taken into account. If these design features are also part of the aesthetics, you won’t even notice them.
Who benefits from a livable home and how?
Everyone needs a livable house, but certain groups of people are more sensitive to inclusive design features: people with a disability (limited mobility, reduced vision or other impairment) and their families and friends; ageing people; people with temporary injuries; families with young children.
No matter what, all of us surely fall into one group: we are going to get older. And the physical design of the home should not unnecessarily limit our ability to cook a meal, use the shower and the toilet, reach high shelves, move furniture around, etc.
But there is more to add to the list of benefits:
Livable and adaptable houses help to maintain community ties — you are not obliged to look for a new residence when life circumstances change.
By the way, it’s not only about people with a disability; it’s about having inclusive communities where people can visit their family and friends and access other buildings for shopping, entertainment and more.
Finally, these houses cost less to be refurbished and are attractive to a larger number of people — so they are a sound investment for resale and rental.
Australia has its examples of livable homes.
Located in Canberra, Isabella Gardens received Gold certification from Livable Housing Australia. Here you will find single-storey homes that have dwelling access with a step-free pathway. They feature wide internal doorways, corridors and spacious kitchens, laundries, bedrooms and living spaces that enable easy access for everyone.
Head for Tasmania and you will find the Lifetime SmartHome – a universal access home with “more than 30 accessible features” as well as additional, built-in ones for future activation should the need be at a later time.
The construction industry is preparing to fight another challenge — to help people age in place and age in community.
Architects and builders can design out many of the “troubles” by constructing houses that are safer, more comfortable and easier to access without looking clinical or being luxury builds.
Professionalism and creativity can give birth to sustainable, inclusive, and inspirational housing projects that will set a new trend in the industry.
That’s when we need skillful specialists who know how to read industry codes and regulations, how to incorporate rules into the building design, how to manage the construction process, and, eventually, build homes for today’s and tomorrow’s use.