When we think of green building, we tend to think of the built environment’s impact on the planet. But there’s a human component to crafting sustainable dwellings. An eco-friendly home should be one that maximizes a person’s health, well-being and productivity at every age.
As the U.S. population ages, and as more people choose to live in multigenerational households, there’s increased attention to creating homes that allow people to “age in place.” The idea is to build structures that can accommodate people’s changing mobility as they age so people can stay in their homes as long as possible.
The principles of “universal home” design are well aligned with many green building principles. People are more affected by toxins as they get older. As a result, it’s important that they live in homes crafted with materials that will not leach chemicals. Older folks are less able to perform maintenance tasks on their homes. Homes built with quality, long-lasting materials will require less labor. Homes with universal design features don’t need few resource-consuming (and expensive) modifications such as wheelchair ramps or lifts.
There are numerous qualities to consider when building or remodeling a home so it’s appropriate for aging in place. They include:
- Creating zero-step entrances from inside to outside, as well as within the house
- Installing a curb-less shower and hand-held shower head in at least one bathroom
- Making doorways and hallways wide enough to accommodate a walker or wheelchair
- Designing rooms large enough to do the same
- Installing blocks behind the walls of bathrooms and other rooms so it’s easier to install grab bars at a future date
- Designing gardens and other outdoor spaces with adaptive gardening and mobility in mind
If some of these tasks seem impossible – for example, if your green ethos involves built up rather than out because of a desire to preserve land – include these components in the downstairs portion of the house only. That way, should a resident eventually become unable to use the entire house, they’ll still have a place they feel comfortable.
By incorporating some of these principles, homeowners stand a better chance of being able to stay in their homes and communities longer. They’re less likely to become isolated (a real concern for older folks) or suffer injuries, and they’re more likely to carry on with planet-friendly tasks such as gardening, cooking from scratch and walking to places they enjoy. Healthy, happy people make for a healthy, happy planet. And that’s a good thing for everyone.