Sunday, April 22, 2007

Aging in place—good for the earth?

I opened up the Sunday paper today to a Home Depot ad listing 20 some things you could buy to be more environmentally responsible. Now, put aside for a moment the irony of encouraging consumerism in order to be environmentally responsible and turning Earth Day into just another shopping holiday. Many of the items, such as compact fluorescent light bulbs, are the sort of things that you are going to be buying anyway—going without lights is hardly a viable environmental strategy. So that ad got me thinking about how aging in place may or may not be sound, ecologically speaking.

One could argue that by keeping people in their homes, we are heating and lighting larger spaces than might be necessary and that we’ll have to create senior-focused transit options that will require more fuel, and so on with similar arguments to suggest that aging in place might be the best thing for mom but not for Mother Earth.

However, I think of that old maxim “reduce, reuse recycle.” To me, it fits well with aging in place. Rather than building new housing, we reuse the existing housing, reducing the consumption of natural resources and recycling our existing housing stock. Since many older homes tend to be smaller than the current 2400 square foot standard that older housing stock can be wisely modified and reused to the benefit of our older citizens and our communities.

And, keeping our seniors in mixed communities means we can share (recycle?) their experience and talents with younger generations more easily.

I believe that many of the best solutions for aging-in-place are also good for the earth. That compact fluorescent light bulb uses less energy and last 10 times as long, meaning seniors not only reduce their electrical expenses but also avoid getting up on stools and ladders to change bulbs as often. Similarly, when installing new appliances or heating systems for safety and comfort the homeowner will likely find that the new versions are much more energy efficient as well. Showers are not only more accessible, they use less water, another double benefit. The same can be said of lower maintenance landscaping.

I suspect that as we go further down this path, we will find more and more synergies between environmental stewardship and creating healthy, safe and comfortable homes and communities for our aging population. Especially if we remodelers strive to be as green as we can.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

A good post about sensitivity to universal design

I read this post on another blog today and thought I'd link and comment here. The posting can be found at

Some key things I noted:
  • The author's post underscores that the issues of accessibility are important not only for people with permanent disabilities but also for temporary impairments--an accessible house is flexible and wise for a wide variety of people at different stages in their life.
  • I like the comment that automatic "touchless" faucets are smart not only for seniors but good to keep the grand kids from leaving the faucet running. Underscores that many of the things we think of as "handicap" are much more universally helpful.
  • The author's acknowledgement of Iraq war veterans is another (sobering) reminder that the needs for accessibility and universal design are widespread and varied.
  • I particularly like the experiential design element where she toured the framed-out home in a borrowed wheelchair, uncovering issues that would prevent or complicate future use of a wheelchair. No one likes to change the framing, but better to change it then than after the home is finished. Seniors who are purchasing a new home for retirement could benefit from doing the same and then making the necessary modifications before moving in.