The baby boomer generation, which is currently estimated to be aged between 48 and 67 years old, comprises almost one-third of the nation’s population. The demand that this lucrative segment of the population has on housing is causing homebuilders to rethink how they design homes. In fact, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) has a 50+ Housing Council which focuses entirely on the housing needs of aging baby boomers.
A study commissioned by the NAHB suggests that baby boomers and older homebuyers want a maintenance-free lifestyle that frees them up to travel, socialize, and pursue other activities. Perhaps this is why real estate professionals report an increase in the number of baby boomers who are interested in condominiums and townhomes. There is also growing popularity for luxury units because they appeal to empty-nester baby boomers who no longer want the maintenance of a single family home, but don’t want to scale back on certain features and amenities either.
Homes that are specifically designed for aging clientele often incorporate what is known as “universal design” which allows anyone to function within the home, whether it’s children, an elderly person, or someone who is wheelchair bound. Universal design compensates for a reduced range of motion that often times comes with aging homeowners. For example, electrical switches and thermostats should be placed no higher than 48 inches above the floor and outlets no more than 27 inches—this puts them within the reach of virtually anyone. Likewise, the use of Lazy Susans, rolling carts under counters, pull-out shelves, and height-adjustable shelves make items more accessible. The height of counter tops must be within reach of all household members sitting or standing. Other features might include installing fold down benches in the shower, dual handrails, and raised toilets to compensate for decreased balance and coordination.
Universal design compensates for reduced strength by adjusting tension to assist with opening/closing windows and doors. Installing C or D shaped loop handles on drawers and cabinets and using easy gliding hardware for drawers also assists weaker individuals. Berms, ramps, and wider doorways with lower thresholds help with mobility and agility. Single-story homes also offer increased accessibility for aging homeowners—in fact, builders say that 75 percent of the homes they build for the 50+ market are single story.
The end goal for organizations like the NAHB’s 50+ Housing Council is to encourage the construction of more homes that can be adjusted over time to homeowners’ needs, so that they can live comfortably, safely, and independently as they age.