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Designing and building homes for accessible living

Roof top image used for multicomfort.co.uk article 'Why healthy homes make economic sense'

Experts predict that an extra 340,000 homes are needed to solve the housing crisis, putting increased strain on housebuilders and contractors who already face cost and time pressures. However, a continual focus on how many homes are being built, rather than the type and quality of the properties, risks new-builds being unsuitable for the changing makeup of typical family households that we’re seeing today.

A recent report from the National Housing Federation revealed one in seven – that’s approximately eight million people – currently live in unsafe or unsuitable homes, which don’t cater to their day-to-day needs.

And it’s not difficult to see why. We have an ageing population, a growing number of people with chronic health problems, and more multi-generation families living under one roof. In fact, it’s predicted that the number of UK households headed by someone over the age of 65 will increase by 54 per cent before 2041.

With all of this in mind, it’s a higher priority than ever before to design and build homes that are functional, flexible and stylish, which cater to all ages and abilities, today and well into the future.

How can we design and build homes for an accessible living?

Accessible living should be a key priority at the start of each development, rather than seen as an afterthought to be retrofitted once the need arises. The demand is there, not just from those living with a disability or who are older in age, but from families who are buying properties with longevity in mind.

For designers and housebuilders, this means considering how to update expected layouts of spaces like kitchens and bathrooms so they are more suitable for people who may have mobility issues or deteriorating eyesight, for example. As well as layout, we also need to consider furniture, fixtures and fittings.

In response to growing demand and a drive to make homes more comfortable and inclusive, manufacturers and distributors are now offering much bigger ranges of products to support accessible living.

For example, linear-style induction hobs – where pans can be placed in a row, rather than a group – look modern, save on unit space, and mean wheelchair users or people with mobility challenges don’t have to reach across one pan to get to another.

There are also options to fit cupboards and sinks that rise and fall, J-pull doors, and mobile work surfaces – which all provide additional safety and easier access than some more traditional options.

Furthermore, there is an increasing amount of resource and guidance about considerations into temperature, acoustics, and light quality when designing homes for older people. Combining all of this knowledge, research and new product development means architects and housebuilders can and should take a holistic view when designing and building for accessible and multi-generational living to make sure spaces enhance people’s quality of life, comfort and general wellbeing.

The future of multi-generational homes

Building for multi-generational families creates wider benefits, adding value and future-proofing new homes.

Kate Henderson, chief executive at the National Housing Federation, said about its recent report: “From Cornwall to Cumbria, millions of people are being pushed into debt and poverty because rent is too expensive, children can’t study because they have no space in their overcrowded homes, and many older or disabled people are struggling to move around their own home because it’s unsuitable.

“This crisis cannot be solved by tweaks around the edges of the housing market. Investing in housing is a win-win for the government - it would bring down the housing benefit bill, provide everyone with a secure and stable start in life, and kick start an economic boom creating thousands of jobs.”

Kate’s comments, along with the facts that we’re seeing more and more generations living under one roof and we’re getting older, reinforce the need for architects, designers and builders to rethink new build blueprints.

Manufacturers and developers alike should work in tandem to create functional and accessible spaces – which don’t compromise on style – to meet the health, safety, comfort and wellbeing needs of evolving households across the UK for today, and for many generations to come.

Disclaimer: The sole responsibility for any views expressed lies with the author(s). Any opinions shared do not necessarily represent the views of Saint-Gobain.

Natalie Davenport
Natalie Davenport Head of Marketing, Häfele UK
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