So, you’re finally going to build your dream home, and you want to make sure it’s also your forever home. There’s nothing worse than the idea of having to move from a house you’ve lived in and loved for decades because your health has deteriorated and you can no longer get up and down the stairs, or you can’t use your wheelchair indoors because everything is too narrow. The more you think about this now, at the design stage, the less you have to worry about as you get older.
Obviously, the first consideration is whether to build all on one level. This will be greatly influenced by the size of your plot, and how much space you want in your house. If you choose to build on two floors, you will need to consider how you will manage the stairs – so, either plan the stairs so that a stair lift is an easy fit, or leave a space where you can install a passenger/wheelchair lift in the future if it becomes necessary. Whichever you choose, you will want to make sure that all entrances are level, with no awkward steps or lips to negotiate with a stick, frame or wheelchair. While we’re talking about doorways, obviously these all need to be the regulation width to accommodate wheelchair access, and the doors themselves should be as easy to open as possible, so you may want to consider folding or sliding doors rather than the traditional type. It’s also worth a thought about electronic locks externally, so that arthritic or shaky hands don’t have to turn keys.
Traditional Scandinavian design usually means open plan for the living, dining and kitchen areas, and this can be a godsend in terms of access for anyone with mobility problems, leaving fewer doors to negotiate. If building on two floors, it’s a good idea to have a wetroom on the ground floor, with a thermostatically controlled shower, and non slip tiles, and if your house is a sizeable one, a self contained bedroom downstairs that could be used for a live-in carer is also worth keeping under consideration. Other small details that can make life so much easier for an elderly or disabled person include infrared sensors for toilets and taps, an emergency call system, and smart home technology enabling voice commands for lighting, heating etc.
You will also need to decide on what kind of flooring you want in living rooms and bedrooms. Something that is non-slip is vital, but carpet might not be the answer as it will wear with age and could need replacing at a time in your life when you don’t want that kind of upheaval. Laminate or wood floor with a non-slip coating could be a better prospect in terms of both durability and safety, not to mention appearance.
Don’t forget about the outside of your house and potential access issues there too! Landscaping your garden so that it’s all on one level, and putting in paths, building raised beds and keeping the lawn small – or doing without one altogether – can also make life easier. A wide, non slip pathway from the road to your front door, to the garage or parking bay, and from the garage/parking space to your front door is also advisable.
Another consideration for future proofing is how energy efficient your house will be, and therefore how warm and expensive to heat it will be. Our homes are well insulated and virtually airtight, meaning they need very little heating even on the coldest days, being designed for the weather in Finland which gets considerably chillier than the UK. We can work with you to decide what form of heating would be best for you. Because our houses are so airtight, we typically install an MVHR system (Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery) to ensure good indoor air quality. Solar panels may be an option to help keep future costs low (depending on the type of roof on your home, as some may not be suitable) with battery storage to make the most of the sunshine hours. An electric car charging point may also be worth considering for the future, since it seems likely the government will move to encourage people to switch to EVs in preference to diesel and petrol engines.
If you want to be really forward thinking there is advice available on how to make homes more dementia friendly, which, in addition to the ideas we’ve already covered, can include colour coded paths through the house to help guide people to specific rooms, noise reduction features to help calm and reduce stress, and safety sensors in rooms like the kitchen where risks are greater. (For more information, you could take a look at https://www.lboro.ac.uk/news-events/news/2018/july/dementia-house-launch/.)