Imagining production-built homes that have zero steps, zero thresholds, leads the way to a new generation of homes accessible to all.
When it comes to production home design, there’s nothing easy about making the kinds of substantive changes that are envisioned by the Living In Place Institute–now at work on an Idea Home that visitors will tour next year in Louisville, Colo.
The Idea Home is a custom home by a builder that’s used to working in one-off situations where new ideas can be easily implemented. But the Living In Place Institute, which envisions a new generation of American homes designed to meet people’s needs at all ages and facing all of life’s challenges, is already at work encouraging production builders to adopt those same innovations.
“Nothing points up the inadequacy of production-built homes more than finding steps into new models marketed to the age-50-plus market,” says Dani Polidor, Vice President of Sales & Marketing at the Living In Place Institute.
“These patio ranch plans are very popular in many markets, but they will confront their owners and guests with insurmountable challenges as they age,” Polidor adds.
Making a conversion to zero-step homes, Polidor notes, is similar to the challenge that production builders overcame during the 1990s in converting to higher energy efficiency.
“It will take work, but it’s very achievable,” she adds. There are relatively inexpensive ways that builders can work toward offering those innovations to customers in the near term, says John A. Danielian, AIA, President of California-based Danielian Associates Architecture/Planning/Design.
The firm, selected as architects for the Living in Place Institute Idea Home, has a 55-year history in production housing, including credits for having pioneered many innovations seen in master-planned communities today, including wide and shallow lot configurations, combo/condos, and ‘z-lots’.
“I think you can still have good, workable production design while implementing these new standards,” says Danielian. “We do everything from production homes to large multifamily projects, and we need to incorporate similar considerations all the time.”
Just as builders did 30 years ago when the hurdle was offering better energy performance, builders might begin by offering Living In Place features as options on their conventional models. That might start by showing customers a zero-step home with no thresholds, as one model home in a new collection.
Designing a zero-step entry and garage entrance in a pre-platted community is an ambitious change that requires thinking ahead about which lots have a suitable slope along with the necessary interior flooring designs; and perhaps offering those sites for pre-sale, says Danielian. The Idea Home has an entry that’s accessible from the driveway or front walk without intervening steps. But the home still has some elevation from the street, providing an attractive street appearance. “There might be some additional costs in doing specific grading for a model with zero steps,” Danielian says. “But you might be able to get a premium on those specialty home sites that will offset the costs.”
Danielian notes that rising land costs are making ranch plans—still popular in some markets—more expensive for builders to offer. “It’s getting to a point where it’s not feasible to build single-story; where it’s less expensive to offer a two-story with an elevator, or to frame and wire a house now for a future elevator.”
The way to work that in is to build two storage closets, one on top of the other. In the Idea Home, visitors will see that modification. “Designing a place for the elevator now definitely saves money in the future,” Danielian says. “Who doesn’t like the idea of having that extra storage?”
The Living In Place Institute trains and accredits housing and other professionals to adopt state-of-the-art innovations that will help create a generation of homes that favor families facing everyday challenges, including younger families coping with kids with autism and other developmental disabilities, and people dealing with an accident or a cognitive challenge.
In addition to zero-step entries, in the Idea Home all rooms, baths and other areas will be equally accessible. Those include halls and doorways designed for walkers and wheelchairs; kitchens and baths with counters and cabinetry designed to accommodate users with disabilities; and lighting, safety and smart-home technologies that eliminate a wide range of accessibility issues and safety risks.
Louie Delaware, the Institute’s President and Founder, says that builders who begin offering those ideas will likely find a ready market for the same. He notes that a vast majority of the older population intends to age at home—some 77% of Americans aged 50 and older according to a 2021 study by AARP.
Tim Coonce of Porchfront Homes is the Idea Home’s builder. Along with Danielian Associates, two National Kitchen and Bath Association Certified Master Kitchen and Bath Designers, Maria Stapperfenne and Barbara Barton, each a Certified Living In Place Professional, are working on design aspects; along with Lighting Designer Marty Lepper of Urban Lights; and Interior Designer Colleen Johnson. Robert August of Northstar Synergies, an internationally recognized marketing expert, is directing the promotional and open house activities.
You can follow construction progress on the Idea Home and sign up for the Living In Place Institute Newsletter via the website at LivingInPlace.Institute. To sign up for a 16-hour training leading to a CLIPP certification, contact Dani Polidor at 585-474-5677 or visit LivingInPlace.Institute.