by Morgan Greenseth
Medical advancements and rising life expectancies mean new challenges as members of the Baby Boom generation age. One of these challenges is housing.
Many elderly citizens are demanding viable alternatives to nursing homes, where they can live independently, while interacting with their communities and growing old in their own homes. But this independence will require spaces that are accessible for a range of abilities: for example, with entrances that accommodate wheelchairs or walkers, or door and drawer handles that are easy to grasp and turn. Housing for the elderly also needs to be affordable, from construction costs to utility bills, and health, constructed with non-toxic and irritant-free materials.
The Elder Healthy Home by EcoFab offers one example of what a solution could look like. This showcase prototype is a working model of a sustainable, accessible home built on a budget that was designed specifically for senior citizens and regional Native American tribal members.
The single-story home, located on tribal property in Tacoma, was designed for a single family and built in partnership with the Puyallup Tribal Housing Authority. Its 1300 square feet are divided into two bedrooms, 1.75 bathrooms and a porch. The house was a part of the Northwest EcoBuilding Guild's 10 x 10 x 10 Green Building Slam, which took place at Seattle's Town Hall in September 2008.
The home incorporates elements of universal design, a set of principles that guides the creation of environments that people of all abilities can use without the need for modifications. Because they allow brand-new homes to cater to a broad spectrum of users, these principles are growing in popularity as a consideration of forward-thinking homebuilders who want their homes to perform for their changing needs over time. The Elder Healthy Home's universal design features include a front ramp and wide hallways to accommodate residents with physical disabilities.
The home also meets requirements for the Evergreen Sustainable Development Standard, Built Green (3-star) and Energy Star certifications. The home uses passive solar design, energy efficient lights and appliances, passive ventilation and a high-efficiency radiant hydronic heating system for its energy needs. Low-flow plumbing fixtures help conserve water used inside the house, and rainwater collection provides irrigation for the landscape. By conserving materials and recycling throughout the construction process, the team was able to regulate waste. They also emphasized efficient use of materials by mixing standard construction products with salvaged and local products, and chose sustainably harvested wood and high-recycled content products to further exercise responsible consumer choices. Non-toxic finishes and materials that help prevent mold maintain high indoor air quality.
The Elder Healthy Home was completed in March of 2008 and is now occupied. EcoFab is discussing the next phase of development, which will include the tribal crew in the construction process as a part of workforce training.
This project is a strong example of how collaboration between local groups, governments and architects can solve community problems. Housing such as this is a great start toward addressing the needs of our rapidly changing population.
Image credits: EcoFab and Northwest Property Imaging.