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Design for a multi-generational home has become an important topic among designers, architects, builders, and homeowners in recent years.  More seniors are deciding to stay in their homes or move in with their younger family members. This shift combined with the growth of the over 65+ population is contributing to the rising interest in Universal Design, aging in place, and designing homes with multiple generations in mind.

With baby boomers aging, the U.S. population of people 65 or older is expected to burgeon from 39.6 million in 2009 to about 72.1 million in 2030, according to federal Administration on Aging data. Thus, more families are looking to provide space in their homes for an elderly relative. – Washington Post

Grandparents, adult children, and grandchildren are increasingly choosing to move back in with each other. Having three or more generations living under one roof is becoming the practical choice for many families.  Grandparents can assist with childcare for working parents while also enjoying the safety and security that living alone simply would not afford them. The baby boomer generation also prefers to retain a high level of freedom that they just don’t get from assisted living and nursing facilities. Being close to loved ones in a home that is built with multiple generations in mind can allow for a more fulfilled lifestyle that is more in line with the values of the boomer generation.

Americans living in multi-generational family households has continued to rise in recent years, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center… In 2014, a record 60.6 million people, or 19% of the U.S. population, lived in a multi-generational household, up from 42.4 million (17%) in 2009 and 27.5 million (12%) in 1980. – Market Watch

One factor is the cost of nursing homes and assisted living, but also the cost of childcare and rising rent and mortgage costs. The average cost of a shared room in a nursing facility in 2016 was $225 a day, or $82,000 a year.  For assisted living facilities, the average per year is around $43,000. Consider then that the average that American’s pay for childcare per year is around $10,000 per child and all of sudden it makes sense that some families are choosing to co-habitate.

The principles of Universal Design that are applied in designing a multi-generation home benefit more than just seniors who want to age-in-place. These design guidelines create spaces that are safer, adaptable, durable, and beneficial to occupants of all ages and abilities. One of the key concepts in Universal Design is that accessibility is built in, not an add-on. For example, a home might be built on one level with no curbs or steps. This saves the homeowners from having to add a ramp or lift if a family member ultimately needs a wheelchair. But if you think about it in terms of families with young children, having no curbs or steps can also protect your little ones from tripping or tumbles down stairs.

The 7 Principles of Universal Design are:

  • Equitable Use
  • Flexibility in Use
  • Simple and Intuitive Use
  • Perceptible Information
  • Tolerance for Error
  • Low Physical Effort
  • Size and Space for Approach and Use

These principles are a great place to start when designing a new home or planning a renovation to accommodate multiple generations or abilities. With these principles in mind, here are some design ideas to consider in your multi-generational home.

Many architects say they see their clients asking to redesign a home to accommodate an elderly parent, or a family visiting for the holidays. “I see it now more than 10 years ago,” said Dawn Zuber, an architect in Plymouth, Mich. – Market Watch

VIM Products Inc Level Entry Shower System Gallery Curbless Universal Design, Photo Courtesy of Thayer Custom Homes. www.vimproducts.com 919-277-0267

VIM Level Entry Shower System – Photo Courtesy of Thayer Custom Homes

Level Entry Showers

Many trips, slips and falls can happen in the bathroom, particularly the shower. Level Entry Showers remove the curb and feature gradual sloping to a center drain, removing a tripping hazard while also making the shower accessible to people of all abilities. A Level Entry Shower helps accomplish 3 of the 7 Universal Design Principles. Equitable Use by making the shower accessible to all people including those in need of wheelchairs and walkers. Tolerance for Error by reducing the risk of falls from tripping and reduce slipping hazards from proper drainage and slope. Size and Space for Approach and Use in that a Level Entry Shower can open up the space and allow for easy access to the shower.

Easy to Reach Cabinets

Apply this idea to any room with storage. If cabinets or shelves are too high, too deep, or too low, they are potentially not accessible to all the residents of your home. Cabinets and shelves should be easily reached by a person of average height without the use of a step ladder or stool. For elderly or If a deep cabinet is not being replaced, use a Lazy Susan to provide easier access to items in the back and better utilize the space. Make sure you cabinet handles are easy to grasp or pull and that hinges and slides operate smoothly.  These suggestions are informed by a few of the principles: Equitable Use, Flexibility in Use, and Low Physical Effort.

VIM Products Inc Level Entry Shower System Gallery Curbless Universal Design, Photo Courtesy of SRE. www.vimproducts.com 919-277-0267

Photo Courtesy of SRE

Grab Bars & Stability Aids

Grab Bars do not have to be ugly, commercial stainless steel in order to be effective. Invest in some stylish, coordinating Grab Bars and other integrated stability aids to improve safety, particularly in wet areas like the bathroom. Also consider dual hand rails on any staircase so they may be grabbed no matter which hand is free. Keep in mind that you can add stability aids in unexpected, but helpful places such as a toilet paper holder with an integrated grab bar.  Stability aids are helpful no matter your age or ability. By equipping your home with integrated stability aids you are fulfilling the Equitable Use and Tolerance for Error standards.

Open Floor Plans

A design trend that is taking hold in New Construction is also a key element of Universal Design. By opening up our living spaces, they are also optimized for flexible use throughout our lives. Wide passageways & doors benefit all people, whether you are moving in a large piece of furniture or navigating your home in a wheelchair. Open floor plans take it a step further by eliminating doors and hallways all together. Rearrange your spaces as needed to accommodate any special needs that may arise, whether that is a new child, a new home office, or a elderly parent with limited mobility. In addition to incorporating an open floor plan, consider using wide door frames or pocket doors when possible to improve mobility through your home. Like the Level Entry Showers, this fulfills the Size and Space for Approach and Use principle of Universal Design.

Applying these Design Ideas in your Multi-Generational Home

We hope these suggestions help you design a functional and welcoming multi-generational home for you and your loved ones. Maybe you are not in a place to completely renovate at this time. Make a list of priority renovations to start with.

One third of all falls in the elderly population involve hazards at home. Factors include: poor lighting, loose carpets and lack of safety equipment. – Aging Care

A good place to begin is the bathrooms where falls can be additionally dangerous due to wet conditions and hard surfaces.  A Level Entry Shower System can make a huge difference in the safety and accessibility of a bathroom. Consider adding fold away shower seating and stability accessories for added safety and convenience.

Optimizing your home for multi-generational living can be one of the most rewarding investments you will make in your future. Not only are you setting yourself up to live comfortably for years to come in your family home, you are also prepared for any unforeseen circumstances such as temporary disability, new children, or a elderly parent coming to live with you. The savings can be huge, but the memories you will have in your home and peace of mind you will have are priceless.


VIM Products, Inc. is the maker of The Level Entry Shower System™ and ADA approved Bath Seats and Accessories.