Accessible, adaptable, flexible

Under the general heading of Aging in Place, CMHC has compiled a number of resources on Accessible Housing and Adaptable Housing. Resources collected on the adaptable housing page include a detailed Flexible Housing guide and Flexible Housing Checklist.

“CMHC’s FlexHousing (TM),” it says here, “is an approach to home design, renovation and construction that is able to adapt and convert affordably as a household’s lifestyle and needs change.”

Aging in place website

There’s a website devoted to aging in place called… yeah, Much of it seems inordinately devoted to selling products and I find it somewhat annoying. I’m not convinced that new appliances are the answer to all my life goals.

In fairness, though, it does have some useful content, like its “Top 10 Aging in Place Bathroom Fixes,” but annoyingly (again!) I can’t give you a direct link to that article, just a link to the “bathrooms” page on which it’s found.

The top 10 bathroom fixes are well thought out and include some features I haven’t already seen everywhere else. For instance:

  • anti-scald controls
  • a handheld shower head (noting specifically that the cord should be long enough to reach your feet while you’re seated on a bench)
  • a wall-mounted sink because, if needed, a wheelchair can fit under it.

There may be a lot more good stuff there but it’s hard to survey because, annoyingly (have I mentioned it’s annoying?) there is no search box. If you feel like taking some time to browse, knock yourself out.



A CMHC pamphlet called Accessible Housing by Design—Lifts and Residential Elevators takes an astonishing 12 pages to lay out some pretty basic information, but it does contain this useful tip:

To make your dollars go further, consider buying from a company that sells refurbished equipment. Residential lift and elevator equipment is frequently recycled, providing a reliable, cost-effective and environment-friendly solution.


Universal design

Of course the phrase “universal design” sounds to me as if it should come equipped with a universal translator. But no, it’s a growing school of design conventions intended to making buildings as functional as possible from a wide variety of perspectives.

Universal design embodies seven principles, including:

1. Equitable use
This principle focuses on providing equitable access for everyone in an integrated and dignified manner. It implies that the design is appealing to everyone and provide an equal level of safety for all users.

2. Flexibility in use
This principle implies that the design of the house or product has been developed considering a wide range of individual preferences and abilities throughout the life cycle of the occupants.

The seven principles are included in an appendix to a CMHC pamphlet on Accessible Housing by Design.

Some of the ways universal design principles play out in practice include:

  • ensure at least one entrance to the home is step-free and under cover
  • use lever style door handles and faucets, which are easier to use
  • design doorways 36 inches wide, hallways at least 42 inches wide, to ensure ease of movement.


Home for a Lifetime

The American Society of Interior Designers has created a report called Home for a Lifetime: Interior Design for Active Aging. It notes:

As longevity increases, so will the likelihood of chronic health conditions and the need for regular assistance. Studies show that elderly Americans are reducing their use of nursing home care, in part because they prefer home delivered care or assisted living. They will need a suitable and accessible place to live, whether they remain in their own homes or live with a family member.

The report provides a comprehensive set of considerations for designing spaces that promote aging in place. Apparently, a lot of it has to do with what you raise and what you lower. Things to be raised include toilet seats and lighting levels; things to be lowered include beds and light switches.



Co-housing and social capital

In 2010, a master of architecture student (now Instructor) at Ryerson University wrote a thesis called Architectural development of urban social capital : cohousing in downtown Toronto. In it, Robert Coelho asked the following research question:

Can the built environment facilitate or influence the development of social capital in an urban environment?

Social capital is defined, briefly, as:

…the ‘glue’ which binds people together in a neighbourhood and encourages them to cooperate with each other.

Coelho’s fascinating question is whether architecture can actually design for the creation of social capital — in other words, design neighbourhoods that are more trusting, more collaborative.

Spoiler alert: Yes, they can.

For example:

If parking is provided, typical cohousing design normally separates the parking area from the development so that residents can not park their cars and walk a few steps to their home or even worse and typical in suburbia, drive directly into their garages and never have to walk into their front door. The idea of the separation is to force the use of the pedestrian pathways regularly by the residents creating a greater opportunity for interaction and networking.

Coelho finds that cohousing principles are more conducive to creating social capital than condominium or co-operative housing. But the cost of land makes it difficult to build cohousing in its traditional “horizontal” form within an urban center such as Toronto. Coelho identifies six design objectives which, he argues, can be applied more economically in a “vertical” cohousing form more suitable for cities.

The objectives are described in detail on pages 40-42 of his thesis. Briefly, they include:

  1. Create individual identity for each of the residents of the development
  2. Design for social integration to also create a group identity
  3. Promote a sense of security
  4. Emphasize individual and group privacy
  5. Provide physical connectivity to facilitate the development of personal connections
  6. Some commonality in ideologies, political views, and shared experiences may help to promote social connectivity.

In pages 50 through 77, well worth a read for anyone interested in this subject, Coelho uses these objectives in an actual urban design process.

Sustainability in co-housing

LiveWell Cohousing, a consulting group in Vancouver, notes that environmental sustainability doesn’t have to cost more — especially when it’s embedded in a new development.

They have developed a list of more than 20 ways to incorporate greater sustainability into co-housing. A few of their “wins” include:

  • Locate projects near existing amenities (within walking distance) to reduce dependence on cars.
  • Advanced framing techniques (using about 25% less wood than typical framing)
  • Passive heating and cooling
  • Radiant floor heating


Design for success

Canada Mortgage and Housing did a research study, published in 2005, looking into Issues and Strategies for Shared Accommodation. The results, while hardly startling, contain some practical tips.  Under the heading of design, they note:

“The results of the field research confirm the findings of the literature review on the contribution of good design to the success of shared housing arrangements. The factors that facilitate success are:

  • provisions for privacy and quiet
  • clear division of areas by function rather than open concept
  • some choice and variety in common spaces
  • separation of private and common spaces
  • not too many people sharing a bathroom
  • enough room in the kitchen to accommodate more than one or two people preparing food
  • soundproofing
  • durability of finishes
  • a normal home-like appearance.”

Shared housing, lower costs

Canada Mortgage and Housing notes that sharing facilities can produce savings in both development and operating costs.

Savings in development costs can be illustrated by shared laundry and/or bathroom facilities. On a square-metre basis, the bathroom is often the most expensive unit to construct in a dwelling because of the costs of labour, tiling, plumbing, fixtures and service trenching.

Similarly, shared eating facilities that are found in many seniors’ homes as well as other forms of congregate housing can be complemented with smaller facilities within individual units for preparing snacks and breakfasts.

Shared indoor facilities also positively impact operating costs. A shared kitchen and dining area allows for larger, commercial-sized equipment, a set-up that can be more energy-efficient than having all households each operating their own deep freezer, refrigerator or oven.


Co-op housing and sustainability

How cool is this. A new Toronto co-op combines housing, training and sustainability. The Toronto Community Housing building, which is helping to relocate residents from the Regent Park redevelopment, has achieved LEED Gold certification. Its “deconstructed” space allows room for green walls, urban gardening, passive ventilation  and cooling. (Post continues below illustration.)

It’s a much larger scale that what we’re proposing, of course, but many of the energy conservation and greenhouse gas reduction measures may be applicable.

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