A growing number of builders in New Zealand are now being asked to construct homes which work for all Kiwis — no matter their age, mobility or circumstances.
That’s because over the next 30 years, New Zealand’s ageing population will grow dramatically, with many Kiwis preferring to stay in their homes rather than moving to residential facilities.
However, the reality is that the design and construction of most New Zealand houses does not yet take into account this change in demographics.
“With our changing population, the focus needs to be on building homes that fit around people, rather than making people fit around their homes,” according to Lifetime Design Housing general manager Andrew Olsen.
“There is now a window of opportunity for the construction sector to help lead the transition towards building homes that cater for our future.”
Mr Olsen is working with the building sector to raise awareness of the Lifemark — the construction industry equivalent of the New Zealand Heart Foundation’s “tick”, and an independent seal of approval for building accessible homes.
“It caters for people’s changing needs over a lifetime, eliminating the need for costly future renovations,” Mr Olsen says.
“A home awarded the Lifemark signals to a buyer that it will cater for their needs for their lifetime, and that it is designed around the core design principles of adaptability, accessibility, inclusivity and lifetime value.”
As a builder, a home with the Lifemark won’t, on the surface, appear to be different from any other.
It has 33 design features covering six key areas — entrance, kitchen, living area, bedroom, bathroom and multi-storey. These are all aimed at making the house accessible for everyone, easier to live in and easy to adapt as residents’ needs change over time.
From a building perspective, there are many factors to consider in creating accessible and adaptable homes.
Entranceways should allow for seamless and trouble-free access, along with good lighting and generous doorways to cater for parents carrying children and shopping from the car, or for older people using a walking aid.
In the kitchen, the focus is on safety as well as convenience, ensuring there is enough space around appliances and cupboards to move around easily, while the layout, fixtures and fittings should support cooking and cleaning in comfort, even when using a mobility device or wheelchair.
Bathrooms, a commonly modified risk area for elderly and disabled people, can be “future-proofed” through simple features such as strengthened walls that can accommodate future handrails and a shower seat, or using a wet area shower rather than a traditional shower box with room to manoeuvre a mobility aid.
In the living room, switches, power sockets and other controls are at a handy height in order to avoid unnecessary bending or reaching.
Ultimately, the construction approach is one of flexibility to change the home over time according to the inhabitants’ needs — at all inclusive level.
This means building a home that caters for many different needs, such as those of multi-generational households, those with permanently or temporarily disabled inhabitants, those who are already elderly, and those who simply plan to live in their own home into their old age.
“Many builders that have assessed the Lifemark believe that when incorporated into the design from the outset, there is almost no increase in cost,” Mr Olsen says.
“In fact, the costs of delivering a Lifemark home should not be restrictive. The upfront cost of incorporating the Lifemark features at the time of building is as little as 0% to 1.5% of the total build cost, a fraction of the cost of retro-fitting homes.”
Builders and home ownerscan assess the full range of features available online atwww.lifemark.co.nz.
Quality mark gets RMBF thumbs up
“An exciting development in the building sector is the Lifemark, an innovative quality mark which offers real opportunities for those of us looking to improve New Zealand’s housing stock,” according to RMBF chief executive Warwick Quinn.
“The Lifemark, the building sector’s equivalent to Tourism New Zealand’s Qualmark, proves a home is usable and accessible.
“I encourage all builders to find out more about Lifemark at information sessions at your regional meetings.”