When we buy a new home we usually anticipate spending many years living and enjoying it. As we change and age, our homes and living spaces are likely going to need to adapt and change for us. We may have a growing family, with babies that turn into crawling toddlers and then teenagers who socialise in the home. Thus play areas, teenage retreats and hobby spaces may be introduced and then removed. The recent pandemic highlighted the need for working from home spaces and for some of us that were either an enjoyable or challenging experience due to our home surroundings. Then as we reach our later years when we spend more time at home and may have hobbies or need to live independently and take our health needs into account, changes to our home happen again.

Injury, illness and age are reasons to make changes and tweaks to the capabilities and layouts of our homes. The design of our homes can challenge us with mobility, reduced visibility and how we can prepare a meal, use the bathroom, carry in our groceries and get to high shelves.

Thus it is advantageous when you are in the process of a new build, to take advantage of having a fresh slate which allows you to better prepare for the future needs of the home and its occupants, therefore reducing the need for expensive renovations and alterations down the track.

What are the definitions of a liveable and adaptable home? they mean slightly different things:

  • A liveable home is designed to meet the changing needs of most home occupants throughout their lifetime. A liveable home follows the design guidelines set out by Liveable Housing Australia. The liveable home is based on the principles of ‘universal design’ — defined as the design of products and environments so that they are usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialised design. 
  • An adaptable home is a liveable home that also meets Australian Standard AS4299-1995 Adaptable housing, which means it can be easily adapted to become accessible for wheelchair users, if the need should arise. An accessible home meets Australian Standard AS 1428.1-2009 Design for access and mobility.

So how do you ensure your home is future proof for the needs of your family aswell as the future occupants? Consider these questions in the early stages of planning:

  • How might the use of space change over time?
  • Can the design be expanded or changed to meet future household needs?
  • Will the home need to be accessible for elderly friends and relatives who have a disability?
  • Will the home need to be accessible for an ageing or disabled occupant?
  • What fixtures can be easily incorporated to increase liveability for ageing or disabled occupants (for example, easy-to-use taps and handles)?
  • What design features can be easily incorporated to increase liveability for ageing or disabled occupants (for example, ramps, wider openings)?

Some ideas on how to incorporate liveability considerations into the design of your new home:

In the living areas:

  • a minimum of 4 double electrical outlets
  • a telecommunications outlet adjacent to an electrical outlet
  • 2 TV antennae outlets, all located at appropriate heights
  • clear circulation space within the room of at least 2250mm diameter for wheelchair manoeuvrability.

In the kitchen:

  • appropriately sized workspaces to the side of all appliances such as the cooktop, oven, microwave and fridge
  • short distances between the cooktop, workspaces and sink
  • contrasting colours between bench tops and cupboard fronts to assist the visually impaired
  • appropriately designed task lighting

The bedroom:

At least one bedroom in the home should be accessible to a person using a wheelchair. This means it should have both a wide enough doorway and be sized to enable them to manoeuvre within the space. Additional services such as 2-way light switches, telephone outlets, additional electrical outlets and TV outlets are recommended to ensure maximum usability and security. Designs should ideally allow direct access between an accessible bedroom and bathroom, or allow for easy adaptation to this configuration later.

Toilets, bathroom and laundry:

  • ensure adequate sizing for access and circulation
  • locate storage for easy and safe use
  • install nonslip surfaces to minimise accidents
  • install task lighting near mirrors
  • design showers without hobs (a curb that must be stepped over)
  • reinforce stud walls around the shower, bath and toilet to allow later installation of grab rails.

Outside the home:

  • Make rubbish bins, recycling storage, letterboxes, clotheslines and garden tool storage accessible along paths refer to Access and entry for more information.
  • Locate car parking close to the entry with at least one covered parking space sized to enable wheelchair access.
  • Install electronically operated garage doors.
  • Use movement-activated sensor lights.
  • Ensure that home or unit numbers are clearly visible from the street.
  • Provide easily accessible private, sheltered outdoor areas with access to northern sun in winter, visible from inside the home.
  • Allow for raised garden beds in the initial garden layout.
  • Allow secure space for future storage and recharging of medical equipment, a wheelchair or other mobility device such as a scooter.

Reference: Your Home (2022), The Liveable and Adaptable Home, https://www.yourhome.gov.au/live-adapt/liveable-adaptable-home, The Australian Government, Canberra.

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