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Survey Hints at Need for ‘Livable Designs’

HARTFORD, CT — While a sizable percentage of the nation’s Baby Boomers expect to remodel their homes sometime in the future, relatively few do so with their personal health and aging in mind – creating an opportunity for design professionals to educate their clients about incorporating Universal Design features into remodeled kitchens and baths.

That’s the key finding of a major new study conducted by insurance provider The Hartford in conjunction with the University of Southern California’s Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. The online survey, fielded earlier this year, was completed by more than 1,000 adults between the ages of 51 and 69, and is considered to be representative of the U.S. household population.

According to the study’s findings, surveyed Boomers indicated that, when making remodeling decisions, they focus primarily on updating “dated” rooms – kitchens and bathrooms top the list – and on making their homes more attractive, with less than a quarter of those surveyed considering issues of health and aging.

However, says Jodi Olshevski, executive director of The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence, “People can do both with Universal Design – an approach to design that’s easy for everyone to use, regardless of age, size or ability.”

“Universal Design is visually attractive,” Olshevski observes. “If Boomers are willing to incorporate ‘livable designs’ when they remodel, they’ll enjoy immediate benefits – as will small children or older relatives who visit – and find their homes easier to live in as they age.”

According to Olshevski, when Boomers were shown photos of Universal Design features and products for the kitchen, many respondents agreed that they’d consider adding the following elements to their project:

  • Pull-out drawers in base cabinets (75%);
  • Lighting from multiple sources (61%);
  • Level thresholds between kitchen and adjacent rooms (61%);
  • D- or U-shaped handles, rather than knobs (59%);
  • Countertops at different heights (42%).

Similarly, the Hartford/USC study found that when Boomers were shown photos of Universal Design ideas for the bathroom, the most common features in which they expressed interest included:

  • Single-lever faucet handle (56%);
  • Comfort-height toilet (56%);
  • Grab bars in tub and shower (53%);
  • Adjustable-height, hand-held shower hose (49%);
  • Walk-in shower with little or no threshold (47%).

Olshevski noted that these findings are consistent with previous research that pointed to the positive impact of Universal Design education on customer repair decisions in the wake of filing insurance claims.

“While most of us remain healthy and active as we age, we may still experience changes in strength, flexibility, balance and reach,” says Olshevski. “Universal Design makes it easier to adjust to these changes and live comfortably and safely at home for a lifetime.” ▪

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