- Tim Ball
Downsize To An Accessible Eco Home
Updated: Jan 15, 2021
There is a huge un-met demand for houses for active older people, often retired, that combines modern open plan living and low energy costs with floor plans that can adapt to disabilities that may come along in old age. Jeremy Leaf, a former RICS residential chairman, says: “Every study about downsizing seems to confirm that there is huge untapped demand from retirees looking to move to smaller homes but the lack of suitable options is proving a deterrent.”
These are the 1st design images for a housing scheme that meets this demand. The main features are:
All houses face south to maximise solar gain
Small manageable private gardens all with decks
Landscaped communal gardens to promote social inclusion
Ponds and reed beds to slow down rainwater run off
Landscape buffer to adjoining ancient woodland
The kind of homes in demand are not small, because people want space for themselves and visiting children and grandchildren, but they are smaller and more manageable than large older homes that can be difficult and expensive to maintain.
Space or floor area costs money to build so the smart thing to do is plan the space to be used in different ways, reconfigurable to suit changing circumstances. A house plan can work well for two people the majority of the time and then adapts to the arrival of a family at weekends or holiday times. Open plan spaces work in this way, but having a separate ground floor room that can be a Study that adapts to a Sitting Room or an extra Bedroom is a great example of flexibility.
An extra shower room on the ground floor helps take pressure off the main bathroom and can also be used as a main shower room if using the stairs becomes a problem in later life. Bathrooms can also be designed for easy cleaning. Enclosed toilet cisterns and wall hung toilet pans mean less fiddly pipework is exposed, which is why you see them used so frequently in well designed hotels.
External materials can be specified that are very low or even zero maintenance. Internal floor finishes can be chosen that make cleaning easier. Windows can have self cleaning glass.
In our scheme all the houses face south so that solar photovoltaic roof panels very efficiently generate electricity directly from the sun reducing the carbon footprint and reducing energy bills. The heating system avoids gas or oil by using air source heat pumps.
Simple controls for the heating and hot water optimise energy use and can be operated and monitored remotely if you are away for longer periods.
Overall we are aiming for an energy performance that is at least 50% better than the current building regulation standard.
We can’t predict how our mobility will change as we get older but we can make provision for reduced mobility in design. Every house has a large parking space near the door with a well lit level path to the low threshold front door, in case wheelchair use is needed. Internally all doors are wide enough for wheelchair use and power and light switches set at the right height for easy access. The stairs are not too steep and there is space to fit a lift that is large enough for a wheelchair in the future.
The designs will meet the Lifetime Homes standard which is an excellent guide detailing how to stay in your own home for as long as possible.
The project is in mid west Kent and we will be making a full planning application soon and hope that building will start in 2021.