BUILDERS are Missing the A.I.P. BOAT

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I spoke today at the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) for their state-wide conference in SeaTac (Seattle / Tacoma) as the keynote presenter for the 50+ forum session.  A sincere thank you to the organizers for the invitation to share our passion and message about “Aging in Place”, we sincerely appreciate the opportunity to speak to your organization and share the stage with Molly McCabe of “A Kitchen that Works” and Gerry Cherney, licensed occupational therapist and owner of IndeBoom.  I know them both personally and enjoyed how our messages intertwined and correlated quite seamlessly.

What SHOCKED ME was the number of people IN the room.  I was prepared by BIAW for that size in advance of approximately 20-30 folks in the audience, which is fine.  I don’t mind speaking to a room of any size, as I’m passionate about sharing the message of how to create successful living environments for our second half of life.  But as I reflect on that number of attendees from the building industry organization at the state level, it’s bothering me.  What DON’T builders and remodeling contractors GET about where we are going as a nation?  Are they even paying attention to the world around them?  Do they LIKE being BEHIND the CURVE? 

It’s so painfully obvious to me as a designer and licensed architect who has done the research, how drastically our world’s demographics are going to change in the next 20-30 years.  I think that is what PAINS me about the smaller attendance in the room today, is how many people continue to IGNORE IT.  Both psychologically at a personal level (“IT” – aging – will never happen to ME!?), but apparently also at a professional level.

Now Molly made a good point today in her presentation.  AIP (Aging-in-Place) and UD (Universal Design) are NOT for everyone, professionally.  You have to CARE about PEOPLE, not just profits.  You also have to be able to have PERSONAL conversations about things like bathing, toileting, changing, drooling… etc. if you are a good designer in this space and want to ask the right (and tough) questions that will lead you to the TRUTHS that will thereby inform good design decisions for the betterment of the client’s living environment.  A solution that will help the client, the caregiver, the family, and empower them to live a happier, healthier, LONGER, and MORE INDEPENDENT live in their own homes and community.

Beyond the general total of warm bodies in the room, adding to the shock was that there were only TWO people that represented NEW CONSTRUCTION or SPEC HOME BUILDING.  Most of the folks were remodeling contractors.  WOW!!  So the spec building industry STILL IS NOT hearing the message about what people WANT for the next 2-3 decades in their homes.  I guess they still enjoy building a product for NO ONE IN PARTICULAR (that’s what speculative is, right?). 

Building a product without a client in the process can’t possibly turn out the results that one person or client is looking for.  Therefore, you, the public and buyer of a speculative home builder’s product, are starting right out of the gate by making concessions about things you “would have liked” but convinced yourself “you can live without” (for now, at least).  Eventually you (the buyer) will regret that decision, had you known what the alternatives “could have been”.

This same concept of speculative design solutions applies to the CCRC continuum of care facilities (Assisted Living, Nursing Homes, etc.).  A building designed with UNITS for people, done so without ever meeting or consulting with a future client, owner, or tenant, is SPECULATIVE.  I am currently working on my second 100+ room hotel design as an architect in coordination with our office/firm and another small local Seattle firm.  I know FIRST HAND that the developer is focused on ONE GOAL.  Get it UP for as CHEAP AS POSSIBLE (per code minimums), and then GET IT FILLED WITH PEOPLE.  The same is true for CCRC facilities.  KEEP COSTS DOWN, then GET IN REVENUE.  Fine… but does that sound like it considers YOU in its design layout and building solution?  Excuse my “french” here, but: Hell no, not one bit…

So, on the B2B (Business to Business) side of our personal, national, public education efforts – I guess we need to sincerely focus on and educate the BUILDERS of our nation too.  It’s clear they are MISSING THE BOAT.  And without a boat, that “Silver Tsunami” of 10,000 people turning 65 years old EVERY DAY that started in January 2011, is going to DROWN these SPEC BUILDERS in a glut of newly constructed homes that are; two stories, too big, too short-sighted, too impersonal, not user-friendly, not age-friendly, not accessible, and not even ‘visit-able’ from the curb to the front door…  Oh, and “UN-SOLD”.

Side Note: I’d like to take a POLL…

So if speculative housing developers and builders are not seeing what I’m seeing about where we are heading as a nation, demographic, and massively increasing percentage of the buyer pool in the 20-30 years ahead – and those builders/developers typically purchase “stock plans” to build on their platted lots…

Do YOU think that EtMM and ADM Architecture should start creating BUILDER PLANS that consider THE CLIENT – with smaller s.f. footprints (1,200-1,800sf.), utilizing Universal and Aging-in-Place design, better accessibility in layout and design solutions throughout, and even offers suggestions about “visit-ability” in site design & civil engineering / grading / topography references for access to the home from the curb, sidewalk, and driveway?  

Please comment – we’d LOVE to get your feedback, and have you weigh in… Thanks!!!

Image Credits –
BIAW logo:
Shocked Face:
Spec House Framing Stairs:
Hotel – Holiday Inn:
Poll Graphic:

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3 thoughts on “BUILDERS are Missing the A.I.P. BOAT
  • Vicki says:

    This is a great article. I think it’s a great idea to start offering builder plans utilizing AIP design.

    Having recently gone through the process of looking for a house that would be suitable for someone with mobility issues, it became apparent to me very quickly that a lot of agents and single family home builders really do not understand what that entails; that there is a lot more to it than just having all the rooms on one level. And I do not mean that as a criticism; I believe there is a lack of information on this topic aimed specifically at agents and builders.

    Together with the education you provide on this topic, I think having AIP home design plans available is a brilliant.

  • I’m not surprised by your article because I’ve been noticing the same problem in Canada. Our numbers are smaller because of our much smaller population but it will be a challenge for us as well. I have found very little interest from developers or new home builders, as well as remodelers. It is shocking to see the level of indifference. Why do they continue to miss the concept that accepting universal design, Visitability or accessibility specifications will allow them to sell their homes to 100% of customers? I respect the fact that each individual has very specific AIP needs but can we not at least offer Visitability as a minimum, ensuring at least access to the main floor of a home? I continue to be impressed with the Visitability Ordinance in Bolingbrook, Illinois…over 3,700 visitable homes in a community with fewer than 85,000 people. That’s over 3,700 families who will never need to worry about how to enter their home if a temporary or permanent challenge comes their way. Some countries have implemented Visitability into new home construction in their national building codes, such as Sweden, Japan, Denmark, the UK, Ireland, and Holland as examples. What exactly is the rest of the world waiting for! Visitability is simple, economical, and can be very attractive, as Bolingbrook has proven. Maybe developers, new home builders and remodelers will get the hint once it affects someone they love. The stress, disruption and additional cost of not being proactive with AIP is rather frustrating to say the least. I hope they clue in real soon.

  • I agree with Roger, I’m an American living in Southern Ontario and was struck when I moved here by the lack of accessible housing. It’s understandable that densely packed older Victorian housing was narrow and emphasized multiple levels, but even newer housing features narrow hallways, inaccessible kitchens and high cupboards, multiple levels to get into and out of the house, inadequate overhead lighting, high-gloss finishes, high shower curbs, “soaker tubs” that are hard for even the most agile to use, and other barriers to independence. Given that Canada’s Baby Boom was a bit larger relative to population size than that in the United States, and that many of the new mini-mansions were built large enough to accommodate 2-3 generations (including grandparents), it’s disheartening. There are capacious 4-5 bedroom houses with luxury finishes but no main-floor washroom — you have to go upstairs for a full washroom or down half a dozen steps to a powder room. People wishing to move to the main floor can easily close off a sleeping area but it would be harder to rough out a washroom. I also hope that developers, new home builders and re-modelers start viewing Universal Design and disability adaptations as a benefit, a sales feature, not a detraction. If they did, then they would quickly figure out how to manage the costs on a large scale. Until they do, or in addition, I included simple lower-cost adaptations in my book Staying Power: Age-Proof Your Home for Comfort, Safety and Style.

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