The idea of lifetime home design has already entered the Building Regulations and standards have changed to ensure all new homes are ‘inclusive’. But as a self builder you can go further by really planning for the future of your family and your home.
When we are talking about lifetime homes, we are not only addressing the changing needs of the family – including making room for a growing or adapting family and factoring in potential mobility issues – but also looking at sustainability and how the home is engineered for a greener future.
The following article is broken into the following sections:
A home that adapts as your family needs change, removes the need to move home. Not only do you need enough bedrooms, but also think about how you might use your home.
Is it likely you will work from home at some stage? Have you factored in rooms for various needs and storage space for a menagerie of hobbies? You might not have a crystal ball to know what your family’s interests will be, but planning in space for the usual bikes, sports kit, musical instruments and office equipment makes sense.
At 900mm wide, corridors become expensive access space, so why not widen them further so they can become multi-purpose spaces; for instance, a workspace, hobby room or library.
Working from home
At some stage it is increasingly likely that someone in the household will want to work from home. Instead of a dark, poky corner, plan for a room – possibly a bedroom – that in the future can become a home office. Preferably it should be close to the front door for visitor access and have good light and views. Allow for plenty of power sockets and a broadband connection.
Many people now want open plan homes to get that seamless living experience in a fluid large space. This is great, but can actually reduce future flexibility rather than increase it. For instance, children playing in one part can severely impact on the peace and serenity in another. You can keep the flowing space, but plan for full-height glazed doors to be able to close off areas and yet still permit views and light through. You could design zones that allow screens or doors to be added later.
Allow for a good-sized hall. You may not need it yet, but manoeuvring pushchairs, wheelchairs or frames is much easier with a bit of space.
Quality storage space
Plan good-quality storage space – wide 600mm-deep wall cupboards – which will mean that all items are visible and retrievable to everyone.
Construction methods for flexibility
Building with non load-bearing internal walls – using post and beam timber or steel frame – allows internal walls to be moved or altered with minimal disruption to create alternative layouts. If you are planning future layout options, think about the position of windows so that they suit both options.
The key to survival is separation, whether it be from your children, parents, work, guests, tenants or even your partner. Think carefully how rooms are positioned relative not just to one another, but also through walls and floors. Place the master bedroom suite away from everything else and, if you can possibly find room, create a second living space, and invest in a good level of acoustic insulation between each storey and in between rooms.
Future-proofing your services
Consider creating a clear centrally located service duct from top to bottom of the property to make it easier to integrate new service runs between each storey, allowing new technologies to be added over the lifetime of the building.
Designing a home that can accommodate someone with limited mobility means that life doesn’t need to drastically change should circumstances change. If you plan for this self build to be your forever home, make sure it is designed to offer you a comfortable and stress-free life.
You might also want to consider the reality of a growing number of families who take in an older relative, to offer them care and companionship.
Good orientation and planning
By carefully positioning the building, you can maximise the number of rooms that benefit from sunshine and views. This then gives future flexibility on how those rooms are used — for instance, a bedroom with a sunny aspect at ground level can be used as a future living room for an elderly relative.
A practical feature to install in any house with more than two storeys, especially split-level houses, where the entry floor may not contain the main living space or kitchen. Lifts that do not require a lift pit are considerably easier and cheaper to install. If you cannot afford a lift now – the cost will be approx £15,000 – design in the space for a lift shaft for future flexibility.
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Adding a Lift
If you are installing a lift, consider an option which has room for a wheelchair and walking frames. The Trio Lift by Stiltz is a larger lift designed to carry more weight and a standard-sized wheelchair. However, it is still a compact design that can fit easily into your home and does not depend on load-bearing walls, as it is supported by the Stiltz dual rail technology.
Plan the house so that part of it can become self-contained. For instance, two bedrooms with a bathroom can become a one-bed flat with the addition of a small kitchen. It’s good for guests or older children who want to be partially independent, can act as a granny flat for relatives who need care in the future, or provide accommodation for a carer. If your budget gets stretched, it gives the option of renting it out, providing an income to help with mortgage payments.
Look at splitting the heating system for a potential self-contained unit. A layout using manifolds for each heating zone allows areas to be controlled independently or shut off altogether. Underfloor heating is great for all stages of a house’s life, whereas hot, hard-edged metal radiators are not ideal for young children or the elderly. A whole-house ventilation system negates the need for draughty trickle vents — particularly irritating to the elderly.
Ground floor accommodation
By planning for a downstairs bedroom, a huge degree of flexibility is possible, especially if combined with a downstairs bathroom. Rather than designing a minimal-sized downstairs WC off the hall, plan it so that it can become a proper bath or shower room, even if you just allow space for it to become one in the future. This can then provide facilities for a disabled relative using the downstairs bedroom, or can provide independent facilities for guests.
Design stairs with a gentle gradient and landings, and a width of around 900mm. This makes them far more user-friendly. Try to avoid spiral stairs and winders, as they can be tricky to negotiate. A simple straight stair will make a future stairlift installation easier and cheaper, and by extending the wall on one side by 400mm beyond the final steps, expensive and ugly hinged mechanisms to stow the stairlift will not be needed.
Pay careful attention to fixtures like taps, cookers, fridges, etc. Mixer taps with lever handles can be used by all, and putting as many kitchen fittings at counter level as possible makes them much easier to use for the elderly and disabled.
Extra-wide doorways are practical, especially for the main access doors, but can also make a great design feature; for instance, a pivot door or a set of sliding glazed patio doors.
Not just for those with mobility impairments, a level threshold is a great way to blur boundaries between inside and out, especially via frameless glazed doors.
Also known as a wetroom, the floor is sloped gently into a sub – floor drain to form a shower tray, tiled in with the rest of the floor. As well as looking sleek and being easy to clean, wetrooms are ideal for those with movement difficulties. A simple seat can easily be added later.
Drawer fridges, freezers and dishwashers are a good option as they can be set at a height that is most comfortable. In-line ovens, grills and micro – waves are also good options, set at eye level.
Create a highly insulated, airtight home that has a low heat demand from the off by thinking about the principles of fabric first design. It will cost less to run in the face of rising energy prices. Those with the budget might consider building to PassivHaus standards — do this and you could create a home that requires no heating at all.
Once you have prioritised the energy efficiency of the building itself, look at sustainable ways to heat and power it. Photovoltaics (solar panels) can be used for electricity, as can wind turbines if you can afford them and hydroelectrics if you are next to flowing water. For heating, consider heat pumps, solar thermal panels and biomass.
Maintenance can become a major issue in later life, and costly too. Plan for minimal maintenance by using tried and trusted natural-finish materials that don’t need constant attention. Just try and find materials that are naturally low maintenance, rather than having to be treated with loads of chemicals.
This article was written in conjunction with Richard Hutchinson, Warren Rosing and Agata Perepeczo, Directors of Kosi Architects, based in London and Chichester. Kosi won the British Homes Awards’ House of the Future competition in 2009 with Valentina Del Fuoco of Afterhourstudio, and is particularly interested in designing customised homes that can adapt to future requirements. Kosi Architects: 020 7622 2534 kosi-architects.co.uk