Gaines Group Architects
Home for a Lifetime in Albemarle County

Why Should You Want a House Designed for Aging-in-Place?


Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

Over the past few months, the concept of aging-in-place has come to the front of my mind. I have been training to run / walk a 5 mile race that is coming up in October, and for all those who knew me before I was overweight (yes that was a long time ago), I was never a runner. However, I needed a goal to motivate myself to exercise, and by some overwhelming depth of evil and bad decision-making, I decided that a 5 mile race would be the goal. So I run / walk / crawl a couple of miles two days a week and then run / walk / cry 5 miles on Saturday mornings. It has taken me a couple of months to get to a point where I could go the 5 mile distance, but now I know I will finish the race. Now I am working on finishing in under 1 hour. This sounds easy to some, but for me, that would require cutting 10 minutes off my time in the next 2 weeks. I am not sure I will get there unless by some very good luck the entire race is all downhill and perhaps has a portion that is run while sitting down…. So, I do love a challenge and want to beat my goal. I had a thought, perhaps if I go further in training, come race day 5 miles will go faster. Since I have been able to make 5 miles for a few weeks in a row and not die, I decided to go further this Saturday. After the relief sale, after walking 10,000 steps, after eating a lot of really good food that was not really good for you, I realized that this was not good decision-making. I made it 7.2 miles and did not die; mission accomplished – sort of. Two days later, my legs are still very tired. Not really hurting, just tired. They are heavy with every step. It is hard to walk up stairs. I know this will pass, but what if every day felt this way even if I did not run? How would life be different? How would my house work for me?

As I age, my body has new aches and pains. Things hurt that I did not know could feel pain and for no reason. My body has decided that torturing me is a fun activity. Assuming I am not alone, this is a problem for many of you, right? Tell me I am not alone… Please?


Assuming some of you also are aging (and I hope you are) and feel new aches and pains that you did not in the past, you might be interested in this concept of design called aging-in-place. This concept unfortunately has the word aging in it, and nobody wants to think about that concept in-place or out-of-place. So put that aside for a moment and think about living with ease in-place. According to AARP, over the next 14 years 10,000 people will turn 65 years old each day. If some or many of these people face new aches, pains and possibly mobility issues, where will they live? Will they want a house that has stairs? Will they want a house with multiple floors or many small rooms? Will they want a big yard to maintain? These are all new factors in this next boom in housing. The popular designs of the past, two-story homes or split level homes, are hard to adapt to when there is a mobility issue. It is not just about aging people, but what if you have a baby, stroller, and groceries – a house designed for aging-in-place provides ease of use. What if your daughter breaks an ankle? Having a house with a first floor bedroom and bathroom will make life easier for recovery. What if your friend in a wheelchair wants to visit? A house designed for aging-in-place works well for building a community of friends with all abilities. What if you want to sit down to work in the kitchen? What if you want more light at times in a room? What if you don’t want to bend over to plug in something? What if you need to move in a new refrigerator? What if you want to shave your legs in the shower? All of these things are answered by aging-in-place design strategies that make living easier. So when you are deciding on what you want in your next new house, you might think about this question: “Why should you want a house designed for aging-in-place?”


harrisonburg aging in place house

Classic design for aging-in-place

Classic design for aging-in-place

We are working on classic design for aging-in-place house for a couple in Harrisonburg. The goal is to make the home a forever home. Using aging-in-place strategies we are designing a home that can adapt over time to the needs of our clients. From the open floor plan to wide doorways the home can accommodate people of all abilities.

harrisonburg aging-in-place house

Making the home energy-efficient and comfortable keeps the house usable for a long time and affordable to heat and cool. Reducing long-term expenses due to conditioning the home provides payback every month. This is important as you age and you move to a fixed income. It is also important at all other points in your life as you want to spend as little as possible on heating and cooling so you can maximize enjoyment.

harrisonburg aging-in-place house

Using durable materials will make the house long-lasting and easy to maintain. Again reducing long-term costs associated with maintenance of the home.

harrisonburg aging-in-place house

 We are including a roll-in shower, sitting space in the kitchen, no-step entry, and doors with lever handles to make the house flexible for changing needs.

harrisonburg aging-in-place house

There is no way of knowing what will happen in the future, but making the home as affordable as possible and adaptable will increase the possibility of making this a home for a lifetime.

Green Term Defined: Lifetime Home

Green Term Defined: Lifetime Home


A design approach that encompasses specific design features that ensure that a new house or apartment will meet the current and future needs of most households. The space is designed for any ability, not just specific disabilities. The space can adapt to changing needs over time and allow for life to happen. The space makes life easier if you have a baby in a stroller and a trunk full of groceries or if you are aging-in-place and start facing mobility issues. 


A lifetime home is not an often talked about green idea. However, building a home that can adapt to your changing needs reduces the chances of you needing to move. This reduces energy and materials used in the future. It also encourages you to build a more durable, energy-efficient, home since your timeline for thinking about costs will be many more years.

The key factors to think about for a lifetime home are:

  1. A place to arrive at your home that is safe, comfortable, and accessible for all abilities. pervious concrete
  2. A way to get into your home that is level or gently sloping, has a comfortable width, and is properly lit at night.
  3. An entrance that is wide enough, weather protected, has a level landing, and is properly lit at night.
  4. An open floorplan and doors that are wide enough for a wheelchair or walker. Avoid tight corners.
  5. Turning spaces for a wheelchair or walker in all spaces – hallway, kitchen, bathroom, closets. Custom Kitchen
  6. All living functions on the same level or an elevator to access other levels of the home. This includes a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and living room. The bathroom should be accessible for someone in a wheelchair or someone assisting the user in the space.
  7. A roll-in shower with a rear linear drain to prevent flooding.
  8. Blocking or plywood underlayment on walls in areas where you might need grab bars in the future. This includes the shower, around the water closet, and hallway.20150113_093053
  9. Hoists blocking in bedrooms and bathrooms to give the appropriate ceiling support that might be needed in the future.
  10. Easy to open windows – casement windows are a nice solution as you can crank them out from a seated position.
  11. Front mounted controls, adjusted electric outlet and light switch heights, accessible HVAC controls.
  12. Multi-height working surfaces in the kitchen with some roll under seated space. A bonus would be a sink that has a removable base cabinet should you ever need that option. Don’t forget storage, a wall cabinet mounted at traditional heights is not easy to use from a seated position, so a large pantry closet can be used for accessible storage.
  13. An energy-efficient building envelope. It has to be efficient to be affordable.
  14. A durable home that does not require daily maintenance and will last for, well, a lifetime.
  15. A heathy indoor environmental quality. This is very important to consider for a lifetime home and touches materials used (VOCs) and the ventilation strategy for the heating and cooling system. Your home should not make you sick.
  16. Affordable – probably the most important aspect of a lifetime home is to design and build something that you are comfortable paying for and can afford over a lifetime.

For a directory of providers that can help with these solutions check out and for a great checklist (Lifetime Home Survey) to see where your current home stands go to

Nelson County Custom Home

What changes in your home after an accident? A list of simple home modification solutions.

On Friday of last week, my mom broke her hip at home. She was home alone when it happened and was not near a phone. This is an incredibly painful and scary experience as she described it. I am equally worried about her return home this week as she lives in a post WWII brick ranch home with narrow doors and hallway. This home is not designed for someone with mobility issues and will make her life and recovery more difficult. So here are some things that might make life easier for her and my dad.

Getting into the house

Nelson County Custom HomeIf you have steps into your home, a no-step entry solution makes daily life easier. In an existing home, this usually means a ramp to the door. The ramp, if at all possible, should not be on the front of the house, should have direct no-step access to the driveway, and should not exceed a 1″ to 12″ slope. There should be a 5′ turning radius level platform outside the entry door and a handrail on at least one side of the ramp. The ramp should have a minimum of 36″ clear space from the inside of rail to the opposing side of the ramp rail.

Technology Solutions

livelyTechnology is flooding the market that will make aging-in-place easier. An interesting system I just learned about recently is called Live!y. Remember the “help, I have fallen and cannot get up” commercials. This is the latest technological solution for personal emergency response. It certainly seems to have promise.

There are also apps available for your smart phone that can detect a potential fall and send an alert. Both of these solutions work great, but only if you have the device with you at the time of the fall.


The main solution needed in a kitchen is room to maneuver. If possible, a roll under sink, lowered counter, pot filler at the stove, and a flexible faucet add to the functionality of the space. However, in small ranch style homes, the kitchens are tiny. Keeping the floor clear of rugs, dog dishes, and furniture will be key to making the space safe and usable.


TotoThe bathroom is a dangerous place. There are slick floors, small spaces, and hard surfaces that get in the way of another fall. Some changes that might make it an easier space to use include a comfort height toilet that is a little higher than a standard height making standing up easier. A roll under sink would be a nice addition as well as a roll in shower. If you have the time and money a larger bathroom with a 5′ turning radius would be very nice, however in these ranch style homes that is a difficult request. These are all major changes which may not be possible. A less permanent change would include a bathtub transfer bench and raised toilet seat. You might also consider installation of grab bars around the toilet and in the shower for added security. They don’t have to look institutional anymore as many companies have developed grab bars that look like soap dishes and towel bars.


In the category of “if we knew now what we did not know then” design can solve many of these problems up front. If you have features incorporated into your home design that make the home safer for a lifetime, then fewer modifications will be needed after an accident. The problem is much of our housing stock in this country is built without design. Making your home a lifetime home can make your life easier and your home sustainable.

Click here for more information on Universal Design solutions.

Click here for more information on lifetime design solutions.

What changes have you made to your home to make it last a lifetime? What products make life at home easier for you?


Aging in Place – Good Planning will create a Lifetime Home

There are many design elements that can be integrated into your home that will allow you to live there for a lifetime. Simple changes that can be integrated into the design will allow your home to adapt along with your needs.


Looking for solutions that look good and are functional are key elements to “aging in place” design. Design Matters! Take the time to find solutions the are both functional and beautiful. Look for products that allow for many abilities to access and function in the given space.

towel-grab bar

If you are building a home, you should plan for a lifetime, finding solutions that will be healthy, energy-efficient, durable, and adaptable as life changes.


Easy Living Home

What is an Easy Living Home? Yes, another certification, this one is intended to encourage builders and home owners of single-family homes, duplexes and triplexes to include Easy Living Home features in the design and construction of new homes.

Easy Living Home design features make a home more livable for homeowners and visitors with any ability. Whether you are dealing with strollers, carrying in groceries, dealing with a broken ankle, or moving in that new refrigerator these features benefit the ease of use of your home.

Easy Living Home features include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Easy Access – step-free entrance from a driveway, sidewalk, or other firm route into the central living area.
  • Easy Passage – Exterior doors that provide access is one thing, but once you get into the home you need to be able to get around. Installing at least a 2′-10″ door to the key rooms of your home make it possible to get around the home.
  • Easy Use – the main floor should be designed as an open plan with a first floor bedroom and full bathroom.


Design for the future – a call to action

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” ~ John F. Kennedy

If only we knew what to expect tomorrow we could make better decisions today. Our societal structure is changing. The economy has changed how we as families are able to survive. The baby boomer generation moving into retirement age is changing the needs of our built environment. Technology is altering what is possible.

A survey conducted by the PulteGroup in October, found that 15% of homeowners shared their homes with their parents, 32% expected their parents to move in eventually. And on the other side 14% of grown children share their house with an adult child who has moved back home, & 31% expect an adult child to move back in.

Is your house designed for people of any ability? Is your home designed to allow for flexibility in the future? Is your home adaptable to new situations? Now is the time to plan for the future.

“Change your life today. Don’t gamble on the future, act now, without delay.” ~ Simone de Beauvoir


Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist – Harrisonburg

The SVBA is hosting a nationally recognized certification program in Harrisonburg this week. The building industry professionals taking this course have come from Harrisonburg, Charlottesville, and as far away as Lynchburg and Baltimore. This training will provide the knowledge and training for those attending to better serve the community by offering solutions for people to live more comfortably in their homes with comfort, security, and dignity. Aging in Place is not about designing for a disability, it is about designing solutions that work for all abilities. CAPS certification is a recognized, understood, and respected designation that you can trust when selecting professionals to help you live better.

CAPS Harrisonburg

The Certified Aging-in-place specialist (CAPS) designation was developed by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Remodelors Council, in collaboration with the AARP, NAHB Research Center, and NAHB Seniors Housing Council.

This program was developed to provide professionals training that would enable them to accommodate the needs of people over the age of 50, as well as the knowledge they would need to modify their homes for aging in place.

The program focuses specifically on the customer service skills, technical information, and business management training needed to properly serve the needs of older adults.

In other words, the CAPS certified professional is trained on the unique needs of the baby boomer generation by modifying homes so someone can live there longer as they age addressing the most common barriers in a home.

Make your house a home for a lifetime!

If you are like most people over the age of 45, you do not want to move from your house. It is a comfortable place, you know the neighborhood, you know the shortcuts, you are safe and secure. According to the AARP, older home owners overwhelmingly prefer to stay in their current home, which means living in a home safely, independently, and comfortable regardless of your abilities. The design of the home is very important and if you are in the process of design there are things you can do now that don’t add anything to the budget but are just good ideas. There are also many things you can do to your current home or to look for if you are purchasing a home already built.

The concept of aging in place design (what a terrible name, how about we call it simply good design) is not about designing for inabilities. There are particular things that you should do to make the home easy to use, maintain, and navigate. The same principles apply to a home you never plan to move from as they do if you hurt your knee in a weekend soccer match or if you are simply carrying in a load of groceries from the store. You need your home to be designed well.

Charlottesville home builder

If you are looking for a professional that can help you with these ideas there are a couple of certifications to look for to make sure they know what you need. First is one that I earned last year, the State of Virginia offers a Universal Design Certificate that qualifies you to do work through their system. That training is a one day event that teaches concepts and principles that designers should consider in homes they are designing. The other is done through the National Association of Home Builders called the Certified Aging in Place Specialist. This is a 3-day training that teaches builders and designers how to talk about aging in place and how to implement it into their designs. There is a CAPS training scheduled for Harrisonburg in May and I hope there is a room full of people who want to learn more about these concepts to better serve our community.