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When Home is Forever: Understanding Universal Design, Aging in Place, & Implications for Home Renovations


Aging in Place: Golden Year Myth or Reality?

According to the National Council on Aging, 90% of elders say they want to spend the rest of their lives in their own homes. And the marketplace is shifting to support this trend.

The Aging in Place Initiative, developed "to help America's communities prepare for the aging of their population and to become places that are good to grow up, live in and grow old," says that by 2030, nearly one in five Americans -71.5 million people- will be over age 65.

And despite Hollywood depictions of seniors heading south or being moved into nursing homes, most Americans will choose to "age in place.

Maybe your current home is your dream home. Maybe it was an old fixer-upper that you fell in love with decades ago for its personality and historic charm. Maybe it's the place you raised your family and where you host your grandkids for sleepovers. Right now, it may be the place your kids, your business, and your parents all reside.

Of course, you're a realist as well, and you might be wondering what life will be like as you, or a family member, becomes older or experiences limited function or mobility. Most of us are reluctant to contemplate a time when we are not able to climb stairs, haul laundry to and from the basement, or retrieve the seldom-used china or seasonal decorations. Small, even temporary changes in health status or ability, however, can make the familiar home suddenly seem very alien. As much as you may resist saying it out loud, you may find yourself wondering whether your home will be supportive enough to stay in forever.

Universal Design Defined

Across the US, more and more people aged 50 and over are exploring ideas for staying in place for the long term and taking steps to determine what is necessary to do that. One trend in new housing construction, as well as in remodeling, is Universal Design, also known as design for all'. Think of it as a framework for creating a product, a whole house or architectural feature, such as an addition or entryway that can accommodate differing types of users exerting the least amount of effort.

Related to, but distinct from, the rules and regulations put in place to accommodate persons with disabilities the Americans with Disabilities Act. 19901, Universal Design "addresses the scope of accessibility and suggests making all elements and spaces accessible to and usable by all people to the greatest extent possible. This is accomplished through thoughtful planning and design at all stages of any design project." according to North Carolina State University's Center for Universal Design.

Universal Design: Why It Matters

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Here are the Seven Principles of Universal Design:

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Renovating with Universal Design in Mind: Become Proactive

1. Use a contractor experienced in Universal Design. Not all are. Working with a Certified Aging-in Place Specialist (CAPS) ensures that your contractor has gone through training and understands the principles behind Universal Design. In the next section, you'll find questions to ask contractors.

2. Don't wait. You can implement Universal Design principles during your next renovation. You can make changes in your current space now, rather than ward until you retire or are faced with an unexpected physical challenge. Universal Design is about function and inclusion and can be the cornerstone of your next renovation profect. Many adaptations, such as rimless showers and adjustable height cabinets, provide a measure of safety and practicality and are non-institutional looking. Widening doors and leveling thresholds allow children, pets, and people with walkers or canes to safely and smoothly navigate in and around the house.

3. Become part of the process. This is your space and it will be your space for years to come. Understand why the builder is recommending certain specifications, products, etc. While there is a wealth of information on the subject available online, here are three great resources that will help you feel more confident and qualified in making decisions.

  • AARP - Sweet Spots in Home Design. Take a look at the room-by-room "checklists" in this article that will (as the article states) help "increase safety, comfort, convenience, and livability for everyone."

  • Universal Design in Housing and Its Benefits

  • The American Occupational Therapy Association

Vetting Contractor: 4 Revealing Questions

1. Are you a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS)? An easy way to discover and/or verify the contractor's answer is by searching the CAPS directory on the National Association of Home Builders website.

2. What's your "Aging in Place" philosophy? Certification is a must, but so is passion. Work with contractors who really care about helping people stay happy forever in their homes by preserving the home's integrity while improving accessibility. You will hear the passion and excitement in their voices, and you will see the proof in their portfolios.

3. Please describe a couple of recent Universal Design challenges and their solutions. Ask if the contractor has before, during, and after pictures that would help you more fully understand the process.

4. May I talk to one or two of your past clients? The contractor shouldn't hesitate and should willingly offer up contact information for past clients. Here's the thing: Call these references. Ask probing questions. Ask what the person would have wanted the contractor to do differently (because there's always something). Ask what the person likes best about the renovation. Ask whether the renovation was worth it and if he or she would do another project with the same contractor.

Next Steps: Ready to Renovate?

You deserve to stay in your home as long as you choose. Universal Design is one method that helps you "age in place" gracefully and with dignity.

At Morse Constructions, when we work with you on a renovation project, we take the time to help you define all aspects of how your space will be used and by whom. We want to understand your goals, your aesthetic sense, your family situation and your long-term plans. Then together, we create designs and complete renovations that take all of this into account, including accessibility and environmental responsibility. If you are thinking about renovating an area of your home, let us know. We'd love to work with you on your renovation project.

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Morse Construction has been associated with a number of organizations and have won a number of awards over the years.


We are proudly members of the following organizations:

  • National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) Eastern MA, facilitator of NARI Green Remodeling Certification

  • Builders Association of Greater Boston Green Council.

Find out more about our work and our team: Learn more here.


Morse Constructions
1 Arrow Dr. Woburn, MA 01801

240 Elm St. 2nd floor Somerville, MA 02144

 (617) 666-4460
 fax. 617 623 2999

About Morse Constructions

Morse Constructions is a design/build firm providing complete renovation services to homeowners throughout the greater Boston area for over 40 years.


Morse Constructions has been selected as "Best of Houzz and received the PRISM Gold Award for Best Universal Design from the Builders and Remodelers Association of Greater Boston.


Our work has been featured on Houzz and in numerous publications including This Old House, Architectural Digest, Better Homes and Gardens, and The Boston Globe.


Over our years in business, Remodeling Magazine named Morse to its list of the top 50 remodeling companies in the country.

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