Making your home adaptable
Design a home or renovation that meets your needs now and in the future.
Designing a new home or renovation is a complex process - if you get it right at the start, you won't have to make costly alterations down the track.
Whether you are designing a new house and need professional help or doing a smaller project with your own designs, it is worth taking time to think through how your needs may change. You will need to decide what you, and those you live with, need from your home so you can brief the tradespeople or designers more clearly.
Meeting your wants and needs
When you are buying a property, or planning a new home or renovation, you'll need to consider whether you and those you live with have other needs that will influence the design and layout of your home.
- How many people will live in the home?
- What ages are they? Small children have very different needs from teenagers and adults.
- What will the home will be used for? Will you want an area where children can play or a space for entertaining guests?
- What are your hobbies and interests? Do these require a special space? How do you spend your time when you're at home?
- Do you or anyone living with you have any special needs or requirements?
- Do you or anyone living with you have reduced mobility?
- Do you regularly have guests to stay and, if so, how many?
- Do you have extended family or friends who live with you?
- Will you be working from home and need a space where you can do this?
- Do you need carparking or garages?
All these issues influence how many rooms or spaces you need, how big those spaces need to be and how flexible they need to be (i.e. will they be used for one purpose or several?).
Having this information will be useful whether you're briefing an architect or designer about a new home or renovation, buying a home off the plans, or buying an existing home.
How big does your home need to be?
Each square metre of your home in 2011 may cost up to $1800 to build.
Houses in New Zealand have been getting larger – an average 205.3 square metres in 2011. Floor size has almost doubled in the 30 years since the 1970s.
However, bear in mind that the bigger the house, the more costly it is likely to be to run and maintain. A large home will also be harder to keep warm. A well-designed, compact and flexible home may meet your needs better than a larger, more expensive home that costs you more to run.
Universal design is about making homes that many people could live in and enjoy regardless of their age, mobility or stage of life. Universal design also means having a home that is adaptable if needs change due to having children and the different stages they go through, children leaving home, mobility and health changes, wanting to simplify housekeeping or wanting to stay in your home as you age.
Some basic principles of universal design include:
- having flat access to the main entrance
- having the main floor at entry level
- having the kitchen, bathroom and at least one sleeping area at entry level (note: the sleeping area could also be used as a study or living area)
- ensuring all walkways and doorways are wide enough for strollers, wheelchairs or mobility scooters to easily pass through (an 810mm wide doorway will allow minimum clearance for wheelchairs of 760mm width)
- ensuring all rooms are large enough for residents to easily move around
- doors opening outwards in small bathroom areas
- providing grab bars beside toilets
- providing a wet area or 'European' shower (i.e. a shower that drains directly through the floor with no door or 'lip' that has to be stepped over)
- ensuring door handles are lever-style which are easier to grip and open than door knobs
- providing kitchen benches and other work/storage spaces at the appropriate height
- installing light switches by beds and a telephone outlet by the main bed
- ensuring garages and carports are large enough for wheelchair access
- having light switches, socket outlets and door handles at easily reached heights.
A lot of the features of universal design can be built into any new home or renovation - this might save costly alterations further down the track.
If alterations are required as needs and lifestyles change, they'll be more cost-effective if they have been considered as part of the initial design.
Who lives in your home?
Larger families will need living areas that are designed to meet different needs at different times - for example, a children's playroom by day could be a family living/dining area by night.
You might want separate areas for:
- formal and informal living
- watching TV and quiet activities such as study or work
- adults and teenagers
- play or rumpus rooms.
Outdoor living spaces can be used to ease some of the pressure on indoor areas. Also consider kitchen size, and how many bedrooms and toilets you'll need (bear in mind, extra bathrooms might encourage long showers).
Young children will need access to places to play (including the outdoors) where they can be easily supervised while you get on with household chores.
Older children or teenagers will need private areas where they can study. You may want to consider a separate living area - perhaps in a sleepout or mezzanine floor - where they can entertain their friends.
Do you live with extended family or flatmates?
The needs of adults are quite different to those of children. If you have other adults who live with you, they may need more independence and privacy than children. Do you need a separate living area? Can your site cope with an additional dwelling? Do you have elderly people living with you who have special needs?
Do you have lots of guests to stay?
If you have guests or family members who come to stay, you'll need additional sleeping space. You might want guest bedrooms or children's bedrooms that are large enough to have spare beds for other children to stay in. If you have overseas family who come to visit for extended periods, you may want to consider having separate living or cooking areas.
If you plan to use sofabeds or mattresses on the floor in living areas to accommodate guests, it's important that the living areas are warm at night and have convenient access to the toilet.
Meeting future needs
Consider your future needs as well as your current ones.
Do you have children who will grow up and leave home? Do you plan to have children? Will children grow up and leave home? Do you plan to ever work from home? Are your physical needs likely to change as you age? Is it important to think about the future needs of your family and friends?
Planning ahead now can save you from costly renovations later or from the wrench of leaving a home and neighbourhood you've become part of.
Consider what your future needs might be and how your planned new home or renovation might accommodate these. In particular, think about:
- whether you have enough bedrooms to cope with additions to your household
- whether you'll have a room that can be used as an office if you decide to work from home
- whether your home will be suitable as you grow older and/or your mobility becomes impaired.
Ideally, your home will adapt to your future needs without further renovation. However, it's also worth planning ahead to make renovations easier. If your interior walls aren't load-bearing, you'll have more flexibility to remove walls and change room layouts as part of any future renovation.
From Smarter Homes
From other sites
Barrier Free New Zealand offers resources and training in designing barrier-free homes. For further information you can order Standard NZS 4121(2001), Design for access and mobility: buildings and associated facilities on the Standards New Zealand website.
The University of Iowa's Universal Design and Green Home Survey Checklist helps you design your home to be both liveable and future-friendly.
You can buy the BRANZ publication Homes without Barriers: A Guide to Accessible Houses relating to insulation from the BRANZ website (click on the link to the BRANZ shop).
You can obtain copies of New Zealand Standards on designing for access and mobility from the Standards New Zealand website.