There are so many guidelines, standards, and recommendations to consider when it comes to designing or renovating space for people to age well in their homes. While it might seem that it would be great if there was an overall set of criteria that we could use to create effective spaces for people, we really don’t want this.
Why would we not want to have a uniform set of criteria that would govern making recommendations and renovations for anyone but especially for people who want to age in place in there home? There are several reasons. Here are a few of them.
First – and not in any certain order of importance, prominence, or priority – there are too many conflicting regulations, suggestions, guidelines, and standards that it would take years, if ever, for there to be a consensus on what to promulgate. ADA says one thing (actually it says several things within its guidelines depending on which page is used). The ICC, ANSI, and UFAS have slightly different interpretations in some areas on what should be included. Then there are local codes which have slightly different requirements in a few areas.
There are some areas such as outlet location, countertop height, type of switches and controls, flooring, mirror height and size, and window sill height which are not consistent and would take a lot of work to reach any type of agreement. Some jurisdictions have published criteria, but many do not.
Second – and perhaps the most central reason for not ever having regulations that could be developed and implemented – is the fact that everyone is the same size. Children are much smaller (at an early age) than adults. Adults range in height from under five feet to nearly seven feet in height. Men tend to be taller and larger than women. Weight can range from under a hundred pounds for a very slight adult to several hundred pounds.
With the range of size, and with it the difference in reach, designing cabinetry, switches, appliances, shelving, and other features so that they would be mandated throughout all homes would mean that many people would not be able to live well in their own homes. Clearly, this would never happen, so we go with recommended universal design locations for switches and other items as being conveniently located and accessible for most people.
Third, the physical ability of people varies tremendously. Some people have no urgent medical needs or requirements but may have mobility or sensory limitations that come with aging that may not require any specific modifications to accommodate them but would be happier with homes that made it easier for them to navigate them.
There are those living with progressive conditions, resulting from an acute or traumatic episode that now remains or from birth, that are using assistive devices (wheelchairs, canes, and walkers, for instance) or finding that their home needs to be specifically adapted to address and meet their needs. People without these issues may not need or benefit from the same type of treatments.
Fourth, the differing age of homes and the layouts represented mean that some homes are much better suited for easier renovations (and less expensive) that others. Some are going to require extensive work that is beyond the value of the home – just by bringing them up to current codes and not even thinking about any type of regulations that might be created and apply as far as aging in place design or accessibility.
Fifth, is the proliferation of checklists, guidelines, recommendations, standards, and ideas on what makes a good or successful design for aging in place. Finding consensus here would be a very large undertaking. Since the body issuing or publishing their ideas on what should be included, often with their reasoning or explanation for suggesting them as well, feels strongly enough about their recommendations and the fact that there are so many different organizations with such ideas, it is unlikely agreement could be reached easily on what is the definitive criteria to use.
For these reasons and others, it is improbable that there will be, at any point in the foreseeable future, a national or international set of criteria to be used for all homes.