Gaines Group Architects

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

Why should your new bathroom walls have plywood on them?


Why should your new bathroom walls have plywood on them? Designing a home that can adapt over time without knowing how it will need to adapt is a difficult challenge. There are standards by which you can block for future grab bars that are designed to allow for someone in a wheelchair to use a bathroom. However, those that need to use a wheelchair late in life may not have the upper body strength to use those grab bars effectively. What if there is no wheelchair, but maybe just stability issues? Would you want to install the grab bars in different locations?


Using a plywood backer board, behind your waterproofing system allows for installing grab bars anywhere in the future. So, Why should your new bathroom walls have plywood on them? Because the future is uncertain. This strategy gives maximum flexibility to the bathroom as needs change over time. Making spaces as flexible as possible during construction allows your home to be a home for a lifetime. I know you don’t plan to need grab bars, neither do I, but it is good to plan for as many possibilities as you can while building your dream 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.