By Tessa Holloway, North Shore News October 24, 2010

Peter Simpson had never thought too much about where the plugs in his house were located until he had a hernia operation.

“Just a simple thing like bending over to plug in my battery charger in my cell phone, I had to take my time doing it,” said Simpson. “If that power receptacle had only been about six inches or so higher, it wouldn’t have been nearly as challenging.”

For Simpson, president and CEO of the Greater Vancouver Home Builders’ Association, it was a perfect example of why his organization is pushing to educate homebuilders on how to build houses where seniors can age in place.

For Simpson the problem was temporary, but for many others, the location of electrical outlets can mean the difference between independence and relying on others.

“The only reason they’re at the height they are today is it’s the height of a hammer. It was easy for them just to get their hammer there and draw a line,” said Simpson. “Old habits die hard, I guess.”

Seniors’ accessibility is also a concern being raised more and more by customers, said John Friswell, owner of the North Vancouver-based CCI Renovations.

“A lot of (homeowners) have had homes for a long time and they’re now looking at their house and saying ‘Wow, I’ve got a two-storey house that’s 5,000 square feet, how am I going to stay here?'”

Friswell took a four-day Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) course provided by the home builders’ association a few years ago so he could advise clients, and said he incorporates many of the ideas into every house he renovates.

That includes making sure wood backing is installed behind shower walls so grab-bars can be screwed in later, as well as lowering the height of light switches. He also can install contrasting materials so visually impaired have an easier time navigating or wider doors and larger bathrooms for easier wheelchair access, among other changes.

He also said they try to install houses with deep closets directly above one another in case homeowners decide to install a residential elevator when they’re unable to use the stairs.

Simpson said some seniors are also finding they want to live closer to family, which has prompted several North Shore municipalities to investigate the idea of laneway homes in back yards, so seniors could live with family while maintaining their independence.

“I think more municipalities should jump on board with that, but of course we’ve got some resistance to that,” said Simpson. “I know my parents, if I could have had a coach house in my back yard where my parents could live, they might have considered living there, but they sure as heck weren’t going to give up their house for a nursing home.”

Michael Geller, who is the principal developer on a project in West Vancouver that involves laneway houses – what he also calls “granny flats” – said they also allow for much smaller homes that are just one-storey, and thus have no stairs.

“To my mind the ideal solution is usually a single level unit, which can be at grade with a private outdoor space, which is separate from the main space of the principal dwelling,” said Geller, who is also president of a company that builds laneway homes and has advocated for them since 1974.

Still, he said they’re often too expensive for many seniors, which is a major stumbling block for some.

© Copyright (c) North Shore News

Read more: