The frog does not drink up the pond in which he lives.
-Native American Proverb
Green Aging in Place
The aging population and the “green movement” are two mega-trends for 21st century driving demand for aging in place and green home design. Combining these strategies makes good sense for a home which is easy to live in, healthy for the occupants, and supports the environment for future generations.
What are Green Strategies?
Green strategies are simply approaches to building/remodeling a home that is healthier, lower in maintenance and operating costs, as well as more energy efficient. Emphasis is placed on consuming less energy, water and other resources.
Green strategies for the home will generally consist of these 5 elements:
1) Environmentally Friendly
Starting with the site selection of the lot, house orientation and design should take advantage of natural light to cut down on lighting requirements; and reduce heat gain in the summer and loss in the winter.
Construction/remodeling of the home should include renewable materials such as; rapidly-renewable wood species like bamboo, recycled-content materials in carpets, tiles, and concrete mixes.
2) Energy saving
The green home will have energy-efficient appliances, windows, and water heating systems with ENERGY STAR® ratings. Other strategies include efficient bulbs and lighting features.
Renewable energy sources like photovoltaic electricity and water heating systems will help decrease the overall energy consumption within the home.
3) Water Conservation
Here the emphasis is on conserving water by replacing old faucets, shower heads, and toilets with low-flow fixtures. Green appliances include ENERGY STAR dishwashers and washing machines.
Tank-less water heaters save not only space, and energy for heating, but also wasted water.
Another strategy is buying programmed-water saving low-volume irrigation systems, rainwater collection systems, wastewater treatment systems, and hot water recirculation systems. Also, natural yards with less grassed areas and multiple trees can be lower in maintenance and require less watering.
3) Healthy Indoor Air Quality
Heating, air conditioning and ventilation system (HVAC) should be sized for an efficient and properly ventilated home. Bathroom and kitchen fans that cycle fresh air in and stale air out help maintain healthy air quality.
Indoor air according to the EPA is considered one of the top 5 hazards to human health; paints and finishes are among the leading culprits.
Paints and finishes release low level toxic emissions into the air for years after application (common in older homes) and the source of these toxins is a variety of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which, until recently were essential to paint’s performance.
The use of new Low-VOC paints, finishes, and wall papers, is suggested.
4) Outside the Home
Green strategies for outside the home include preserving trees and other native vegetation. Landscaping should contain plants that are appropriate for the climate, and grouped according to water needs.
Solid surfaces such as driveways and other impervious areas should be reduced as much as possible, and can be composed of gravel, permeable block pavers, grids, or other permeable systems.
Seniors and boomers are increasingly seeking green strategies for aging in place. They want their wellness to be supported by a home that will conserve resources and reduce the impact on the environment for future generations.
During the first part of the 20th century much of the United States was developed along the lines of European cities with small compact mixed-use neighborhoods.
This pattern changed after World-War II with the emergence of modern architecture, cheap gasoline and the automobile. The American landscape transformed as many moved to the suburbs, shopped at the strip mall, and commuted.
The result was “urban-sprawl” as the majority of US citizens now live in the suburbs built in the last 50 years.
As the population gets older most will find themselves aging in suburbia which was designed for young families with children. The challenges for older adults can be multiple:
- Restricting to mobility
- Discourage physical activity
- Socially isolating
- Limited social services
- Automobile dependent
Possible Solution to Sprawl
New urbanism or traditional neighborhood development (TND) is a growing movement based on returning to the traditional neighborhood with town centers, mixed-uses, housing of different types to accommodate families of varying sizes and circumstances; and options for transportation including walk-able communities and transit oriented environments.
These TNDs are attractive to older adults when combined with infrastructure to support community and civic life:
- Center or square to gather
- Homes within five-minute walk to the center
- Variety of dwellings; row houses, apartments, single family homes
- Permit “granny flats”
- Pedestrian friendly sidewalks
- Porches on homes
- Narrow streets slow traffic
- Self-governing organization
- Walking distance to shops
What’s TND got to do with green strategies for aging in place?
Seniors and boomers report they are planning on aging in place, which for many means the suburbs. Forward-thinking designers and planners are attempting to transform suburbia with smart-growth that includes amenities like pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods that emphasize community and independence from the automobile.
Sidewalks built close to porches encourage walking and interacting with neighbors. Markets selling fresh local products are within minutes. And dwellings are built with charm and aesthetically pleasing design to combat “placeless sprawl” and an institutional feeling.
New Urbanism can be considered green as older adults choose to form communities less dependent on the automobile, taking transit, shopping at local markets, supporting neighborhood vendors, sharing community services, and preserving country side and farm land from sprawl.
See: Designing and Building Sustainable Homes That Make Life Easier: A look inside the Universal Design Living Laboratory