Sustainable Aging in Place

A man and woman laying in bed smiling for the camera.

If you really think that the environment is less important than the economy, try holding your breath while you count your money.

~ Guy McPherson, scientist & professor


Green Aging in Place: 4 Components

Aging in place and green construction / remodeling are two mega-trends for the 21st century which can potentially act synergistically to help older adults remain independent and healthy while supporting the environment. The 4 components of green aging in place are, Green Strategies, Universal Design, Assistive Technologies, and Traditional Neighbor- hood Developments (TND):

#1 Green strategies for the home generally consist of 5 elements

  1. Environmentally friendly construction- Using renew- able materials and recycled content, as well as home design/orientation that takes advantage of natural light.
  2. Energy saving- Use of energy-efficient bulbs, appliances, windows, and water heating systems with ENERGY STAR ratings.
  3. Water conservation- Replacing old (or buying new), faucets, showerheads, and toilets with low-flow fixtures, tankless water heaters, low-volume irrigation systems, rainwater collection systems, and hot water recirculation systems.
  4. Healthy indoor quality- Use of low- VOC paints, finishes, and wall papers, heating and AC ventilation systems sized for efficient and properly vented home, bathroom- kitchen fans to cycle fresh air.
  5. Outside the house- Preserving trees and other native vegetation, landscaping with plants appropriate for the climate–and grouping according to water needs, limit solid surfaces like concrete in exchange for permeable surfaces life gravel whenever possible.

#2 Universal Design Universal design is the creation of environments and products which are meant to usable by all people to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialization. Universal design is the legacy of the late Ron Mace, FAIA, and founder of The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University. His vision of a world accessible to everyone regardless of abilities is realized through a set of 7 design principles:

  1. Equitable Use – The design does not disadvantage or stigmatize any group of users and is marketable to people with diverse abilities.
  2. Flexibility in Use – The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences (i.e., L/R handed) and abilities; provides choice in methods of use.
  3. Simple and Intuitive Use – Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level; eliminates unnecessary complexity.

I feel more confident than ever that the power to save the planet rests with the individual consumer.
~ Denis Hayes

  1. Perceptible Information – The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities; uses pictures, audible, or tactical methods.
  2. Tolerance for Error – The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended fatigue; elements most used should be most accessible, or fail-safe features included.
  3. Low Physical Effort – The design can be used efficient- ly and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.
  4. Appropriate Size and Space – The appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use, regardless of the user’s body size, posture, or mobility. Universal Design ranges from the built environment (i.e., ramps and rails) to personal items (i.e., OXO utensils).

#3 Assistive Technologies AI innovations for aging in place, computerized ubiquitous monitoring systems (tele); as well as other assistive devices which facilitate aging in place.

#4 Traditional Neighborhood Developments Neo-traditional neighborhoods or what have been termed Traditional Neighborhood Developments, are another piece of the green aging in place puzzle. A TND contains some of the following elements:

-Town centers and shops within walking distance

-Housing of different types to accommodate families of varying sizes/circumstances


-Porches on homes

-Narrow pedestrian-friendly streets

-Locations on transit/bus lines

-Mixed-use (commerce and residential)

TNDs are an alternative to urban sprawl and auto dependency. This preserves countryside and farmland while de- creasing suburban-isolation of older adults aging in place.

Aging in place is green and supports sustainability by remodeling verses tearing down to rebuild. If building a new structure is more environmentally sound, then consider Passive Buildings. Further, green includes living in a healthy environment which is essential as older adults face increasing infirmities. The blending of aging in place with green elements, universal design, assistive technologies, and traditional neighborhood developments, results in homes/neighborhoods which are safer, healthier, beautiful, comfortable, more valuable, and support the environment. Aging in place and Green are here to stay.


Sustainable Architecture /Google

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