Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

America's First Universal Design "Smart" Home: A Call to Action for a New $20,000 Tax Credit for Universal Design Homes and Remodels

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

America's First Universal Design "Smart" Home: A Call to Action for a New $20,000 Tax Credit for Universal Design Homes and Remodels

Article excerpt


By providing a $20,000 tax credit for Universal Design (UD) housing, when new housing construction begins anew, the United States has a real opportunity to save hundreds of billions of dollars in long-term healthcare while encouraging long-term economic growth.

Universal Design (also known as Inclusive Design or "Aging in Place" when referring to housing) is the design of homes, products, and systems that work for people of all ages and abilities, a concept that was invented over 20 years ago by Mr. Ron Mace, AIA, an architect at the Center for UD in Raleigh, NC.

I believe that UD and "green" home building create the perfect synergy for new and existing homes if we are to "age in place" and build responsibly as we move through this 21st century. It is a precept for which I have been a proponent for many years. In July 2004 EP magazine featured an article I wrote entitled "A Stroll Through the Universal Designed Smart Home." It described the room-by-room features and benefits of a home that is designed for people of all ages and abilities, which forms the basic premise of Universal Design. In February of that year I also wrote and published the book, Universal Designed "Smart" Homes for the 21st Century, the country's first home plan book that includes both universal design and "green," sustainable design and products. At that time, the book contained 52 plans; the third edition now has 102 plans that can be ordered for construction. It also has a 25page, room-by room section that offers features and benefits, complete with resources and references that are applicable to both new homes and remodels/renovations.

Today, UD and green design make more sense than ever before. Consider this: On May 11, 2009 President Obama introduced "a new foundation for the economy." In his words, "As far as healthcare goes, we are currently on an unsustainable course. In the next 10 years, one-fifth of our economy will be spent on healthcare and costs will continue to climb as baby boomers continue to age." In addition to the aging of the Boomers, there is also an increasing number of veterans returning home with disabilities. Additionally, we need to remember the growing numbers of children and adults who are overweight who would benefit from UD/ inclusive homes.

As part of the recent federal economic stimulus package, there were a myriad of "green" tax deductions or credits that include home products like solar panels, low-e window retrofits, weather stripping, energy efficient air conditioners, and point of use water heaters. This is fantastic, however, "green" home building is only a portion of what should be the long-term U.S. housing solution. In addition to a home being ecologically friendly, it should provide its occupants with a setting for "aging-in-place." Also, when homes are adaptable, people can live in them, but they can also work in them with telecommuting becoming ever more popular and a wonderful way to reduce the strain on transportation systems.

Prior to the recent passing of the economic stimulus package, the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) lobbied for a $16,000 tax credit for new home construction. In the end, that provision failed. It may have failed because there are currently too many homes on the market. It would have also encouraged the same building practices that were developed at the end of World War II, when the Boomers were babies. These obsolete standards do not in any way allow for aging in place.

I believe there is another flaw; the NAHB proposal does not allow for home remodels/ renovations or for accessory dwelling units (ADUs) that are essentially extra home space in the form of an ancillary apartment often used as lodging for elderly family members, thus the ADUs other alias, the "granny flat."

The AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) studies have, for years, concluded that 75 percent or more of elderly adults would prefer to stay at home and age in place. …

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