A front door wide enough to easily push a pram through, living spaces that are safe to move around in, step-free showers, stair handrails and toilets on the ground floor: these attributes are all elements of best practice architecture design and construction with regard to houses which are safe and comfortable for occupants, according to proponents of a new Livable Housing Australia initiative.
Launched at Parliament House earlier this week, the new initiative, which is sponsored by a number of large property development firms as well as building and construction industry associations, seeks to encourage builders and architects to design and construct houses that are easy to live in.
A key aspect of the initiative revolves around the Livable Housing Design Quality Mark, which awards performance ratings of gold, silver and platinum according to the Livable Housing Design Guidelines. Those guidelines specify best-practice standards in housing design from a livability perspective based around core elements which are considered fundamental to livable homes.
To achieve a ‘silver’ rating, for example, the lowest of the three possible ratings, features of the home must include:
- A safe, continuous and step free path of travel from the street entrance and/or parking area to a dwelling entrance that is level,
- At least one level (step-free) entrance into the dwelling,
- Internal doors and corridors that facilitate comfortable and unimpeded movement between spaces,
- A toilet on the entry level that can be accessed easily,
- A bathroom that contains a hobless (step-free) shower recess,
- Reinforced walls around the toilet, shower and bath to support the safe installation of grab rails at a later date,
- A continuous handrail on one side of any stairway where there is a rise of more than one metre.
Additional elements are required for the achievement of higher rating levels.
LHA chair Peter Verwer says livable design features not only make homes easier to navigate, especially for the elderly and disabled but also for pregnant mothers, young families with children and caregivers, they are more adaptable and cost-effective to renovate or change when ‘life’s circumstances change.’
If built into new dwellings, Verwer says, these elements will provide substantial dividends to home owners over the long term.
“It makes sense to commit to livability features when a home is first designed and built rather than wait for an unplanned need to arise,” Verwer says, adding that LHA’s goal was to persuade the market to incorporate Silver level livability features into all homes by 2020.
Therese Rein, national patron for the LHA, says her support for the initiative arises out of her own family’s experiences, which involved her father losing the use of his legs during a flying accident in WWII.
“I grew up with my dad in a wheelchair and I know what a difference Livable Housing would have made to him, and to us as a family,” Rein says.
Throughout Australia, awareness about the role of good housing design in avoiding accidents has grown over recent years. A 2008 study by the Monash University Accident Research Centre, for example, found that 62 per cent of all falls and slip-based injuries occur in the family home.
Companies and organisations behind the initiative include Grocon, Stockland, Lend Lease, Australian Institute of Architects, Property Council of Australia, Master Builders Australia, the Real Estate Institute of Australia, the Housing Industry Association, COTA, the Australian Network for Universal Housing Design, the Australian Local Government Association, the Building Commission and the Australian Human Rights Commission.