Oct. 4, 2004
Universal design is in demand
Baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, are 77 million strong. Combined, this group has almost a trillion dollars in disposable income. And every 8 seconds, another baby boomer turns 50 years old, making the mature market the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population.This 50-plus generation is sophisticated, active, independent, and has unprecedented buying power. Their impact on the building industry is far-reaching and fraught with opportunity for those who have insight into how to market to and work with this influential crowd.Embracing Aging-in-PlaceBaby boomers are generating huge demand for products and services. For the building industry, the aging of the baby boomers presents enormous opportunities.Recent studies show a whopping 85 percent of people over the age of 65 want to continue being at home, whether it is in a condominium complex, a retirement community, or a private home. Commonly referred to as “aging-in-place,” it means living in one’s dwelling safely, independently, and comfortably – regardless of age, income, or ability level.Aging-in-place has an even broader definition of having individuals enjoying the pleasures of living in their own familiar environments throughout their maturing years. This design concept means the ability to enjoy the familiar daily rituals and enriching special events, as well as staying close to friends and family members.For those opting to age-in-place, it also means that varying degrees of facility modifications will be necessary to make living spaces more “age-friendly.” Typical modifications to consider in new construction or modernization projects include equipping doors and faucets with easy-to-use levers instead of knobs; installing casement and other crank-style windows that are easy to open and close; and furnishing grab bars and curbless showers in bathrooms, lowering light switches, and raising outlets for easy wheelchair access.Jumping on the BandwagonDesigning a condominium complex or a retirement community that is age-friendly makes good business sense. “Everyone has a connection,” says Dave Koester, brand manager, Weather Shield Windows and Doors, Medford, WI. “Everyone knows someone who can benefit from accessible design.”Aging-in-place is driven by the end-user, and the public is beginning to understand the value of modernization and universal design. The building community is also realizing that the cost to design and build a new facility with accessible features is negligible compared to the cost of traditional assisted living.The “Boomer” MindsetExploring the mindset of baby boomers is critical to understanding their zest for life and their aversion to anything that makes them feel old, including grab bars and other products that feel “institutional.”“The challenge for builders is to remove the stigma and promote [the] convenience that aging-in-place design features play in creating accessible, barrier-free environments,” says Val Rogers, certification and testing project leader at Weather Shield Windows and Doors. As baby boomers get older, the demand for universally designed retirement communities, condominium complexes, and homes is growing exponentially. “Anyone who has the insight to see what is coming down the turnpike is going to be building barrier-free living environments,” he adds.Jeff Williams is communications manager at Weather Shield Windows and Doors, Medford, WI.; (800) 477-6806 or (

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