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Months before its opening to visitors at the NAHB International Builders’ Show in February, The New American Home has already started a lively discussion on universal design, focusing among other things on the wisdom of placing a master bedroom on the second floor.
Like the 28 New American Homes that have preceded it, the 2012 home, now under roof in Winter Park, Fla., is designed to introduce a number of design concepts, construction techniques, builder best practices, new products and decorating ideas to the thousands of industry professionals who will be attending the IBS.
The discussion was initiated by a participant in NAHB’s Linkedin group looking at the drawings of the home and questioning whether a master bedroom and bath on the second floor was appropriate considering the growing need for aging in place and accessibility in the nation’s housing.
“Before you dismiss the New American Home as not being accessible because the master is upstairs, notice the elevator, the oversized halls and wide door openings,” says Phil Kean, architect and certified residential contractor for Phil Kean Designs Inc. in Winter Park, which is building the house.
Another NAHB blogger, describing himself as an expert in universal design, writes that even without an elevator, second story bedrooms are “not the end of the world.”
“Providing a straight run set of stairs onto which a lift can be later installed (much more cheaply and easily than on a set of stairs with landings or turns) works ok,” he says.
“Also, you can stack closets sized for future elevator installation. So you can minimize up-front costs, provide for less expensive modifications later and still come up with a pretty usable house without interior vertical circulation being present at first occupancy.”
That observation is confirmed by Anna Porter, who along with husband, Dave, are testing the universal design of their Stanwood, Wash., beachfront property after she suffered a stroke, at the age of 53, three months ago, while in her second-floor bedroom enjoying the coastal view.
“Our NAHB Green national-award-winning home managed to be very green (not just politically correct, but environmentally essential) and universal design at the same time. We see these design concepts as perfectly suited to each other,” she writes.
“While our master bedroom is on the second floor, we planned for the main floor office/den to be a bedroom in the event of physical disability,” she says, and it is now serving that function.
“The office door is actually a ‘hidden door’ which made for an over-sized opening into the room. We planned ahead for a pocket room between the office and the main floor bath by installing the frame during the framing stage in case the move to a main floor bedroom was more permanent.
“The main floor bath was already universal design ready with a low-threshold shower that has a built-in bench and grab bars and in which we had installed a hand-held shower head.
“During the framing stage, we also added a “backer board” to support a handrail to be installed later as needed by the toilet. Good thing, as I needed it sooner rather than later!
“We chose a pedestal sink so my wheelchair could come right up to it. And the bathroom was large enough for wheelchair radius. The only modification we had to do was to install swing-away hinges to grab just a couple more inches through the doorway,” Porter writes.
Porter says that her prognosis is good, and she is hoping she will be able to vacate her first-floor bedroom soon. “But it was so wonderful to be just a little prepared (for not a whole lot of dollars) for an unexpected life change.”
More information on the Porters’ green home, which will be open for public tours on Oct. 1, is available at www.goinggreenatthebeach.com.
Kean notes that an ambitious list of goals has been set for the 2012 New American Home, which is being built to meet a number of requirements for certification, including those for: the National Green Building Standard’s Emerald status, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Star, the Florida Green Building Coalition’s Platinum certification, the Florida Yards and Neighborhoods designation, the Energy Home Advantage Program and Florida Native Plant Endorsement.
“This year’s home is in a semi-urban setting on an infill lot,” he says. “It is within walking distance to shopping, restaurants, parks, churches and schools.
“The house is roughly half the size of 2011’s home. The estimated annual energy cost is under $2,000.”
For more extensive information on the home in a previous edition of Nation’s Building News, click here.