Getting A LIFT in Business
Renovating a home is huge business in Canada. Home-owners that are renovating are looking to create equity while ensuring comfort and style. For the average family or individual an investment in a home should be for life but that may not always be the case when circumstances change and your home becomes more of an obstacle then a place of rest, shelter and enjoyment.
The concept of aging in place has been around for a number of years and takes the concept of Universal Design into practice. Universal Design principles are those that state that when a home is designed with everyone in mind then everyone will be able to access and utilize all elements of a home throughout its lifespan. These principles have been put into practice in many countries but they don’t always address the practical side of construction, finances or family need such as neighbourhood amenities.
As the population demographics change so too will the renovation requirements of the general population. As the aging boomers influence all customer aspects in our society so too will renovation and design. Aging in Place will become a regular construction term and those builders, renovators and contractors who recognize the trend and who can deliver answers will lead the way.
Becoming one of these leading contractors will likely mean a partnership between specialty contractors and designers with experience with this specific population. The subtle nuances in designing and building a home for accessibility can be as individual as the client themselves. These nuances along with the existing architecture of the home become the determining factors in the scope of work. The existing elements of the home including the grade of the home, number of stairways, location of plumbing, kitchen and other major components of the home oftentimes makes the choice of what can be done limited without completely redesigning or gutting the home. Add to this challenge the renovation budget and you are set to determine what can be done.
As with any good renovation project, it is a team approach with the client/home owner the centre. In cases of accessibility we have to also need the input of the healthcare team whether it is an Occupational Therapist, Case Manager, Nurse or support workers. The information regarding client needs and abilities, prognosis and family dynamic all play an effect of good design. The individual client needs are then tied to the existing home’s architecture as well as what type of mobility device is being used. These factors play an important role in the decision making process. The size and space required being the key element.
The other important players on the team are the designer/architect, elevator/lift vendor and renovation contractor. Each plays a role in the developing of the overall design and defining the scope of work and budget. A designer with experience in accessibility is preferable as they take into consideration all aspect of the home. Flooring, lighting, fixture placement, door swings are all details that cannot be over- looked when dealing with home accessibility.
The contractor and lift vendor are involved at the design process as well to determine what product can be best suited for the application and what can be done to the home structurally and safely. When choosing a good lift vendor as a partner look for experience and process. They should provide a selection of products while understand the client’s needs. They need to be involved throughout the construction phase to ensure that specifications and tolerances are met to ensure a sound installation. Finally, they should provide a comprehension service package for the client including preventative maintenance and education. A vendor that involves themselves with other aspects of a client’s special needs will also be one that can add further experience to the process.
In the case of an installation of a residential elevator the determining factor is usually the space the hoist-way requires. From these details the final landing requirements and door lay-outs are determined. Access to all levels of a home to include a grade entrance/exit can be tricky although it is the desirable result to accomplish. Other factors when determining the elevator’s specification is the controls and the door type. Traditional controls for a residential elevator have been constant pressure type whereby the user maintains pressure on the control button until the desired landing is met. The traditional door type has been swing door applications which involve lock mechanisms to be added. Swing doors may be desirable for overall look and feel in a home environment but they can be a hindrance when it comes to space allocation on the landings. A swing door application also requires an internal cab gate to be closed along with the exterior swing door. Technology and design improvements in the residential elevator industry have made it affordable for elevator style sliding doors to be used in the home setting. These allow for a safer and more complete “automatic” product and something most individuals expect when using an elevator. The constant pressure element is removed through momentary touch controls and the space issue of door swings is eliminated as well.
With the design drawn out and the elevator model selected the budget is determined. In some jurisdictions a structural engineer may be required to sign off on the hoist-way construction in order for a building permit to be issued. The structural requirements of the hoist-way are provided by the elevator vendor and put into the drawings by the designer. This part of the process is sometimes over- looked when applying for a permit and it is best to understand the local authorities permit requirements ahead of time. This can also be said for the electrical requirements of the elevator.
Other lifting devices including stairway, inclined platform lifts and other vertical lifts all have their specified structural and electrical requirements but none as involved as with the elevator project.
Installing an elevator as renovation or modeling a home to Age in Place is rarely planned by a client or family. It likely stems from a need and a desire to remain in their family home. Unlike similar scale projects the completing of a full elevator installation and meeting a client’s accessibility challenges can be a very rewarding experience as a contractor and member of the renovation team. The fact that through good process and design you are able to allow someone to remain in their home is a very satisfying experience and one that can perhaps open up new business avenues.