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Read more from David Russell
The cost of altering an existing house is considerably higher than designing one with the future in mind – studies in the United Kingdom demonstrate this - yet many people still believe otherwise.
Perhaps the misperception around the cost of building Lifemark homes, designed to welcome people of all ages and abilities, is that by their very nature, these homes are of a very high quality - and that is something we usually equate with high cost.
However, nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to the cost of building a Lifemark home. Indeed the upfront investment is minimal, ranging from 0-1.5% on the total construction cost. The actual amount depends on the overall design of your home and your section.
What’s more, considering the long-term savings to be made in not having to rip things apart to cater for changing needs, the return on the initial small investment is huge.
We’ve looked at the potential savings of different design values. For example, having level entry points to key areas such as the front door, the bathroom and the shower rather than two to three steps can result in savings of up to 80% on the costs of altering a standard home.
Single level entries in these key areas will cater for a lifetime of needs from the mother needing to push a buggy through the front door, to her elderly parents or friends and relatives with disabilities who may need to navigate their way in and out with a wheelchair or a walker.
And, even if someone with very particular needs moves into a Lifemark home, the alteration costs will be minimal as the bones of the house are already designed with the future in mind. For example, the halls and doorways will be wide enough for anyone in a wheelchair and the bathroom will be designed in such a way that, if necessary, making a level-entry shower will be easy and cost a lot less than most standard homes.
So, while there may be additional future costs with a Lifemark home, they will be significantly lower that what would be required for a standard home where you would be starting from scratch.
On a large scale, these cost-savings are crucial to the economic wellbeing of New Zealand as our population changes. Indeed, a new research institute, the National Institute of Demographic and Economic Analysis (NIDEA), has just been set up specifically to study the impact of New Zealand’s ageing population and the increasing ethnic diversity on our country’s future.
The impact in terms of housing is clear. New Zealand urgently needs to build a housing stock that will cater for the needs of its increasingly ageing population along with new migrants and their multi-generational family needs.
For developers, adopting the Lifemark standard sooner rather than later, is simply smart strategic thinking that guarantees a competitive edge. Many developers are aware of this and are adopting the cookie cutter approach. But the reality is that a thorough analysis of design standards and assessment processes is essential to ensure homes truly cater for all needs, appropriately. For example, while the New Zealand Standard NZS4121 ‘Design for Access and Mobility’ recommends a doorway 760mm wide, Lifemark recommends 810mm.
Ultimately, as the figures show, there is very little cost difference up front for the developer or the investor in building to the Lifemark. But, the outcome makes a very big difference to that person in a wheelchair or the mother pushing a pram.
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