A Home To Last A Lifetime

October 8, 2007
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An upcoming conference will showcase the many benefits of universal and accessible home design to consumers and professionals working in the residential built environment.

The premise of universal design is relatively simple, according to Rich Kogelschatz, a speaker at the conference and president of Heartland Builders LLC: to build a home that will literally last a person a lifetime.

“If you’re going to build a home to grow old in, you need to build it to universal design standards,” said Kogelschatz, also an advocate of green-building concepts and chair of next year’s Great Lakes Green homebuilding conference. “I would even give up green building for universal design, only from the standpoint that it doesn’t matter how green your home is if you can’t get into it after an auto accident.”

When New Urban Home Builders and Via Design created their multimillion-dollar U.S. Green Building Council certified home in this year’s Parade of Homes (see related story), they did so with a series of closets positioned to be converted into an elevator if the need arises.

“Normally you wouldn’t build a home this size or this expensive in this neighborhood; value-wise, it doesn’t quite fit,” said Tim Brinks, principal of New Urban Home Builders. “But they like the neighborhood and want to spend the rest of their lives here. Features like this ensure that they are able to.”

The two-day program, “Universal and Accessible Home Design with You in Mind,” is scheduled for Nov. 1 and 2 at the Crowne Plaza of Grand Rapids.

The conference will be open to the public 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, with a 5 p.m. keynote presentation by conference organizer Scott Anderle of Specialized Home Design Inc.

The Friday program will feature a more thorough examination designed for professionals working in health care or residential construction, design or finance. Speakers include “smart home” consultants William Day and Matt Basgall of Computer Rehabilitation Consultants, nationally recognized kitchen and bath designer Mary Jo Peterson, local personal disability litigator William Decker, Anderle and Kogelschatz. The program runs from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Thirty-eight companies are scheduled to exhibit at the conference, ranging from elevator contractors to home designers and cabinet makers.

“We’re looking to marry the medical and construction professions,” said Anderle. “We want them to become knowledgeable about each other’s professions and universal design. And we want to introduce it to the homeowners and potential homeowners — those that don’t have a disability but want a beautiful home environment that can function extraordinarily well for everyone within their family, even if their needs change.”

A physical therapist of 18 years, Anderle sold his chain of five West Michigan clinics in 2003, and after 18 months of specialized study launched Specialized Home Design. His firm performs design assessments of homes to meet universal design concepts or the specific needs of a disabled individual. He also serves as a liaison for disabled individuals renovating or building a home — working with contractors, designers, vendors and physical therapists to ensure the home is built accordingly.

He was recently contracted by a group of West Michigan churches to do so on behalf of local pastor Josh Buck, who was paralyzed last year in a diving accident in Mexico.

Specialized Home Design has also commissioned proprietary software tools to create universally designed homes and to educate consumers and professionals about accessible design concepts. These will be on display at the conference.

“I have found that contractors and all these professionals understand that the baby boomers are coming — that there are 78 million coming through — and they are going to have their needs,” said Anderle, who has presented on this subject at conferences nationwide. “But it doesn’t matter who you are; each one of us has something unique going on with our bodies.”

Erli Gronberg, chair of the interior design program at Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University, a conference sponsor, said that consumers have difficulty understanding universal design.

“As the population ages, it will become more and more obvious,” she said.

“But today, it’s not totally understandable without a verbal explanation. If you draw a 3-foot-wide door on a project, it doesn’t say that it works for wheelchairs — you have to point out why these things are important.”

Kogelschatz has found this to be true among his clients and contemporaries. He had never given it any thought until he was contracted to build a home for a wheelchair-bound client.

“That dramatically changed the way we build homes,” he said. “Before that, I didn’t know that much about universal design, but now it’s a passion of mine.”

While not all of Heartland’s homes are built entirely to universal design standards, each home does include some basic elements, such as wider doorways, turning radiuses and practical floor plans. More advanced principles such as zero-step entry and potential elevator shafts are included at the request of clients.

Cost of the conference is $10 for the consumer program and $175 for the professional program. Various continuing education credits are available.

For more information or to register, call (616) 887-8130 or visit www.shdesigns.net. BJX

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