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Lifetime homes grow up

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Yesterday (21 April) Minister for Construction Nick Raynsford launched 'Meeting Part M and Designing Lifetime Homes'. In his foreword to the document, writes Caitriona Carroll, he commends the guide as a useful tool and suggests that those who strive for excellence in housing design might choose to go beyond the regulatory standard and build to Lifetime Homes Standards.

This represents the culmination of an idea first developed by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in 1993. It was based on a desire for excellence, one measure of which is to design a product with in-built features that extend the market base and expand the product's usefulness at little or no extra cost. The 'lifetime homes' concept does this by incorporating 16 standards at design stage to make the dwellings (which can be houses, bungalows or flats) both accessible and adaptable - thus meeting the needs of a wider market base, both in the short term and through the longevity of the property. Lifetime homes should be exactly that - homes in which it is possible for most people to live throughout their lifetime without the need for radical and expensive adaptation. Not all the requirements for potential disability are there, but the homes are designed with a capacity which limits any changes needed to the relatively inexpensive.

The fundamental accessibility elements of the original 16 criteria can now be found in part M of the Building Regulations.

But, as with all good concepts, lifetime homes standards are not set in stone but periodically honed and refined in the light of constant monitoring and feedback from developers, designers and occupants. Developments in Building Regulations and advances in construction practice have also contributed to the latest results of this process.

Fine-tuning of criteria means that, in terms of accessibility requirements, many of the lifetime homes criteria mirror Part M closely. Where 1500mm turning circles were originally required in some rooms, an ellipse of 1700 x 1400 mm is now acceptable. Recognition that many developers building small houses would not be able to achieve the spatial requirements of a fully accessible downstairs wc means that, for houses of two bedrooms or fewer, a Part M wc is now acceptable.

Many architects and designers suggested that it was quite difficult to design an accessible bathroom if one had to incorporate a removable panel in the wall between the bathroom and a main bedroom. As most timber trusses today are capable of taking a post and track, and technological advances in hoist design mean that there is no longer a requirement for a 'straight run', it was agreed that the removable panel should no longer be a requirement.

There was a recognition for a need for a clear outline of the various accessibility and adaptability requirements. Architects and developers building new homes may now find it necessary to take account of three sets of accessibility requirements: Part M of the Building Regulations, Scheme Development Standards, and Lifetime Homes Standards (which are a requirement of some planning authorities). This is why the Joseph Rowntree Foundation decided to launch the guide.

It focuses on the principles of both Part M and Lifetime Homes in a practicable and Seabee format. Summary tables indicate which of the Scheme Development Standards will be met when designing lifetime homes.

The guide gives a clear steer to designers and allied professionals. The use of diagrams, supported by explanatory text, assists the understanding and application of both the lifetime homes criteria and Part M Standards. The house plans put the principles behind both Part M and Lifetime Homes into a workable and achievable context.

'Meeting Part M and Designing Lifetime Homes', edited by Caitriona Carroll, Julie Cowans and David Darton, is available from York Publishing Services (tel 01904 430033), price £19.95 + £2.00 p&p.

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