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Green Homes for All: Combining Environmental Sustainability with Accessibility

As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), there is plenty to be grateful for. Commercial and multifamily buildings around the country and around the world are more accessible than ever for people with mobility impairments of all kinds. These increases in accessibility are crucial for an ever-increasing segment of the population: Nearly 20% of Americans have a disability and as the population ages, the percentage of people with disabilities will continue to rise.

But the ADA has limitations, and chief among them is that it applies only to multi-family and commercial buildings – not to single-family homes. Millions of new and existing single-family homes are designed in such a way that a person with a disability can’t use them without making significant – and costly – modifications. Which is why we are so excited to see the progress being made in Ohio and around the country related to accessibility in single-family homes.

A bipartisan bill recently introduced in the Ohio state legislature would provide $5,000 grants to homeowners and contractors who need help making homes more accessible. There is also progress on the federal level. “Mark and I are excited to learn that federal legislation has just been introduced by Representative Jan Schakowsky (of Illinois). This would require new homes built with federal dollars to meet accessibility standards – including a zero-step entrance, wheelchair accessible doorways and bathrooms, and climate controls that are at a height reachable from a wheelchair,” says Rosemarie Rossetti, an activist who pushes for more accessible single-family homes.

Everyone benefits when homes are more accessible. When Ohio State University and the Ohio Development Disabilities Council surveyed 250 residents about their feelings on accessibility features like wider hallways, sloped entrances and no stairs they found that buyers would be willing to pay nearly $15,000 more for an accessible home, and that accessible homes sell quicker. The same features that make homes accessible for a person in a wheelchair make a home easier to navigate with a child in a stroller, as I discovered after becoming a father.homePageStatic

As part of the same study, researchers also surveyed people who work in construction. They found that making a new home accessible added, on average, less than 1% to the total construction costs, and costs $4,000 less than retrofitting a home later.

At the GreenHome Institute, we are working to integrate accessibility, universal design and assistive technology into green home programs. Green homes are healthy, comfortable homes; Healthy homes should be accessible to everyone, regardless of mobility limitations or age. It’s important to educate and encourage builders, designers and architects to design new homes in an accessible way. It’s equally crucial that we provide resources and guidance to help make existing homes more accessible during rehabs, renovations and additions.

We have been lucky to have the help of several experts in accessibility. First of all, Rosemarie Rossetti, who uses her own story and her LEED-Silver-certified home to raise awareness about both green building and accessibility. Our board member Ramesh Gulatee is an architect with LifeCare Design Studio and specializes in designing buildings that meet the needs of people with disabilities. He has always pushed us to make accessibility a central part of our green building program.

We have also been working with the Disability Advocates of Kent County, who developed the first national 3rd-party verified accessibility certification program called ZeroStep. National green building organizations are taking note: The U.S. Green Building Council offers an innovation point to buildings that meet “Design for Adaptability” guidelines, and ZeroStep guidelines are part of the  GreenStar Homes Certification. The GreenStar tool includes a downloadable ZeroStep guidance checklist to help green builders meet accessibility standards.

Next Steps

 We have several resources available to green builders who would like to integrate accessibility for people with disabilities into their designs.

  • Stay tuned for a virtual tour of a certified accessible single-family home.

ZeroStep Certification

Environmental Sustainability () are joining forces to take, ZeroStep™, a certification for home and building accessibility, beyond its current multi-state capacity to influence home construction over the rest of the country.  The ZeroStep™ standard is based in universal design which, according to DAKC Executive Director, David Bulkowski, J.D., is “an approach to creating environments and products that are usable by all people to the greatest extent possible.”

Why?

 Twenty percent of Americans have accessibility needs and that number is growing.  ZeroStep ™ helps to influence the design, development, construction, and use of new and existing homes through training, education, design review and third party verification/certification of proper construction.

Sign up

Zerostep 1.0 is now available for plan review and plan certification.  Please review the program Guidelines & Checklist and then Register your project here by answering a few quick questions. From there we will follow up with you and give you online access to submit your plans.

Progress

ZeroStep 2.0 Development is underway and will include not only Universal Design but opportunities and guidance on Aging In Place, ADA, Assistive Technology, Visibility and other necessary accessibility issues. Be on the look out for program upgrade by Spring 2014.

Questions? Brett.Little@allianceES.org or 616 458 6733 ext 1

See ZeroStep in Action – Rosemarie Rossetti from the Universal Design Living Laboratory has 1 hour recorded webinar that takes you through her ZeroStep Certified Gold Home in Columbus Ohio and explains the thought behind the design and construction. This is a free webinar worth 1 AIA/GBCI/Nari Green & Potential State Contractor CEU. 

In the News.

featured in Chicago 7 News helping make a home more accessible and therefore sustainable:  

ABOUT ZeroStep ™

ZeroStep™ takes universal design for homes, which is the art and science of creating environments that are attractive, marketable, and user friendly for people of all ages, desires, and abilities, to the next level with the intentional accommodation of people’s needs for their total life span.  As people’s needs change, their home remains accessible and family friendly.

The value of ZeroStep™ is its applicability to commercial buildings, retail spaces and even neighborhood design because it just makes good sense.  Joanne Feutz, a co-author of the ZeroStep™ Guidelines, describes the value as:

“For an architect, builder, and developer, the ability to advertise a home as “ZeroStep™ Certified” and use the ZeroStep™ logo says that you are not only about quality homes, but also about responsible and sustainable building.  ZeroStep™ universally designed homes are a personal or company mindset, philosophy, and choice exceeding the standard perceptions of quality to include comprehensive home designs that enhance all stages of life for everyone.

 For the home owner or home buyer, ZeroStep™ Certification means the home not only meets, but exceeds current standards for residential construction.  It also means they can expect a return on their investment because the home addresses not only today’s needs but tomorrow’s needs, as well as saving costs in remodeling or possibly relocating.

“A ZeroStep™ Certified Home is truly a home for a lifetime,” says Renee Thompson, a co-author of the ZeroStep Guidelines.  She built a ZeroStep home in 2006 for her young growing family.  “I love our ZeroStep home because it is first and foremost family friendly.  It accommodates our ever changing stages of life very cost effectively from babies in strollers, teens on crutches, mom recovering from surgery to grandpa in his wheelchair.  I’ve come to realize that people do not notice our home has ZeroStep entries until they need it.  That’s when they realize the true value of ZeroStep.   We chose ZeroStep because we believe it is the smart way to build.  Why wouldn’t you build a home that works for you and your family both today and in the future?”