Volume 8, Issue 8 - September 2007

The Art of Aging
Manufacturers Keep Design in Mind for the Maturing Population 

by Samantha Carpenter

There are 90 million U.S. residents over the age of 50 today and, according to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), someone is turning 50 years of age every seven seconds. 

The American Society of Interior Designers offers guidance about what manufacturers should do to meet the requirements of the aging-in-place market. They should make their door products wider to at least the ADA guideline minimum of 32 inches. They should also use easy-to-manipulate door locks, and avoid traditional thumb-activated mechanisms. 

But whether producing products or designing them, are door and window manufacturers providing products that are easy to use as people age (known as the aging-in-place concept)?

Kevin Pine, JELD-WEN product marketing manager, says his company does.

“JELD-WEN offers a number of products that are suitable for homeowners as they grow older. For example, we can accommodate requests for wider doors from homeowners who might face mobility issues today or in the future,” he says.

Pella Corp. also keeps products in mind for the aging market, but they tie the aging-in-place concept in with universal design. 

“Pella already provides products and services to meet the needs of this market, including the convenience of in-home consultations for customers seeking new or replacement doors and windows, connecting them with installation services and service support after the sale should they need it through a dedicated network for Pella Window and Door service representatives,” says Gary Mathes, manager of residential architectural support services.

Bob Keller, senior product manager for Therma-Tru Doors in Maumee, Ohio, says his company recognizes that there is a growing trend for people to remain in their homes as they age.

“Therma-Tru offers doors that are low-maintenance, durable, energy-efficient and secure, yet easily accessible for wheelchairs and handicapped individuals,” Keller says.

Joe Gaskins, vice president of sales at MGM Industries in Hendersonville, Tenn., says his company has seen a large use of low-E products from baby boomers. “Senior adults are in their homes a lot more than young adults, and the low-E has some inherent values as well as energy conservation, but I think the big thing about that is the comfort of the home,” Gaskins says.

Gaskins says it’s also becoming popular to have night latches on windows, which allows users to only open the window six inches. “We’ve had more requests for that in new construction products … especially for people who are aging and want to be able to raise their windows but [it] won’t allow someone to raise the window from the outside high enough to get in the house.”

Start the Motor
“Visions products offer many features and upgrade options that make them more conducive to aging homeowners. Single-throw locks on casement windows make it easier for someone who may be in a wheelchair to unlock and open the window,” says Ernie DeBacco, national sales manager for Visions Windows and Doors in Mosinee, Wis. “Casement windows are generally the preferred window for active-adult communities because the window’s operator facilitates easier opening, but as a special upgrade, Visions also offers a motorized operator for casement and awning windows.”

Karen Pollard-Josling, marketing manager for Pollard Windows in Burlington, Ontario, says when designing products, her company keeps the aging population in mind. “We want our customers for life, so we want them to be able to comfortably use our products during all stages of their life,” she says. “The population is aging and these concerns are more apparent; we consider this with every design.”

“Our door systems feature barrier-free sill options and wider widths to accommodate the needs of persons restricted to wheelchairs,” says Jeff Williams, senior brand manager, architectural marketing, Weather Shield®. “Our casement windows are available with specialty designed crank handles that are easier to operate and feature extra-large handle knobs that are easier to grip. We also stress the use of windows in universal design plans where daylight plays a critical role in home health issues and lighting/electricity conservation.”

Break Out the Hardware
Many door and window manufacturers say hardware is one of the features that makes their products easier to manipulate for the aging population. So what are the hardware manufacturers keeping in mind as far as design options for the aging-in-place?

Gary Hartman, product manager, HOPPE North America in Fort Atkinson, Wis., says his company’s products make living in their home easier for the aging-in-place, whether they are building a new home or remodeling an existing home.

“The primary method of lock/latch retraction in our product offering is the lever,” Hartman says. “To push down a lever 28 degrees to exit a door is much easier on the wrist and arm than turning a knob 100-plus degrees.”

Hartman says the Hoppe bored lock series and the recently introduced HLS 7 series multi-point lock systems represent the company’s development efforts to meet the needs of every consumer regardless of the life stage they are in.

Amber Grayson, marketing manager for Amesbury Group in Sioux Falls, S.D., says her company is in the process of developing a whole range of products that will be launched in January 2008. 

“These products will help many Americans and Canadians accomplish [living in their homes safely, independently and comfortably, regardless of age or ability level],” Grayson says.

Matt Kottke, marketing support manager for Owatonna, Minn.-based Truth Hardware, says his company is no stranger to the aging-in-place concept.

“Our sales, engineering and marketing departments are continuing to work collaboratively with our customers to help them design door and window systems that meet the requirements of the universal design philosophy,” he says. “Creating products, whether it be the hardware or the window system as a whole, that helps simplify the life of our aging population, or those with physical disabilities, is very important to Truth Hardware.”

Rob Munin, vice president of Ultra Hardware in Pennsauken, N.J., says his company has launched an innovation in door hardware to meet baby boomers’ needs. “We have designed a line of door hardware called New Beginnings from Gainsborough,” he says. “New Beginnings provides a variety of lever handles with distinct and modern design styles. Our line operates with the goal of marrying form and function for this demographic. We at Ultra Hardware do not believe that style should have to be compromised for functionality.”

What’s the Market Share?
While both door and window manufacturers as well as hardware manufacturers agree that the aging-in-place market is growing and of importance, none could target and some were unwilling to share what percent of the market this audience captures.

“Therma-Tru’s sales are reported through its parent company, Fortune Brands,” Keller says, “and the company does not provide specific data on its sales.”

Weather Shield, Peachtree and Visions also do not have sales data available on universally-designed products.

“So many of the products suitable for aging-in-place applications are mainstream, and it’s hard for us to differentiate which might be going into a universally-designed home,” says Amy Lewis, spokeswoman.

Pollard-Josling agrees.

“It is very difficult to determine how much business we get from the aging-in-place market, as we do not always know who the end user of the windows are,” Pollard-Josling says. “… the population is aging and according to the Population Division of the U.S. Census Bureau of July 1, 2006, and released on May 17, 2007 … approximately 23 percent of the population is 55 or older. This trend is not ending, only growing, so products that meet the needs of our aging population will only grow in demand.” 

What is Universal Design?
The intent of universal design is to simplify life for everyone by making products, communications, and the built environment more usable by as many people as possible at little or no extra cost. Universal design benefits people of all ages and abilities, according to the Center for Universal Design.

Down the Chain
Some manufacturers report that their distributors and dealers have caught on to the aging-in-place trend, but still, some have not. However, it shouldn’t be too hard for manufacturers to get their distributors and dealers to grab on to the aging-in-place product idea.

“We do see more of these products being sold through our dealers, particularly those who service multifamily housing builders,” says Ernie DeBacco, national sales manager for Visions Windows & Doors in Mosinee, Wis. “They are missing out on a significant market if they are not selling with aging baby boomers in mind. These are generally affluent customers who will likely be relocating to lower maintenance homes or building a retirement home that will accommodate their lifestyle as they age.”

“Some of the biggest names in consumer retailing are very focused on this demographic and trends,” says Rob Munin, vice president of Ultra Hardware in Pennsauken, N.J. “And the statistics should speak for themselves. With more than 75 million Americans approaching the age where the ‘aging-in-place’ concept is a reality, manufacturers and distributors would be neglectful if we did not acknowledge this demand with appropriate product modifications.”

Jeff Williams, senior brand manager, architectural marketing, Weather Shield, says he is not sure aging-in-place has hit the mainstream for new construction at this point, but his company has seen an increasing demand for products among dealers who cater to the remodeling sector.

“I think the NAHB and Remodelor’s Council and National Association of Remodeling Industry have done a nice job of raising the awareness of aging-in-place design, and I think remodelers are called upon to specifically change the design of homes to accommodate the needs of older homeowners. It has become a very nice specialty niche for many remodelers looking to differentiate their businesses.”

Williams says that if distributors are catering to the remodeling market, they should be looking at these products closely. 

“New construction dealers that cater to specialty custom builders and architects should have aging-in-place products in stock. However, until universal design makes it into the mainstream in a much bigger way, most dealer and lumberyards aren’t going to readily offer these types of products.”

Samantha Carpenter is a contributing editor for DWM magazine.



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