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How we as a city need to plan to renovate our homes (Part 1)

I spend the majority of my time in this space on planning and development, and what the residential construction industry talks about when we’re at city hall. This necessarily means talking a lot about new homes and new development projects, both inside and outside the greenbelt.

But, there’s another side of housing activity that also requires a significant amount of thought and planning as the city looks towards its future – namely, the renovation, modification and improvement needs of our 400,000 existing homes.

StatsCan tells us that by 2030 – less than 11 years from now – seniors will make up 23 percent of the population.

According to the 2016 census, 40% of households in Ottawa are headed by someone 55 or over.

Contrary to what many demographers forecast in the past, the overwhelming majority of Canadian seniors want to continue to live in their current home as they get older. They much prefer to “age-in-place” in a home and neighbourhood they know, than to downsize into a condo or seniors-only community.

An aging population will have more complex housing needs, particularly if most seniors intend to stay put in their current home. Simply put, as we age we will inevitably encounter a range of mobility and other health-related challenges.

So a population that chooses to age-in-place will require home modifications that respond to their specific needs and challenges – mobility and otherwise. And everyone’s situation will be somewhat unique.

As the Council of Aging of Ottawa observes in their 2018 special report, Capital Aging, by the time a senior reaches their late seventies, most experience health issues and may require help with daily activities, as well as home modifications such as wider doors, grab bars, and monitoring systems to make their home more accessible and functional.

Delivering these modifications will require a local renovation industry that has the knowledge and the professional connections to do the job right. For its part, the Association will be launching a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist program in the fall.

This will provide Ottawa with professional renovators who have the appropriate technical and design training, product and material knowledge, and a solid understanding of who they need to have on their team to deliver high-quality results.

Collaborating with occupational therapists, designers, and architects on aging-related home modifications requires a different approach than is typical in general renovations. Consideration will also have to be given for caregivers – both professionals and family, live-in and drop-in. In many cases, health authorities, insurers, and building officials may also need be part of the team.

The City, in collaboration with industry, is going to have to consider what it needs to do to facilitate age-related modifications to a significant portion of its existing homes, and how the stock of existing homes is going to change as the population gets older.

Next month Part 2 – improving energy efficiency in existing homes.

Jason Burggraaf, Executive Director

Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association

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