Frequently Asked Questions - New Adaptable Housing Standards in the BC Building Code

What is adaptable housing?

Adaptable housing is an approach to residential design and construction in which homes can be modified at minimal cost to meet occupants' changing needs over time. By building flexibility into homes from the start, adaptable housing:

  • helps people stay in their own homes through illness, injury and aging
  • provides more accessibility for people with disabilities
  • reduces the cost of future renovations to accommodate people with disabilities

Adaptable housing includes:

  • basic accessibility features such as corridors, doorways, bathrooms and kitchens that facilitate access for people with mobility limitations
  • design and construction features to support future installation of grab bars in the bathroom
  • purpose-built features that are incorporated during initial construction, such as accessible positioning of electrical outlets and switches and design of door and faucet handles.

What are the benefits and costs of adaptable housing?

Adaptable housing benefits everyone. For example:

  • Ramped or step-free main entrances make it easier for families with young children in strollers.
  • Wider doorways make it easier to move furniture and other objects around the home.
  • Power outlets at accessible heights of 450 mm are easier to reach for everyone.

Adaptable housing also carries broader societal benefits by saving on institutionalized care costs, and by making homes more accessible for visitors with mobility limitations.

Adaptable housing is a cost effective approach to facilitating independent living. The added initial construction costs are minimal compared to the costs of adding accessibility features after construction. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation estimates the cost of installing reinforcements to allow for future installation of bathroom grab bars ranges from $50 to $90 during initial construction, compared to over $500 to reinforce the wall in an existing bathroom. Some features, such as the placement of outlets and switches, and design of door handles and faucets, carry little or no additional cost if incorporated during construction. Other accessibility features, such as doorway and hallway widths, can be prohibitively expensive to introduce into an existing building.

Internationally, the costs of building to adaptable housing standards vary from between 0.5% to 3.0% of total construction costs.

Why do we need adaptable housing standards?

Many local governments are interested in including adaptable housing design features in their communities. At the same time, the Province is committed to developing building standards that are as consistent as possible across B.C. Adaptable housing standards in the BC Building Code will apply whenever adaptable housing is built, whether it is required by local government bylaw or built voluntarily by a developer. This approach provides consistency in how adaptable housing is designed and constructed, while giving local governments the flexibility to decide whether they want to require it.

How were the adaptable housing standards developed?

The Province established an Adaptable Housing Working Group to develop a set of model adaptable housing standards. The working group included representatives from provincial and local governments, the construction industry, health care support and seniors groups.

The working group reviewed adaptable housing standards developed by North Vancouver and the District of Saanich, as well as similar standards developed by the SAFER Home, Lifetime Homes, Concrete Change and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. The working group also reviewed Building Code accessibility standards for public and institutional buildings and looked at similar standards in other countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States. The results of their work were posted for public review on the Building and Safety Standards Branch website in the fall of 2008 and submitted for the Minister of Housing’s approval in summer 2009.

What do the standards contain?

  • Building Access
  • Suite Doors and Doorways
  • Bathrooms
  • Kitchens
  • Outlets, Switches, and Other Environmental Controls

Some work has been done on adaptable housing standards for patios and balconies, but more input and analysis is needed before standards can be proposed for this area. Comments on the draft standards for patios and balconies from the online public review will be considered in future work.