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front cover lifetime home design guide

For Professionals

Lifetime Homes and wheelchair housing design


The difference explained

Lifetime Homes is a set of principles applied to general needs housing to provide accessible and convenient accommodation for a wide range of the population, from households with young children to older people, and individuals with temporary or permanent physical or sensory impairment.

The set of principles come together to form the 16 Lifetime Homes design criteria. These focus on areas relating to accessibility on the approach to the home, moving into and around the home, how the household can manage in the home if a temporary disability prevents the use of stairs, and adaptability of the home to cater for changed needs arising from a permanent disability.

The design criteria therefore cover needs of both people with and without disabilities – either within the household, or visiting the household, and aim to improve accessibility for a wide cross section of the population – e.g. parents pushing buggies or carrying children and shopping; older people, perhaps beginning to use mobility aids; members of the household temporarily disabled through illness or accident; and members of the household, or visitors, with permanent disabilities. They consider the spatial needs to provide basic accessibility to essential facilities in the property for this wide section of population, either from the outset or by enabling simple cost effective adaptation. The accessibility and adaptability criteria also aim to provide for changing needs within the household or different needs of a new household over the lifetime of the dwelling.

Wheelchair use has provided a useful spatial template to determine basic accessibility on the approach and within the property, and to its key facilities. The resultant spatial needs also meet the needs of the wider range of potential households as discussed above. This means that many wheelchair users can approach and move around a Lifetime Home, having access or potential access (by simple adaptation), to the rooms and their facilities.

However, this degree of accessibility does not always match the enhanced accessibility provided throughout a property constructed to the wheelchair housing design standard. Wheelchair housing is designed to specifically meet the diverse and changing needs of wheelchair users and the multiplicity of impairments that some wheelchair users experience. Greater spatial demands and increased flexibility and specification in a property designed to wheelchair housing standards aim to ensure that not only does a wheelchair user have access to every facility inside and outside of the dwelling, but also has choice on how best to approach (and sometimes adjust) that facility to suit their particular needs.

Wheelchair housing will therefore provide additional space, and often more specialist specification of fixtures and fittings, to provide for more specific individual and/or more complex requirements. This can be demonstrated by considering two examples – double bedroom requirements provided by the two distinct design standards, and WC requirements for each standard in a 3 bedroom dwelling:


Double Bedroom example

In a double bedroom of a Lifetime Home a wheelchair user could expect to be able to access the room, have space to approach and transfer to one side of the bed, and limited space to move around the foot of the bed to access some essential furniture, the window, the radiator temperature control and some essential electrical switches. Space to turn in the room having done any of the above would be limited and subject to some manoeuvring. The above would also almost certainly be dependent on some compromise to the optimum furniture layout for the room when arranged for non-wheelchair user occupancy. The key functions of the room are therefore accessible to a wheelchair user, albeit with some degree of compromise. Access to the room itself, unless in a single storey dwelling, would be enabled by the installation of a wheelchair accessible through the floor lift from the entrance level (by use of the ‘knock out panel’ in the floor required from the outset). There would be potential for a reasonable tracking route for a hoist from the bedroom to a bathroom.

In a double bedroom of a property designed to wheelchair housing standards, the permanent and optimum layout of the room should enable a wheelchair user to enter the room, have space to approach and transfer to either side of the bed according to their choice, turn by simple manoeuvre to move around the foot of the bed and approach and use all furniture, the window, all controls, and again turn by simple manoeuvre to leave the room. Essential electrical controls would also be accessible from the bed. Access to the room would be available from the outset, either by it being on the entrance level or by provision of a wheelchair accessible house / through floor lift from the entrance level installed from the outset. There would be, or potential for, a direct tracking route for a hoist to an adjacent bathroom (via a connecting door).

The key difference resulting from the more detailed and prescriptive design requirements for the bedroom to wheelchair housing standards will be the size of the room - the increased flexibility for the wheelchair user enabling the approach and transfer to either side of the bed and the space to approach and use all furniture and controls within the room is generally enabled by an increased floor area. Additional prescriptive wheelchair housing design requirements include the positioning of the doorway (away from a corner) and positioning and provision of additional controls also provide increased accessibility – including access to key controls, if need be, from the bed and potential for a direct tracking route into an adjacent bathroom.


WC provision in a 3 bedroom dwelling example

The minimum requirement in a Lifetime Home would be one fully accessible WC at entrance level, with space to transfer from one side and from the front. If there is a second WC (whether the dwelling is a flat or house) and if this was in the main bathroom, this would need to have ‘ease of access’ approach providing some oblique transfer space from one side and frontal transfer space. In the same dwelling designed to wheelchair housing standards there must be two WCs accessible from the outset, and each one of these should have the side transfer space on the different side to the other (i.e. giving choice within the dwelling of RH transfer or LH to suit a particular individual’s needs and /or preferences). Both WCs would also have full frontal and oblique transfer spaces. In addition, the flush control on each WC would be sited in the most accessible location.


These examples demonstrate how the more prescriptive and detailed design and specification requirements of wheelchair housing design provide increased space, choice and flexibility over and above that provided within a Lifetime Home. These combine to enable a greater degree of independence for some people with more complex or distinct needs. Some wheelchair users, due to their particular circumstances, will either need or prefer to live in a dwelling offering this fuller provision.


More information on the requirements and recommendations for wheelchair housing is available in the Wheelchair Housing Design Guide available from the Building Research Establishment’s book shop. Best Practice Guidance on Wheelchair accessible housing - giving advice on designing homes that can be easily adapted for residents who are wheelchair users is available from the Greater London Authority.